John Curtin Looking Ever Forward

1885-01-07 00:00:00

The Life of John Curtin 1885 - 1945

John Joseph Ambrose Curtin was born on January 8th to John Curtin and Kate Bourke in Creswick, Melbourne.

1885-01-08 00:00:00

Young John

John's parents were both born in Ireland and emigrated to Australia before they met and married in Melbourne. His father served in the police force until John was five years old.

1886-11-17 00:00:00

Bread without butter and tea without sugar: Curtin's youth

John Curtin Sr became a publican for a time but the hotels did not prosper. Curtin’s childhood was characterised by poverty. His father's health made work difficult and the family moved from house to house, falling behind on rent until evicted and forced to find new residence.

1891-02-01 00:00:00


In an attempt to find work John Curtin Sr. moved his family to Eloise Cottage in Brunswick. During this time, Curtin was enrolled in St. Francis School for Boys which focused on religious learning in an attempt to resist the secularisation of education.

1903-09-01 00:00:00

Titan Manufacturing Company

After five years of intermittent work, Curtin gained his first permanent job with the Titan Manufacturing Company. Working for the following six years as an estimates clerk for the company, Curtin calculated prices for the sale of nails and other Titan products..

1905-09-28 00:00:00

Brunswick Football Club

From 1905 to 1909 John Curtin played for the Brunswick Club in the Victorian Football Association. It was here that he met Frank Hyett, who would become one of his closest friends as they both became increasingly involved in the socialist movement.

1906-03-01 00:00:00

The Victorian Socialist Party

The Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) was founded by Tom Mann in 1906. By 1908 the party had reached its political zenith, consisting of over 1500 members. Unfortunately, this prominence would not last long. By 1932, the steady decline of the VSP was complete and it faded completely from political relevance. This decline was due largely to the rise of the far more prominent Communist Party of Australia.

1907-04-26 00:00:00

Friends for life: The Gunn and Bruce families

John Curtin came to know Jack Gunn, his sisters Ethel and Annie (known as Nancy) and their cousins the Bruce's. John became especially close to Nancy who tragically died at the age of 16 in 1906.

1911-03-01 00:00:00

The Victorian Timber Worker's Union

John Curtin began working as the Secretary of the Victorian Timber Worker's Union. During this time he would begin writing for the Timber Worker.

1912-02-01 00:00:00

Abraham Needham

Abraham Needham was a painter and lay preacher who was also involved in the socialist movement. He became a close friend of Curtin's when the younger man travelled to Hobart in 1912 to assist in a political campaign. It was through his acquaintance with Abraham that Curtin would be introduced to Elsie Needham.

1912-04-01 00:00:00

Elsie Needham

Elsie Needham was born in Ballarat, Victoria, in 1890. During her early years, Elsie was exposed to education and progressive thinking. From 1898 to 1908 the family lived in South Africa where her father Abraham Needham attempted to aid the Socialist Movement and her mother Annie became involved with the Cape Town women's suffrage campaign.

1914-07-01 00:00:00

The Courtship of Elsie Needham

John and Elsie came to know one another gradually over several years, writing letters between John's visits to Hobart. In 1914 Elsie was passing through Melbourne when John proposed, and she accepted, before boarding a ship to South Africa to visit her brother.

1914-08-05 00:00:00

Advent of War

War broke out in Europe in August 1914 during the federal election campaign. Curtin stood for the Labor Party in the Victorian seat of Balaclava and lost.

1916-10-21 00:00:00

Anti Conscription Campaign

As the war progressed, and the casualties increased, Australian voters were asked to vote to extend universal military training to overseas service. Following his discharge from the Lara Retreat Curtin immersed himself in the anti-conscription protests, addressing rallies and meetings in Melbourne and country towns.

1916-10-31 00:00:00

Gaol sentence

The call-up notice required John Curtin to attend Percy Street Drill Hall, Brunswick, on 31 October 1916 at 3pm, or face a penalty of six months imprisonment under the War Service Regulation.

1917-02-16 00:00:00

A new job and a new life

After the ups and downs of the previous years, Curtin was able to make a new start when he was appointed as editor of the Westralian Worker.

1917-02-17 00:00:00

The Westralian Worker

The Worker was published by the Australian Labor Party. Under Curtin's management, circulation grew and the content broadened to reflect Curtin's political beliefs and his interest in the welfare and education of workers and their families.

1917-04-21 00:00:00

Curtin Marries Elsie Needham

John and Elsie were married by a Justice of the Peace (Mr Penna) in West Leederville on the 21st of April, 1917. The wedding party consisted of themselves and two other people, Enid Marks and Dave Watson (Curtin's colleagues from the Westralian Worker). After the ceremony, they celebrated with a reception of tea and cake at the Moana Cafe on Hay Street, Perth.

1919-04-25 00:00:00

Frank Hyett dies suddenly

Frank Hyett had become a prominent union and political figure during his life, staunchly opposing conscription during the First World War.

1919-12-13 00:00:00

Candidate for Perth

By mid 1919 Curtin had succeeded in establishing his reputation in Western Australia as an energetic campaigner. He was speaking frequently, writing a large proportion of the Westralian Worker content, and travelling interstate several times each year. Despite having a full work load as editor he accepted nomination for the seat of Perth. Any reservations he may have held did not impede Curtin from running a vigorous, yet ultimately futile campaign. He was soundly defeated, alongside the Labor Party at large.

1921-01-31 00:00:00

Family life

John and Elsie made their home in Cottesloe, at first in Napier Street. John wanted to live near the sea, he could travel by train as he did not drive, and they were close to the beach for walks and swimming. It was where they chose to raise their two children, Elsie Milda (born Dec 1917) and John Francis (born Jan 1921).

1922-01-01 00:00:00

Australian Journalists' Association, Western Australian District Committee

John Curtin (centre front row) served as President of the AJA committee from 1920 to 1925, a role which brought him into closer contact with other journalists and academics.

1923-02-09 22:14:04

Jarrad Street

The Curtin family had been joined in 1919 by Elsie's parents, Abraham and Annie Needham, sharing their home in Napier Street. Abraham died in 1922 and the following year the family moved to a house purchased in Jarrad Street, Cottesloe.

1924-06-16 00:00:00

ILO Conference trip to Geneva

Chosen as one of three representatives of the Australian Labor Party to attend the International Labor Conference in Geneva, Curtin's first overseas journey was via Colombo, then Marseilles before train to Geneva. From Geneva Curtin wrote to Elsie - The Lake is a picture, but in a hundred years the Swan River could be as good - only the buildings, esplanades, etc are lacking. JCPML00402/27

1928-11-17 00:00:00

Member for Fremantle

On his fourth attempt to win a seat in parliament, Curtin was elected as the Member for Fremantle in the House of Representatives.

1929-10-22 00:00:00

James Scullin

The year after Curtin was elected to parliament, Prime Minister Stanley Bruce called an early election. James Scullin became the first Australian born Prime Minister when the Labor Party won with a land slide victory. Scullin was quickly overwhelmed by the economic crisis following the Wall Street crash, which occurred days after. Scullin’s government, already fractured by internal differences, split into three separate factions.

1930-06-30 00:00:00

Curtin's economic beliefs

“The supreme problem confusing the world today is the matter of unemployment”.

1931-12-19 00:00:00


A near nationwide rejection of the Labor Party took place in the 1931 federal election, with a majority of the population disenchanted by the inability of Labor to enact significant economic reform to correct the ongoing economic crisis. Curtin was one of 32 Labor MPs to lose their seats in the election.

1934-09-15 00:00:00

Curtin regains the seat of Fremantle

Curtin regains the seat of Fremantle. in the 1934 federal election. Fremantle has been held by the Australian Labor Party at every subsequent election.

1935-10-01 00:00:00

Leader of the Opposition.

Curtin replaced James Scullin as leader of the Labor Party. He won the party room ballot over Scullin’s long time deputy Frank Forde, by one vote.

1938-02-01 00:00:00

Home and away

As Opposition Leader Curtin maintained a punishing schedule travelling frequently to address party meetings, campaign for federal and state elections, and to attend parliamentary sittings. His commitments kept him from his home and family for long periods but during those years Curtin returned to Western Australian at least 20 times.

1939-09-03 00:00:00

Robert Gordon Menzies and war with Germany

Following the death in office of Joseph Lyons, Robert Menzies became leader of the United Australia Party and Australia's 12th prime minister . Only a few months later, on Sunday September 3rd, Menzies announced Australia's entry into war.

1940-10-28 00:00:00

Advisory War Council

As the war in Europe escalated Menzies proposed a national government which Curtin refused to join. Curtin suggested the formation of an Advisory War Council. Nine members of the council would serve as prime ministers either before, during or after the war.

1941-03-15 00:00:00

Tatsuo Kawai

Tatsuo Kawai was the first Japanese Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary to Australia. Arriving in Australia on the 15th of March 1941, Kawai developed a close relationship with Curtin while Curtin was still the Leader of the Opposition.

1941-08-29 02:41:02

Menzies resigns.

When Robert Menzies no longer had the support of the parliament he resigned as Prime Minister. Arthur Fadden, Leader of the Country Party, became Prime Minister, for just 41 days.

1941-10-07 10:00:00

Prime Minister

On October 3rd the Fadden coalition government fell when two Independent members voted to reject the government's budget. When Governor General Gowrie received Fadden's resignation he summoned Curtin to Government House.

1941-10-08 00:00:00

Curtin and Chifley

Curtin chose Ben Chifley, a former train driver, as his Treasurer. The two had been friends since they first entered parliament in 1928.

1941-12-01 00:00:00

Living at the Lodge, Canberra.

Curtin was the first Labor prime minister to make the Lodge his Canberra home. At first Elsie planned to spend more time in Canberra, but within a few weeks war was declared with Japan.

1941-12-09 00:00:00

War with Japan

On December 7th just before 8am Japanese aircraft attacked the American warships and airfields at Pearl Harbour. Across Asia Japanese forces unleashed attacks on the US air fleet in Manila and the Japanese expeditionary force landed troops on the Malay Peninsula. On the following day strategic locations and residential areas in Singapore were attacked with aerial bombing.

1941-12-27 00:00:00

The Task Ahead

That reddish veil which o'er the face Of night-hag East is drawn ... Flames new disaster for the race? Or can it be the dawn? .

1942-01-05 00:00:00

Curtin working at his desk on a Sunday morning

1942-01-24 00:00:00

The Curtin Family at Perth Railway Station

On his first visit home to Western Australia as Prime Minister, Curtin was greeted by a vast crowd when he arrived by train . It was a long journey for a mere four days at home before Curtin boarded the train to return to Canberra.

1942-02-14 00:00:00

The Fall of Singapore

Curtin felt the geo-strategic restrictions of the British Empire already engaged in a war in Europe limited the Empire's ability to support Australia. He chose to rely on a mobile air force to defend Australia. By early 1942, Curtin began to seriously doubt that the 'fortress of Singapore' was in fact, impregnable.

1942-02-19 00:00:00

The bombing of Darwin

Two months after the attack on Pearl Harbour, the Japanese air force began bombings in Darwin marking the first attack on home soil in the history of Australia. The pressure on Curtin was mounting to staggering heights. Decisive action was needed to maintain the morale of the nation and push back with resistance against the Imperial Army of Japan.

1942-03-21 00:00:00

The arrival of Douglas MacArthur

MacArthur was appointed by US President Roosevelt as Supreme Commander of the South-West Pacific Area.

1942-06-30 00:00:00

The Prime Minister and the press

As a former journalist Curtin was able build a relationship with members of the Canberra Press Gallery based on mutual trust and respect. He was the first Australian prime minister to appoint a full time press secretary, Don Rodgers.

1943-08-21 09:00:00

Federal Election 1943

Curtin called the 1943 election the most momentous in Australian history. The stability of Australia's government and the progress of the war effort rested on the return of the Labor Government.

1943-09-03 18:00:00

Visit by Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt visited Australia as both representative of the US President and in her role as President of the Red Cross..

1944-01-21 00:00:00

Australian-New Zealand Agreement (ANZAC Pact).

The agreement was the first international treaty Australia entered into - a declaration that the two nations were the principal powers in the South Pacific.

1944-03-17 00:00:00

Anniversary tribute

The second anniversary of MacArthur's arrival was celebrated with a dinner in Parliament House. Curtin paid tribute to the General's military leadership

John Curtin Looking Ever Forward

Copy this timeline Login to copy this timeline 3d

Contact us

We'd love to hear from you. Please send questions or feedback to the below email addresses.

Before contacting us, you may wish to visit our FAQs page which has lots of useful info on Tiki-Toki.

We can be contacted by email at:

You can also follow us on twitter at

If you are having any problems with Tiki-Toki, please contact us as at:


Edit this timeline

Enter your name and the secret word given to you by the timeline's owner.

3-40 true Name must be at least three characters
3-40 true You need a secret word to edit this timeline

Checking details

Please check details and try again