John Curtin Looking Ever Forward

1885-01-08 00:00:00

John Curtin 1885 - 1945

John Joseph Ambrose Curtin was born on January 8th, 1885 in Creswick, Victoria, to John and Catherine (Kate, nee Bourke).

1887-01-08 00:00:00

Early years

John was the first of four children; George was born 1887, Mary Ellen (Molly) in 1889, and Hannah Frances in 1891.

1895-01-01 00:00:00

Childhood - Bread without butter, tea without sugar

After leaving the police force John Curtin Sr managed hotels, firstly in Brunswick, then several others including the Golden Fleece in Charlton, where the family lived for three years.

1899-02-01 00:00:00


As a result of the frequent moves, Curtin attended several schools. As was typical for the children of working class families, Curtin left school at the age of 14 to help support his family.

1903-09-01 00:00:00

Titan Manufacturing Company

After leaving school Curtin worked in a succession of jobs for five years, before gaining his first permanent job with the Titan Manufacturing Company. Working for the next seven years as an estimates clerk, he put his mathematical skills to work calculating 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

Victorian Socialist Party

Both Curtin and Hyett became involved with the activities of The Victorian Socialist Party (VSP) founded by Tom Mann in early 1906. By 1908 the party had a membership of over 1500 members.

1906-08-08 00:00:00

Friends for life: The Gunn and Bruce families

It was through the VSP that Curtin and Hyett came to know Jack Gunn, his sisters Ethel and Annie (known as Nancy) and their cousins the Bruce girls. Hyett would later marry Ethel, and Curtin became especially close to Nancy. The VSP provided social occasions for the Gunn girls, Hyett and Curtin to meet. Tragically Nancy died at the age of 16 in 1906.

1911-03-01 00:00:00

Victorian Timber Workers' Union

After more than 7 years with the Titan Company, Curtin found a new job as Secretary of the Victorian Timber Workers' Union. Curtin set off visiting bush camps across Victoria, travelling by train, foot and bicycle, working hard to recruit new members.

1912-02-01 00:00:00

Abraham Needham

When Curtin made a visit to Hobart to help with an election campaign, he had a chance meeting with Abraham Needham, a painter, poet and lay preacher who had spent several years working for the socialist movement in South Africa.

1912-04-01 00:00:00

Elsie Needham

Abraham's daughter Elsie was born in Ballarat in 1890. Between 1898 and 1908 the family lived in South Africa where Abraham established his business and was editor of the Cape Socialist. While there Elsie's mother Annie was involved in the women's suffrage campaign and Elsie was exposed to the progressive ideas of the socialist movement.

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, which 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, a referendum was held 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.

1917-02-17 00:00:00

To Western Australia

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.

1917-04-21 00:00:00

Mr and Mrs Curtin

The new job meant Curtin would be able to support a wife and family and within a few months Elsie was able to join him.

1919-12-13 00:00:00

Candidate for Perth

With his life more settled by mid 1919 Curtin had succeeded in establishing his reputation with the local Labor movement. He was speaking frequently, writing a large proportion of the Westralian Worker content, and travelling interstate several times each year.

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

Following his electoral defeat, Curtin developed his interests beyond the political sphere. He became a member of the Australian Journalists Association (AJA) and served as President of the WA Committee from 1920 to 1925. Through his involvement he came to be known and respected by both journalists and academics.

1923-02-09 22:14:04

Curtin Home, 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 built for them in Jarrad Street, Cottesloe.

1924-06-16 00:00:00

Trip to Geneva

Curtin was one of three representatives of the Australian Labor Party to attend the International Labor Conference in Geneva. His first overseas journey was via Colombo, and Marseilles, then by train to Geneva. At the close of the conference he made his first visit to England before returning home.

1928-11-17 00:00:00

Member for Fremantle

Curtin contested the seat of Fremantle in 1925, and once again lost. On his next attempt, his fourth election campaign, he was at last successful when he won Fremantle for the Australian Labor Party.

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 landslide victory.

1930-11-30 00:00:00


By 1931 Australia's unemployment rate was above 30 percent. War debt combined with deflating export values were contributing to a looming economic crisis. From the backbench, Curtin, was frustrated with the impending disaster for the Labor government.

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 address the increasing economic crisis. 32 of the 46 Labor MPs lost their seats, including Curtin.

1934-09-15 00:00:00

Back to Canberra

In his time out of parliament Curtin considered his options. By 1933 he decided to again stand for the seat of Fremantle in the 1934 election, and won. While not considered a safe seat at the time, 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.

1939-09-03 00:00:00

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 Minister either before, during or after the war.

1941-03-15 00:00:00

Japanese Envoy Tatsuo Kawai

Arriving in March 1941 following a diplomatic career that had taken him to China, Washington and Europe, Tatsuo Kawai was Japan's First Minister to Australia. Over several meetings Kawai and Curtin developed a respectful friendship, with Kawai visiting the Curtin home in July of 1941.

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, both living at the Kurrajong Hotel during parliamentary sittings.

1941-12-01 00:00:00

Living at the Lodge.

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?

1942-01-24 00:00:00

Return to the West

On his first visit home after becoming 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 he again 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

Bombing of Darwin

Just a few days after the fall of Singapore, two hundred Japanese air force planes began bombing Darwin killing hundreds of people and causing extensive damage.

1942-03-21 00:00:00

General Douglas MacArthur arrives

With Curtin's agreement MacArthur was appointed by President Roosevelt as Supreme Commander of the South-West Pacific Area. His arrival created a sense of reassurance that America would assure the defence of Australia.

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

1944-04-05 10:00:00

Departure for Washington and London

Curtin's second overseas trip was a difficult war time undertaking, by ships, trains and planes; the first part of the journey by US naval transport crossing the Pacific. Departing on the Lurline, the voyage took 12 days before arriving in San Francisco.

1944-04-19 00:00:00

Curtin in the United States

Curtin was able to meet with U.S. President Roosevelt before leaving Elsie in Washington. The next leg was by flying boat via Bermuda, landing first in Ireland then on to London for meetings with the Dominion leaders.

1944-05-04 00:00:00

Empire Conference, London

Meetings between the Prime Ministers of Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, and South Africa were held from May 2nd to May 16th to discuss the conduct of the war, Empire co-operation, and plans for post war employment and migration.

John Curtin Looking Ever Forward

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