Wednesday, November 25, 2009

John Curtin

John Curtin was a Prime Minister. He was the Prime Minister of Australia during World War II. I'm pretty sure he was part of the Labor Party. That's about all I know. Well, I also know that he vetoed the idea of Jewish refugees coming to settle in the Kimberley. But I don't know much about his decision. I'm eager to learn more.

Lord Wiki says that baby John was born 8 January 1885 in Creswick Victoria. Creswick is the hometown of Norman Lindsay and family. Sadly, I didn't remember that. I had to be reminded.

Creswick is about twenty-five minutes north of Ballarat.

Curtin was born into a Catholic family. His dad was an Irish policeman. I wonder if his mom was Irish too.

Curtin dropped out of school at the age of fourteen. He started working for a newspaper. He also joined the Labor Party, AND the Victorian Socialist Party. The latter group was actually Marxist. It seems Curtin was a bit of a radical. He wrote for radical newspapers, using the name Jack Curtin.

During World War I, Curtin was militantly anti-conscription. I imagine he might have butt heads with Billy Hughes. At one time he refused to attend a required military medical examination. Due to this, he was briefly imprisoned. Wow. It seems he did it for principle only. His eye sight was pretty awful, and he would have failed the test anyway.

So far, I'm liking Curtin. It's probably because he's left and radical. I'm left and fairly radical too.

All this was a hard time for Curtin. Lord Wiki said he took up heavy drinking. Yikes.

He also got married.

In 1917, Curtin went to live in a town near Perth....Cottesloe. I'm assuming he took his wife with him.....

Anyway, Lord Wiki says he liked living there.

From what I see on Google Maps, Cottesloe looks more like a suburb of Perth than a town near Perth.

In Cottesloe, Curtin became the editor of the Westralian Worker. He joined the Australian Journalists Association and became the president of their Western Australian Division. It seems he was proud of this. Lord Wiki says he wore the organization's badge the whole time he was Prime Minister.

Politically speaking, Lord Wiki says Curtin gradually became a bit more moderate. I'm not sure about the specifics here. Maybe I'll learn more later.

In 1928, Curtin joined Parliament. He got in via the seat of Freemantle. He would have been about 43 then. Lord Wiki says this wasn't the first time he tried getting in. It seems he had a few prior failed attempts. Well, I'm glad he eventually made it in.

There was hope, he'd get bumped up into a ministry position when James Scullin became Prime Minister. But Curtin's drinking prevented that from happening. He was stuck in the backbench. Then in 1931 he lost his seat. But don't be too sad. He got it back again in 1934. The guy who stole Curtin's seat from 1931 to 1934 was William Watson. It's kind of funny. Watson was originally from Victoria as well. The current person in he seat is Melissa Parke. She wasn't born in Victoria. She's originally from Western Australia.

In 1935, Curtin had some luck. Scullin resigned as Labor Leader. Curtin got the job by one vote. The Trade Union Group supported Curtin, but they insisted that he give up drinking. He did! That's cool. During this time, Curtin wasn't Prime Minister. Joseph Lyons from the United Australia Party had the big job. When World War II first began, Robert Menzies was Prime Minister. That was in 1939.

In 1941, Menzies went to the UK to discuss Australia's role in the war. Lord Wiki says at this time Menzies lost support....even from his own party. I guess that set the stage for Curtin becoming Prime Minister. That happened in October 1941. A few months after that, Curtin called out to the United States and the UK for help. Then I guess he directed more of his pleas towards the United States. Lord Wiki says this was significant in history. I guess it somewhat represented a break in the relationship between Australia and Great Britain? And Curtin tried to bond with the United States. I'm getting the idea that this was was the point in history where Australia and the United States loved each other the most. Curtin even allowed an American General (Douglas MacArthur)to become the boss of the Australian troops. Yeah. That's some major Australian-America bonding there.

Curtin during this time was working very long hours, smoking a lot, and not feeling healthy. He sadly died in office in 1945.

Curtin has three schools named after him. Wow! That's impressive for a guy who dropped out of the education world when he was fourteen. And from what I've read, it doesn't seem like he ever attended university.

There's the Curtin University of Technology which has campuses all over Western Australia; plus one in Sydney, and some in Asia.

There's a high school in Freemantle named after Curtin....John Curtin College of the Arts.

Then there's the John Curtin School of Medical Research in Canberra. That one's part of the Australian National University.

Now I'm going to say good-bye to Lord Wiki, and go to the biography dictionary site. What lovely insights will they have there?

Both Mommy and Daddy Curtin were Irish. They had four kids. John was the eldest. Daddy Curtin had other jobs besides the policeman one. At one time, he was a gaol warden. Then he also worked in hotels. At times, the family was stricken by poverty.

It seems the family moved around Victoria a lot.

John Curtin had various jobs in his youth. By 1903, he worked as an estimates Clerk for Titan Manufacturing Company. This John Curtin website has a photo of him at work. The photo is from 1916. I guess he ended up working for that company for a long time. I definitely need to return to that website. I'll get back there soon.

When not working, Curtin continued his education by reading books at the library. He also played cricket and football.

At some point, Curtin lost his Catholic faith. I wonder how that happened, and how his parents felt about it.

In 1914, Curtin became president of the timberworker's union. One of the things he worked on was getting the Tasmanian Branch re-established. I guess something had happened to it? Anyway, while he was there, he became friends with a man named Abraham. Abraham ended up being the father of Curtin's future wife.

Curtin proposed to his future wife at St. Kilda Beach. She accepted. How romantic.

The website stresses the fact that Curtin was a well-learned man. He was an intellectual. But all that was a bit overshadowed by his heavy-drinking.

Ah! It says when Curtin moved to Western Australia, he stayed dry for over ten years. I'm guessing that means he eventually returned to drinking.

The website says that Curtin suffered from an ailment called Neurasthenia. Lord Wiki says this is a term used in the late 19th century for people who were nervous, depressed, etc. The brilliant Freud listed farting as one of its symptoms. And one of the primary causes? Excessive masturbation.

Curtin and his wife ended up with a son and daughter. They moved into a red brick home in Cottesloe. I love details like that.

The website says that family life brought some happiness and stability to Curtin's life. He liked being a husband and dad. He surfed with his family. He took walks on the beach. He walked the family dog. He did household chores.

He was a well-liked man in the community. The website says he was tolerant and kind. His speech was gentle. He used very little profanity.

It sounds like though, that by 1927, things became rough again. He spent a lot of time away from home working. He returned to drinking.

He was not happy when he wasn't accepted into Scullin's Ministry.

It sounds like Curtin chose to return to concentrating on the home life. And then he gave up drinking for good. It sounds to me like this was the right choice. I understand drinking is fun for some people. It makes them happy. It makes them relax. But I think for many other people, it just brings unhappiness and disaster.

I'm just kind of quietly reading right now....a bit too overwhelmed to report much.

But here's something interesting to me. He didn't care for his Irish heritage. I can relate to that a bit. I don't care much about my Jewish heritage. But I do respect people who have strong love and attachment to their heritage. I think it's fine as long as it doesn't become divisive.

Curtin didn't like flying....airplane flying, that is.

In his later years, Curtin had a difficult time. The biographical website says he was more irritable and resented criticism. He tried not to dwell in self-pity, but it seemed he ended up doing so anyway. Despite feeling unwell physically and emotionally, he tried to persevere. Wow, this all really reminds me of me this past week. Reading this....I'm feeling TOTALLY bonded to John Curtin right now.

Curtin also dealt with some religious stuff. He had been a tolerant rationalist earlier. What's that? Well, I can't find an answer. My guess is it's someone who is somewhat atheist, but tolerant of religion. I could be totally wrong. Anyway, towards the end of his life, he gained some love and interest in God. He started believing in an afterlife.

I'm really relating to Curtin here. Is that like delusions of grandeur to relate to a Prime Minister? But see, I'm not relating to the amazing powerful heroic stuff. I'm relating to the difficult stuff.

Curtin was shy and moody. I've been accused of that before.

He's described as being sad-looking. On several occasions, people have suggested I smile....or smile more.

He's awkward. That's TOTALLY me.

There's some other fun trivial stuff about the Curtin character.

He was friendly and had easygoing chats with various service professionals. That might sound like it contradicts with the shyness thing. But in my own personal experience, people can be very shy in some instances and very outgoing in other instances.

He liked vaudeville, musical comedy, and film.

He liked crossword puzzles.

He liked good manners. I like good manners too. I don't care about things like how people hold a fork, and whether they have their elbows on the table. But I do care about basic decency...saying please, thank you, sorry, not being too late too often, etc.

All right. Time for the next website. I'm still liking Curtin. He might be one of my favorite Prime Ministers so far.

Here's the government Prime Minister page. I'm looking at their main page first...trying to get some historical perspective. Curtin came between Arthur Fadden and Francis Forde. Although I think Forde was the guy who was in the office for an extremely short time.

For some reason, this website is easier for me to understand. I guess they speak more in my language. I find stuff here that I missed on the other sites.

Anyway, they say he relaxed a bit on his anti-conscription feelings from World War I. In World War II, he sent conscription troops overseas.

Here's their background page on Curtin.

Curtin's dad was not very healthy. He retired from the police work when young John was five. The family then moved to Melbourne where the parents worked in hotels. They lived in a suburb called Brunswick which had many other poverty-stricken Irish folk.

The reason Curtin left school was because he needed to support his family. Tough break. Although one doesn't always need wealth and a prestigious long education to do well in life.

Curtin worked, and he became active in politics.

Before World War I, Curtin concentrated his efforts in promoting Socialism. When war broke out, his goal leaned more towards ant-war stuff.

Ah. Here's some marriage stuff. Curtin couldn't afford to get married right away. So his object of affection went off to South Africa. The two lovebirds kept the romance going via a long distance correspondence.

From 1917 to 1918, Curtin was having a very rough time with the alcoholism and depression. His friends helped him to get a journalist job in Perth. And that turned his life around a bit. There was a concept like that in a book I read recently. Oh! I remember. It was the Stephen King book. The idea is if your life really is in the pits, sometimes a change in scene might help. I agree with that. I know of certain people who would strongly disagree with me. They believe the grass is NOT greener on the other side. If you can't make it here, you won't be able to make it there. But I think sometimes a change CAN do us good. Sometime we need a fresh start.

In Perth, Curtin finally married his girlfriend. The two had been an item for five years already. The newly formed family first lived at 3 Napier Street in Cottesloe. I'm looking at it on Google Maps. It looks VERY close to the water. I wonder if the water nearby was nice. Was there a harbour? A beach? I'd love to live that close to the water. Although I shouldn't say that. Global Warming is likely to be nasty to people living so close to the coast.

I'm looking at Street View now. It looks like 3 Napier Street now has some kind of apartment complex. It doesn't look like a singular home. I wonder if the people living there realize that John Curtin lived there at one time. I bet they do. I bet the area has a little plaque or something.

After the Curtin family lived there, they next moved to 24 Jarrad Street. I'm looking at it on Street View now. This is so fun.

The website says Curtin still struggled with depression and alcoholism. But he tried to be okay. Sometimes taking walks along beach sand dunes brought him some relief. Beach walking can be very therapeutic.

It looks like they had about an eight minute walk to the water. I wonder if they had a beach right there. That would have been nice!

The two kids in the family were named after their mother and father. I wonder if certain types of parents name their kids after themselves. In some ways, it seems a tiny bit egotistical. Although I think it's different if the name has been around in the family for a long time. Then it's kind of like passing on a heritage.

As I said before, Curtin became less radical in his time through Perth. Some even felt he supported the conservative government too much. He supported Menzies in the beginning of the war, although he said he wouldn't go as far as supporting conscription.

All right. Now I'm on the in-office page.

He became the fourteenth Prime Minister of Australia eight weeks prior to the attack on Pearl Harbour.

He rejected Britain's desire to deploy US troops. I don't know much about this. My guess (probably from stuff I absorbed in the past) is that the UK wanted Australia fighting for the UK. Curtin wanted Australian troops fighting for Australia.

The website says Curtin had doubts about leading a nation through a war. I don't know who wouldn't have doubts. I don't think I'd like a politician who had that much confidence. I think most people would be slightly terrified. And my feeling is it's not whether you're scared or not. It's whether you can work despite the fear.

Australia was lacking in warfare tools. This was kind of a problem.

Before all that happened though, Curtin had TRIED to establish better diplomatic relations with Japan. He developed a friendly relationship with a Japanese ambassador named Tatsuo Kawai. Some folks weren't happy with that.

About two months after becoming Prime Minister, Curtin had to deal with a national tragedy. An Australian ship had sunk. This was the HMAS Sydney. It had been destroyed in a battle with a German ship.

Isn't this the ship that was recently found?

Yeah. Lord Wiki says it was found in March 2008. I remember that. The German ship was destroyed as well. Lots of lost lives. Wars aren't much fun.

Days after that incident, Pearl Harbor happened. This led to Japanese nationals being interned in Australia. One of these individuals was Curtin's friend Kawai. about having a strain in your relationship.

Australia was a bit nervous at this point. They worried about an invasion from Japan. They sought out help from the UK...figuring Australia had helped them with the first World War. Now the UK would help them. But Churchill really didn't do much. He wanted to concentrate more on the Middle East.

I had intensive email conversations with a friend yesterday about family members helping each other out. Should we be there for our family and friends; sacrifice our time, energy, money, etc. to helping them? And what do you do when the people you help don't later help you in return? I find it hard to be supportive of someone when they're not supportive of me. I guess I'm not very self-sacrificing. That's not to say I DON'T help, but I do it very grudgingly. I end up bitching about it a lot.

In my case, it's not really about wars and stuff like that. It's more simple things like being there for someone. It's hard for me to act excited with a someone's project, joy, accomplishment, etc. when they totally ignored mine. It's hard for me to offer sympathy to people who ignored or downplayed my problems in the past.

Around New Years...or maybe ON New Years, Curtin sent out a message to Australia. He said Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom.
Some Australians did NOT like this at all. And Churchill didn't like it either.

Poor Curtin was under a huge amount of stress. People convinced him to take a little break, and he did so.

You know if something like that happened today, I think people would accuse the leader of being weak. They'd call him a coward. And maybe there is something unfair about a politician taking a rest while soldiers soldier on. But I don't know. Sometimes, even the strongest people need a little respite.

In February, the attack on Darwin happened. Much of the town was destroyed.

Around this time, Curtin enlisted the help of America...specifically the MacArthur guy.

Curtin had a hard time with the whole conscription things. His change of heart on that matter caused a lot of controversy. In an emotional scene, a fellow labor Politician said to Curtin that he had led young men into the slaughterhouse, although thirty years ago he wouldn’t go into it himself. This made Curtin weep. Oh. That's very sad.

The Labor guy tried to make Curtin sound selfish and cowardly. But I don't think it was like that. I think sometimes situations make us change our viewpoints on things. I really don't believe Curtin was anti-conscription because he personally didn't want to get his hands dirty.

The website provides some fun facts.

Curtin was the only Prime Minister to have spent time in gaol. Speaking of that....has Obama ever been in jail? I can't remember. And excuse my change in spellings here. I'm culturally confused. Really.

Well, I can't find anything about Obama being in jail. Was George W. Bush? I know he had been arrested for drunk driving. But I can't remember if he went to jail or not.

Curtin never owned or drove a car. Now I feel TOTALLY bonded to the guy. I don't like driving.

Here's a whole website about Curtin. I feel I've read so much today. Do I really want to read more? I don't know. Although I like Curtin. I'm not sure I'm ready to say good-bye to him.

Oh! The website is from that University of Technology. Cool.

Well, this part is kind of fun. It's kind of like a pictorial history thing. I think I'll just read it for my own enjoyment. If anything jumps out at me, I'll share it.

His mother was strong and vocal. The website says it was she who encouraged Curtin to go into politics. I like hearing positive mom stories.

This page says, Despite being a hopeless handyman who couldn't knock in a straight nail, he spent endless hours pottering in the garden. That's cute. I find Curtin to be so endearing.

This page just talks about how Curtin was a nice man....well-liked by many people. He was courteous and caring. Of course this all comes from a school named after Curtin. It's unlikely they'd dwell on any of his negative traits.

I am overwhelmed. There's so much good stuff here. I'm going to have to stop sometime. But anyone interested can go to this page. It has a link to a lot of goodies.

I do want to know more about Curtin and the Jewish Kimberly thing. I'll google that.

Here's an article about that. The plan of the Kimberly Project was to resettle 75,000 Jews in the area. Well, it doesn't actually say much about the plan, or why Curtin rejected it. It more talks about how there's Jews today living in rural areas of Australia.

I'm giving up. I scrolled my eyes down a bit at further stuff on my Google search. I came up with a link to my own blog. I've written about The Kimberley thing before. Had I found anything back then? Well, not really. But in comments, Matt defended Curtin and had some interesting insights.

Anyway, I'd better stop now. It's getting late, and Jack wants us to play around with stop motion animation.

Wait. Before I go. See? I really AM having trouble saying good-bye. Here's a website where you can hear Curtin making a speech on Anzac Day.

Okay. I'm still here. Now I'm reading this website. It gives valuable insight into Australia's relationship with America during World War II. I think some Americans like to imagine that they were Australia's perfect knight in shining armor. But it wasn't as simple as that. First of all, Roosevelt was a bit nasty in response to Curtin's pleas for help. Instead of saying something like Sorry you're going through a rough time and Britain wasn't there for you. We'll be by your side, Roosevelt said something about Curtin sounding panicked and disloyal. I'm betting he said that to stay on Churchill's good side.

Still, they did come to Australia's help. Was it pure altruism? Of course!

No, not really. I think it was less about wanting to help Australia and more about wanting to defeat Japan. It's all a game of alliances.

A lot of American soldiers ended up in Australia. Some Australians resented their presence. Others ended up marrying them.

I like the conclusion on this page. It says, Curtin's actions did not mark a sharp break with Britain, nor a sudden and permanent shift of allegiance to the United States. Instead, they marked another step in Australia's continuing search for its place in the world.

That statement made me a little emotional. It was said very well. I'm going to end on that note. I may not be ready to move on, but I probably should.


  1. Hi Dina
    Im finally back, uni is over for the year. Yeah!!!!
    I really missed your blog but glad i started back with my favourite P.M. I loved the post and love the Labour politicians of that era especially Curtin and Evatt. I think they were not afraid to stand up for what they believed in but Communism and McCarthyism ruined the Labour party and its ideals of that era. As the present day Labour party is nothing like the old Labour party its more centralist than left and the Greens have taken over the left.

    Curtin and Menzies both disliked Churchill as he tried to play a Father role rather than a brother role and I don’t think too many Australian have forgotten that Churchill was the one in charge of the ill fated Gallipoli campaign where he send ANZAC troops to the slaughter. So the shift towards America was huge at the time as most people still saw themselves as British subjects or people of the British Commonwealth rather than just Australian.

  2. Matt,

    I'm so glad you're back! So, how did you do on your uni exams...finals? What do you call them over there?

    Our Democrat party is very Centralist too. And sadly our more left parties have very little influence in our government. We had one Democratic candidate that was much more left (Kucinich). I really liked him. `

    It's funny how Republicans see Obama as being so far left. He's really not.

    Back to Curtin. He might be one of my favorite Prime Ministers too.

    I think you got it right about Churchill...trying to be a father rather than a brother. Although I'm not sure what America would be in that analogy. I felt Roosevelt's reaction to Curtin's plea for help was a bit....rude. Well, rude is probably not the right word.

    Do you have any fun plans for your summer holiday?

  3. My exams went well, thanks for asking. I had the last one yesterday a history exam just had to write an essay.

    No plans for the holidays unfortunately just work and stay in Sydney but i get 2 weeks off over Christmas so some time to relax.

    I think Obama would be considered right wing in most countries around the world. Its only in the US or maybe Australia or Britain (not sure about Canada) where you could consider him left wing or centralist. I see he finally got the heath bill passed through Congress so at least he is making some progress next step is climate change. Not sure if you have been following whats been happening in the Liberal party over the last few day but i think they are in big trouble come next election.

    The way i look at it is he is trying to drag America who is kicking and screaming to the Left to be more aligned with the rest of the world. I have been reading and watching a bit of Noam Chomsky, a very intelligent man, i love his views on the media and the propaganda they peddle.

  4. Matt,

    I heard of Chomsky back in my college days, but don't know much about him. I think all I knew was that some consider him to be a "self-hating Jew" and that he had a chimpanzee named after him. I did a little reading tonight, but would have to read more before having any worthwhile opinion.

    You're probably right about Obama being on the right. Now that I think of it...On that political compass website, he was on the right quadrant. I think.

    Do you think he REALLY is on the right....or that he knew there'd be no chance in hell of getting elected if he revealed where he really stands.

    I really don't know.

    He's in a tough place though. I'm not sure how he can win. To those on the left, he's a disappointment. To those on the right, he's a radical leftie who's going to rob us of all our freedom.

  5. I think at the moment Obama is as far to the left as the American public will let him be. I think the key will be if he gets a second term then i think you will see the real Obama which i think is more to the left of centre. Hopefully he does well and he pulls the centre of American politics more to the left but a lot will depend on the media for that to happen so i wont hold my breathe especially if Fox news has anything to do with it.