John Curtin


John Curtin

Infobox Prime Minister
honorific-prefix = The Right Honourable
name=
John Curtin


order=14th Prime Minister of Australia
Elections: 1937, 1940, 1943
term_start =7 October 1941
term_end =5 July 1945
predecessor =Arthur Fadden
successor =Frank Forde
birth_date =birth date|1885|1|8|df=y
birth_place =Creswick, Victoria, Australia
death_date = Death date and age|1945|7|5|1885|1|8|df=yes
death_place =Canberra, ACT
party=Labor
constituency = Fremantle (Western Australia)

John Joseph Curtin (8 January 1885 – 5 July 1945), Australian politician and 14th Prime Minister of Australia, led Australia when the Australian mainland came under direct military threat during the Japanese advance in World War II. He is widely regarded as one of the country's greatest Prime Ministers. [cite web|url=http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=14|title=John Curtin|work=National Archives of Australia|accessdate=2007-04-21] General Douglas MacArthur said that Curtin was "one of the greatest of the wartime statesmen". [General Douglas MacArthur, Reminiscences, Heinemann, London, 1967. Page 258.] His Prime Ministerial predecessor, Arthur Fadden of the Country Party wrote: "I do not care who knows it but in my opinion there was no greater figure in Australian public life in my lifetime than Curtin." [Foreword by R.J. Hawke to "John Curtin - Saviour of Australia", Norman E Lee, Longman Cheshire, 1983. Page 83]

Early life

Curtin was born in Creswick in central Victoria. His name is sometimes shown as "John Joseph Ambrose Curtin". He chose the name "Ambrose" as a Catholic confirmation name at around age 14, but this was never part of his legal name. He left the Catholic faith as a young man, and also dropped the "Joseph" from his name.

His father was a police officer of Irish descent. He had some primary education, but by the age of twelve he was working in a factory in Melbourne. He soon became active in both the Australian Labor Party and the Victorian Socialist Party, a Marxist group. He wrote for radical and socialist newspapers as "Jack Curtin".

It is believed that Curtin's first bid for a public office was when he stood for the position of secretary of the Brunswick Australian rules football club, and was defeated. He had earlier played for Brunswick between 1903 and 1907. ["Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Australian Rules Football ...", Graeme Atkinson, 1982, The Five Mile Press, Melbourne, page 186.]

In 1911 Curtin was employed as secretary of the Timberworkers' Union, and during World War I he was a militant anti-conscriptionist. He was the Labor candidate for Balaclava in 1914. He was briefly imprisoned for refusing to attend a compulsory medical examination, even though he knew he would fail the exam due to his very poor eyesight. The strain of this period led him to drink heavily, a vice which blighted his career for many years. In 1917 he married Elsie Needham, the sister of a Labor Senator.

Curtin moved to Perth in 1918 to become an editor for the "Westralian Worker", the official trade union newspaper. He enjoyed the less pressured life of Western Australia and his political views gradually moderated. He joined the Australian Journalists’ Association in 1917 and was elected Western Australian President in 1920. He wore his AJA badge (membership #56) every day he was Prime Minister.

Early political career

He stood for Parliament several times before winning the federal seat of Fremantle in 1928. He was expected to be chosen as a minister in James Scullin's Labor cabinet when it was formed after the 1929 election, but disapproval of his drinking kept him on the back bench. He lost his seat in 1931, but won it back in 1934.

When Scullin resigned as Labor leader in 1935, Curtin was unexpectedly elected (by just one vote) to succeed him. The left wing and trade union group in the Caucus backed him because his better known rival, Frank Forde, had supported the economic policies of the Scullin administration. This group also made him promise to give up drinking, which he did. He made little progress against Joseph Lyons' government (which was returned to office at the 1937 election by a comfortable margin); but after Lyons' death in 1939, Labor's position improved. Curtin fell only a few seats short of winning the 1940 election.

Prime Minister 1941-45

Curtin refused Robert Menzies' offer to form a wartime "national government," partly because he feared it would split the Labor Party. In October 1941, Arthur Coles and Alexander Wilson, the two independent MPs who had been keeping the conservatives (led first by Menzies, then by Sir Arthur Fadden) in power since 1940, switched their support to Labor, and Curtin became Prime Minister.

On 8 December, the Pacific War broke out. Curtin took several crucial decisions. On 26 December, the "Melbourne Herald" published a New Year's message from Curtin, who wrote: " [w] ithout any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom." This was received badly in Australia, the UK and the U.S.; [ [http://www.awm.gov.au/events/conference/2002/edwards.htm Peter Edwards, "Another look at Curtin and MacArthur" (Australian War Memorial)] Access date: 20/04/06.] it angered Winston Churchill, and President Roosevelt said it "smacked of panic". `The article nevertheless achieved the effect of drawing attention to the possibility that Australia would be invaded by Japan.

Curtin formed a close working relationship with the Allied Supreme Commander in the South West Pacific Area, General Douglas MacArthur. Curtin realised that Australia would be ignored unless it had a strong voice in Washington, and he wanted that voice to be MacArthur's. He gave control of Australian forces to MacArthur, directing Australian commanders to treat MacArthur's orders as coming from the Australian government.

The Australian government had agreed that the Australian Army's I Corps — centred on the 6th and 7th Infantry Divisions — would be transferred from North Africa to the American-British-Dutch-Australian Command, in the Netherlands East Indies. In February, following the fall of Singapore and the loss of the 8th Division, Churchill attempted to divert I Corps to reinforce British troops in Burma, without Australian approval. Curtin insisted that it return to Australia, although he agreed that the main body of the 6th Division could garrison Ceylon. The Japanese threat was underlined on 19 February, when Japan bombed Darwin, the first of many air raids on northern Australia.

By the end of 1942, the results of the battles of the Coral Sea, Milne Bay and on the Kokoda Track had averted the perceived threat of invasion. In August, Curtin led Labor to its greatest election victory up until that time.

Curtin also expanded the terms of the "Defence Act", so that conscripted Militia soldiers could be deployed outside Australia to "such other territories in the South-west Pacific Area as the Governor-General proclaims as being territories associated with the defence of Australia". [ [http://www.naa.gov.au/fsheets/fs162.html National Archives of Australia: National service and war, 1939–45] ] This met opposition from most of Curtin's old friends on the left, and from many of his colleagues, led by Arthur Calwell. This was despite Curtin furiously opposing conscription during World War I, and again in 1939 when it was introduced by the Menzies government.

The stress of this bitter battle inside his own party took a great toll on Curtin's health, never robust even at the best of times. He suffered all his life from stress-related illnesses, and he also smoked heavily. In 1944, when he travelled to Washington and London for meetings with Roosevelt, Churchill and other Allied leaders, he already had heart disease, and in early 1945 his health deteriorated still more obviously. On 5 July 1945, at the age of 60, Curtin died: the second Australian Prime Minister to die in office within six years. He was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth. MacArthur said of Curtin that "the preservation of Australia from invasion will be his immemorial monument".

He was briefly succeeded as Prime Minister by Frank Forde, then a week later, after a party ballot, by Ben Chifley.

Legacy

Curtin is credited with leading the Australian Labor Party to its best federal election success in history, on a record 55.1 percent of the primary senate vote, and a two party preferred lower house estimate of 58.2 percent [ [http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/10/01/2047469.htm Three strikes against the polls, or the Govt is out - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) ] ] at the 1943 election.

His early death and the sentiments it aroused have given Curtin a unique place in Australian political history. Successive Labor leaders, particularly Bob Hawke and Kim Beazley, have sought to build on the Curtin tradition of "patriotic Laborism". Even some political conservatives pay at least formal homage to the Curtin legend.

Curtin is commemorated by Curtin University of Technology in Perth, John Curtin College of the Arts in Fremantle the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra and the [http://john.curtin.edu.au/ John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library] . On 14 August 2005, V-P Day, a bronze statue of Curtin was unveiled by Premier Geoff Gallop in front of Fremantle Town Hall.

Popular culture

* In the 1984 mini series "The Last Bastion", Curtin was portrayed by Michael Blakemore.
* In the 1986 film "Death of a Soldier", he was portrayed by Terence Donovan.
* In the 2000 film "Pozieres", he was portrayed by David Ross Paterson.
* In the 2007 film "Curtin", he was portrayed by William McInnes.

ee also

*First Curtin Ministry
*Second Curtin Ministry
*Military history of Australia during World War II

Further reading

* [http://epress.anu.edu.au/anzsog/auspol/mobile_devices/ch07.html David Day, "Chapter 7. John Curtin: Taking his Childhood Seriously", Australian Political Lives: Chronicling political careers and administrative histories]
*Lloyd Ross, "John Curtin", MacMillan Company of Australia, 1977, ISBN 0 522 84734 X
*S.J. Butlin and C.B. Schedvin, "War Economy 1942–1945," Australian War Memorial, Canberra, 1997
*David Day, "Curtin: A Life", Harper Collins, 1999
* [http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=108661368 John Edwards, "Curtin's Gift: Reinterpreting Australia's Greatest Prime Minister", Allen & Unwin, 2005]
*Bob Wurth, "Saving Australia: Curtin’s secret peace with Japan"

Primary sources

* D. Black, "In His Own Words: John Curtin's Speeches and Writings," Paradigm Books, Curtin University, Perth 1995

References

External links

* [http://primeministers.naa.gov.au/meetpm.asp?pmId=14 John Curtin] - Australia's Prime Ministers / National Archives of Australia
* [http://john.curtin.edu.au/ John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library] / Curtin University of Technology, Western Australia
* [http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A130616b.htm John Curtin (1885 - 1945)] - Australian Dictionary of Biography, Online Edition
* [http://dl.filmaust.com.au/module/1091/ John Curtin’s Australian Journalists’ Association Badge - English and Media Literacy, Australian Biography ] at dl.filmaust.com.au - Prime Ministers' Natural Treasures


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