Diary of a Labour Man


1931 On the backbenches

Tuesday 6 January Fremantle Harbour

R.M.S. Ormonde picture
R.M.S. Ormonde picture Date(s) of creation: [ca. 1923 - ca. 1930] transparency : glass lantern slide ; 8.5 x 8.5 cm.
Courtesy State Library of Victoria Accession Number: H2002.80/1 Image Number: mp014695.

Meets the Prime Minister, and the Federal Attorney General, Mr Brennan, passing through Fremantle on their return from the Imperial Conference.

‘Steaming into the harbour on Tuesday morning, the RMS Ormonde looked a striking picture. Gaily dressed with bunting in brilliant sunshine, as though nature had combined with human effort in bestowing a befitting welcome to the Commonwealth Prime Minister. Mr A E Green (Minister for Defence), Mr John Curtin, MHR, and Mrs Curtin, Mr J B Sleeman, M.L.A., Mr E H Gray, MLC, Mr W D Johnson, MLA, and Mr E H Barker, General Secretary of the ALP, were the first to step aboard and welcome the Ministerial party home.’

Attends civic receptions for Mr Scullin and Mr Brennan.

‘…Civic receptions were tendered them at Fremantle and Perth and at 1 pm they were the guests as a League of Nations Union luncheon at the Perth Town Hall. In the afternoon they received an enthusiastic Labor welcome at the Trades Hall.

  Fremantle Town Hall


A huge crowd gathered at the Fremantle Town Hall and among those on the platform with the Mayor were the Deputy-Leader of the State Labor Party (Mr A McCallum) and Mr J Curtin, MHR. Mr Scullin, who was loudly applauded on rising to speak, said that he was overwhelmed at the great welcome extended to him. The great task, he said, was to restore confidence in the minds of our own people and in the minds of people who matter in other parts of the world.

  Prince of Wales Theatre, Perth

The Perth reception was held in the Prince of Wales Theatre, which was crowded. The Lord Mayor's welcome was supported by the Premier (Sir James Mitchell), Mr A McCallum, and Cr Raphael.
Mr Scullin, who was enthusiastically received, said that during the time his party had been away they had received courtesy and cordiality in all countries, but there was no welcome like the good Australian welcome they had received that morning. They had come back satisfied that there was only one country for them. There is only one Australia.

  Unity Theatre, Perth

In the afternoon the Prime Minister and Mr Brennan, accompanied by Mrs Scullin and Mrs Brennan attended a gathering in the Unity Theatre. The theatre was filled and the guests were left in no doubt as to the place they occupied in the regard of Labor supporters in this State…. 1


Saturday 17 January Fremantle

Leaves for the Eastern States on the Manunda. 2

c. Monday 19 January Sydney

Represents Western Australia, with V Johnson and W Hegney at the 45th Annual Convention of the AWU. 3

Monday 26 January Canberra

11 am – 6.30 pm and 7.30 pm – 11.30 pm
Attends ‘Special Meeting’ of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Supports motion by Senator Halloran, seconded Senator Dunn, ‘That the recommendation of the Prime Minister, “that Mr Theodore be reinstated as Treasurer”, be adopted. Carried (24-19).’

[Weller says that this ‘bitterly contested debate was the cause of the first major split. The Queensland Nationalist government had been slow in dealing with the royal commission report and Scullin now wanted Theodore reinstated. Several members justified their votes during the days which followed the caucus meeting.’] 4
Wednesday 18 February Canberra

11 am – 10.30 pm

Attends ‘Special Meeting’ of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. Adjourned until 19 February. 5
Thursday 19 February Canberra

10 am
Attends resumption of ‘Special Meeting’ of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 6

Friday 20 February Canberra

11 am
Attends meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 7

c. end of February Charlton Victoria

Visits his cousin Con Bourke.

[Curtin’s trips to and from Canberra provided him with the opportunity to ‘catch up with old friends and relations along the way. In Adelaide, there were offspring of his uncle Dennis, who had come from Ireland with his father and who had remained in Adelaide as a policeman. In Melbourne, there were his three siblings and the formidable but now ailing figure of his mother, stricken since the early 1920s with diabetes. Also in Melbourne there were his old friends from the Socialist Party with whom he kept in regular contact.’] 8
Monday 2 March Canberra

11 am – 12.30 am [sic] [probably pm].

Attends ‘Special Meeting’ of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, which included ballots and the tabling of A Summary of the Main Features of the Commonwealth Government’s Financial Plan. ‘The essence of the proposals is the creation of additional bank credit for use in industry, and enterprise throughout the country, concurrently with reductions in Government expenditure and a reduction of costs in industry.’ Meeting adjourned until 3 March. 9
Tuesday 3 March Canberra

11 am – 1 pm
Attends meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, at which the Prime Minister J H Scullin, announces the allotment of portfolios. Meeting adjourned until 12 March. 10

Wednesday 11 March House of Representatives

Responds to a Want of Confidence motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition by examining the case against the Labor Government. Points out that the current economic crisis affects not only Australia but ‘civilization itself’. Argues that problems like falling commodity prices had their origins in the ‘entirely wrong’ monetary practices of the previous decade. After citing other examples of the former Government's economic mismanagement, and Labor's policies for price stabilization and monetary control, calls for the Motion to resolved swiftly in the national interest.

[Debate on the motion was adjourned.] 11
Thursday 12 March Canberra

Attends meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, at which the resignation of the Secretary of the Party, Mr Price, was announced. Mr Price had crossed the floor. A new secretary was not formally elected and the whip, E C Riley wrote the minutes for the remainder of 1931. 12

Friday 20 March House of Representatives

During debate on a Fiduciary Notes Bill to authorize the issue of notes worth £18,000,000 challenges the view that the monetary system is operating efficiently and questions the role of orthodox banking practice in the current economic crisis. Also explains that the note issue will be used to create stimulating work for the unemployed and to provide grants to wheat producers in accordance with the Wheat Bounty Bill. 13

Thursday 26 March Canberra

11 am – 1.10 pm
Attends meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party and gives notice that ‘he would move at the 2nd party meeting following the Easter recess, (1) that the Electoral Act be amended and that the redistribution be deferred until the Census is taken, (2) in the interim no action to be taken’. 14

Friday 27 March Sydney

Attends ‘special interstate conference’ as representative of the Fremantle ALP District.

‘The Labor conference commencing in Sydney today will be the most important held for many years. The conference has been called for the purpose of considering the crisis in the party and to formulate a policy to meet existing conditions in the Commonwealth. It is not yet known whether representatives of New South Wales will attend the conference, but, in any case, the decisions arrived at will be binding on all Laborites. An end must be made of the dissension, or Labor will cease to be a determining factor in the affairs of the nation. There is only one way in which the desired unity can be achieved, and that is through the majority decisions of the highest Labor Authority.' 15

c. Wednesday 1 April Sydney - Perth

Travels to Western Australia.

Saturday 4 April Western Australia

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Two John Curtins, 1931.  JCPML00376/50
JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. Two John Curtins, 1931. JCPML00376/50

Arrives in Perth. 16

Tuesday 7 April Fremantle Trades Hall

Meets the president and secretary of the Fremantle Trades Hall and the State Labor member for the district, and discusses at length the future activities of the movement locally. 17

Thursday 9 April Oxford Theatre, Leederville, Western Australia

Speaks on the present position in federal politics. 18

Saturday 11 April Northam, Western Australia

Speaks to a group of farmers to ‘place the financial position, particularly in connection with the Fiduciary Currency Bill, before them’. 19


Sunday 12 April Unity Theatre, Perth

‘Mr Curtin referred to the manner in which the Commonwealth Bank financed the nation during the difficult war period. It is a matter of history how the bank made credits available to keep industry going and financed wheat, wool, meat and other pools. This, as Mr Curtin pointed out, was due to the fact that the then Governor of the Commonwealth Bank, Sir Denison Miller, regarded himself as the servant of the nation, and not as a dictator, as the present Bank Board regards itself.’ 20

Monday 13 April Victoria Hall, Fremantle

Speaks at a meeting to mark ‘the commencement of propaganda meetings at the port for the purpose of presenting to the people the Labor policy to deal with the present crisis’.


The early birds at Mr Curtin's meeting at the Victoria Hall on Monday night caught, not the worms, but the seats.

Long before 8 o'clock every seat was occupied and the big crowd that turned up at starting time had to be content with standing. The hall was packed to the doors and large numbers were turned away.

Not for many a day has such interest been taken in political happenings. Scores of disappointed people would have welcomed a loud speaker and would have been contented to listen outside the hall. This is an innovation which will have to be considered for the future.
Mr Curtin spoke for an hour and a half to a very attentive audience, who followed his clear and reasoned exposition with rapt attention.

The Fiduciary Bill was clearly explained and the case for its enactment was presented in eloquent and convincing manner.

The intricacies of banking and finance are very difficult subjects for platform exposition. The average public speaker bores his audience to tears. Not so Mr Curtin. He presented his case in such a manner that it would be a dullard indeed that could not follow him.…’ 21

Tuesday 14 April Perth

Speaks over the wireless before leaving for Canberra. 22

Late April/early May Perth - Canberra

Travels to Eastern States.

Wednesday 6 May House of Representatives

Speaks in a debate on the revised Tariff Schedule, and argues that in view of the present economic crisis and restricted market facilities, Australia as a debtor nation, needs to limit imports, particularly of goods that could be manufactured locally. Points out that the Tariff Schedule now before Committee seeks to increase substantially the duties on a wide range of goods that were previously imported into Australia ‘comparatively free’. 23

Thursday 14 May Canberra

11 am – 1 pm
Attends meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party and complains that Western Australia had no representation on the Public Accounts Committee, and objects to Western Australia disabilities being referred to the committee. 24

Wednesday 3 June Canberra

Attended Levee given my His Exellency the Governor-General at Parliament House. The first levee given since the removal of the seat of Government to Canberra.

Early June Canberra - Perth
  Travels to Western Australia.
c. Monday 8 June Perth

Attends Metropolitan Council Meeting and speaks on the present political situation. 25

Tuesday 9 June Fremantle

Attends Fremantle District Council Meeting. 26

Friday 12 June Onslow Road Hall, West Subiaco, Western Australia

Speaks, together with the Leader of the State Labor Party, Mr P Collier. 27

c. Sunday 14 June - Wednesday 17 June Perth - Canberra

Travels to the Eastern States.

Top of page
Thursday 18 June Canberra

Attends meeting of the ALP federal executive which considered the Premiers’ Plan. Opposes the plan. 28


Wednesday 24 June House of Representatives

Indicates during the second reading of the Debt Conversion Agreement Bill, that he is totally opposed to the implementation of the so-called Premiers' Agreement, arguing that his party’s endorsement would ‘bring about the demoralization of the Labour movement’, and hand ‘its enemies … an era of political mastership.’ Suggests that ‘the faith that it [the party] has built up in the minds of its supporters will be destroyed.’ 29

Tuesday 21 July House of Representatives

Speaks in support of a third Amending Conciliation and Arbitration Bill which provides for the establishment of conciliation committees with full power to deal with matters in dispute other than the basic wage and standard hours. Denies that it will impinge upon the vital work of the Arbitration Court, and questions the opposition of some Members, claiming the Bill seeks to make legal those provisions that Parliament incorporated into the Arbitration Act the previous year, but which were subsequently declared invalid by the High Court.' 30

Thursday 23 July House of Representatives

During the second reading of the Wheat Marketing Bill, emphasises the importance of the wheat industry in Australia's economic history and suggests that in the current crisis, Parliament has incurred a moral obligation to wheat growers with respect to last season’s harvest. Points out that the Bill proposes to give farmers in all States the statutory power to organize the collective marketing of their crops, but denies that it will impose government controls on the wheat industry or any financial obligations on the Parliament. 31

Tuesday 28 July House of Representatives

Speaks during the second reading of the Gold Bounty Bill, stresses the importance of gold mining in the current economic crisis. Speaks at length about the role and functions of the proposed Gold Council, an elective advisory body which he believes will operate not only for the benefit of the gold mining industry, but also in the interests of the Australian nation. 32

c. Thursday 30 July - Sunday 2 August Canberra - Perth

Travels to Western Australia.

Monday 3 August Perth

Attends meeting of the State Executive and gives ‘a brief outline of recent events in the federal political sphere’. 33

Tuesday 4 August Trades Hall, Perth

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of Bobbie Oliver.  Perth Trades Hall, n.d.  JCPML00568/12
JCPML. Records of Bobbie Oliver. Perth Trades Hall, n.d. JCPML00568/12.
Courtesy Australian Labor Party, WA Branch.

Delivers an ‘eloquent’ address to the fortnightly meeting of delegates of Labor organisations affiliated with the Fremantle District Council of the ALP.

‘He was listened to with close attention …[and] ranks high as a speaker and debater. He is the clearest, most fluent, and all-round platform man that has ever represented Western Australia in the Federal House. He is able to deal extempore with very difficult and intricate subjects of finance and economics, making plain to the man in the street in simple, forceful language, controversial subjects on which the average speaker flounders hopelessly. His strenuous campaign against the wage-slashing Premiers' Plan has left him more eloquent than ever. His sincerity of purpose is obvious. When listening to John Curtin time passes on winged feet. This was so on Tuesday night. It was well after 11 o'clock before the ALP had concluded its session.’ 34

Thursday 6 August Perth

Attends meeting of the Metropolitan Council.

‘It would be difficult to recall a meeting of the Metropolitan Council, in which there was more real vitality, than that which took … when Mr John Curtin, MHR for Fremantle, addressed delegates on the present position from his viewpoint. That the air was so electric was due to the fact of the struggle which had been waged by John Curtin in the Labor Movement of Australia for many months past. At the beginning he had many helpers, and was probably not the leader of the group, but as time passed his expanding knowledge of the banking system, and his determination at all costs to stick to the principles of the Labor Movement forced him into the position of an unofficial leader of the protesting party. The "force" in the meeting referred to was there because the big majority of those present believed in what the speaker had done and wanted to feast on the stuff of which his dreams were made.’ 35

Wednesday 12 August Fremantle Town Hall

Fremantle Town Hall. Courtesy Battye Library BA1116/27.
Fremantle Town Hall c.1890.
Courtesy Battye Library BA1116/27.

Speaks on the Premiers’ Plan and the federal political situation generally. 36


Tuesday 18 August Unity Theatre Perth

Addresses a ‘crowded meeting’. 37

c. Wednesday 19 August - Saturday 22 August Perth - Melbourne

Travels to Eastern States.

Thursday 27 August Melbourne

Attends interstate ALP Conference as one of the West Australian representatives. 38

Wednesday 16 September House of Representatives

Speaks during debate on the Tariff Board's recommendations for the galvanized iron industry indicating that he personally will support the Bill, in spite of the strong criticism it has received from the Government. Questions whether, in the present economic climate, the peak prices and higher duty in the Government's alternative proposal for the industry would be equitable, given that Australia's galvanized iron manufacturer currently has no overseas competition to meet. 39

Friday 18 September House of Representatives

Votes against a Bill to introduce a Tariff for the Iron and Steel industry, while acknowledging the need for Australia to develop its resources in that important sector. Opposes any changeover from a bounty to a duty, arguing that customs duties are not required to protect against unfair competition in times of diminished demand. 40

c. Thursday 15 October Canberra - Perth

Leaves Canberra for Western Australia.

Tuesday 20 October Fremantle

Arrives from Canberra on the Karoola.

‘So far this year I have spent only 52 days in Western Australia and as the business in the House of Representatives appears to run an automatic course, I thought it wisest and perfectly in accord with my public duty to come back and address a series of meetings in the Fremantle electorate.’ 41

Friday 30 October Old Mens’ Home, Claremont, Western Australia

Addresses meeting with Mr J J Kenneally MLA. 42 At this meeting, a ceremony took place to unveil a portrait of Mr Curtin in thanks for his efforts on behalf of the old men in the Home.

The member for Fremantle was deeply moved by the unexpected and high honor that had been done to him, and sincerely and earnestly voiced his appreciation of the kind action carried out in recornigition of the services he had rendered. He also said that he felt it was his duty to, at all times, help those who were least able to assist themselves. 42a

Monday 2 November Progress Hall, West Subiaco

8 pm
Addresses meeting. 43

Tuesday 3 November Oxford Theatre, Leederville

Addresses meeting.

Attends meeting of ALP and gives ‘a brief but very interesting address on certain phases of the present political and industrial position, for which he was accorded a hearty vote of thanks by delegates’. 44

Thursday 5 November Princess Hall, Claremont

Addresses meeting. 45

Sunday 8 November McNess Hall, Pier Street, Perth
  Sunday night
Attends the Peace Meeting as one of the speakers. 45a
c. mid November Perth - Canberra

Returns to Canberra

c. end of November Canberra - Perth

Scullin Government is defeated in the House of Representatives.

Friday 4 December Perth

Curtin travels back to Perth on the Great Western express with fellow senators Sir George Pearce, W. Carroll, E.B. Johnston, Messra J.H. Prowse, W.M. Nairn and H.Gregory. 46

Curtin arrives in Perth to organize his election campaign, and ‘go through the motions of defending his seat’. 46a

c. Thursday 10 December Perth

Writes article for the Daily News newspaper.

‘The Daily News has complied with a request to publish once a week a column of Labor news and views. This contribution will appear every Tuesday, it being understood that we do not necessarily subscribe to the opinions expressed. The matter is supplied officially, and can be taken as the voice of the Labor movement in Western Australia.’ 47


Saturday 19 December Western Australia

Federal Election.

Except in Queensland, disenchanted voters rejected the Labor Party wholesale. With unemployment rising to levels not seen since the depression of the 1890s, they were looking for solutions that the Scullin Government did not seem able to provide. .Curtin loses his seat. He faced popular William Watson [UAP], who had held the seat of Fremantle previously, but stood aside in the elections of 1928 and 1929. Watson had a final majority of more than 5000 votes. 48


Tuesday 22 December Cottesloe, Western Australia

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Curtin house, 14 (later re-numbered 24) Jarrad Street, Cottesloe, c1927.  JCPML00382/33
JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. Curtin house, 14 (later re-numbered 24) Jarrad Street, Cottesloe, c1927. JCPML00382/33.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of Henry Boote.  1918-1933.
JCPML. Records of Henry Boote. Correspondence of H E Boote, 1918-1933. JCPML00473/1.
Courtesy National Library of Australia. MS 2070.

Writes to H E Boote, editor of the AWU’s Sydney paper, the Worker, seeking work.

14 Jarrad St, Cottesloe ,W.A. Dec 22, 1931

Dear Henry,

We have gone to dusty death. It is idle looking back at the things which should have been done, and those other things that should have not been done. It is past and the thing now to look to is the reconstruction. My feeling is that the real effective decisions of the Labour Movement are made in the East and that for all practical purposes Western Australia does not count in the formulation of Labor policy. I somehow do not like to leave the next few years to the cannibals who live on their own species, and hanker for a go at them.

I am wondering if you could talk with Ted Grayndler with a view to my being used in some sort of a job where I could be available for whatever purpose would be best. I offer you no recommendations. All of you know me and the only question is that I feel a call to go to either Melbourne or Sydney and for that to be realised some sort of a job is needed. I cannot at this distance dig one up for myself.

Will you pass my regards to the rest of the chaps in the office and for yourself all my good wishes for a very happy New Year.

Yours faithfully,

John Curtin 49