Diary of a Labour Man


1932 On the backbenches

Throughout 1932 Perth


[During the period 1931-1933 when he was out of Parliament, John Curtin worked as a journalist and was publicity officer for the Perth Trades Hall Council. He wrote regular columns on behalf of the Labor Party for both Perth’s daily newspapers, The West Australian and the Daily News, on many themes including the problems of the Depression. His work included weekly syndicated articles for country journals, and he contributed occasional articles to other newspapers, including the Melbourne Herald. He also wrote for the Westralian Worker, taking over the sporting page as a one-day-a-week casual. Articles have not been listed exhaustively and links have been made to a selection only. Columns written for The West Australian are available at JCPML SER0425 and those for the Daily News at JCPML SER0404.] 1


Rests after the election defeat.2

Wednesday 13 January Perth

Engaged by the Board of Directors of the People's Printing and Publishing Company as a contributor to the Westralian Worker.

The secretary [Mr D. Watson] reported that in a conversation with Mr Curtin he learned that the 'Worker' had an opportunity of obtaining his services for the paper as a contributor for an amount of not exceeding £3 per week. The matter of utilising Mr Curtin's services were fully discussed.

Hickey/Kitson - That the Secretary's report be adopted and that Mr Curtin be engaged as a contributor at £3 per week. Carried. 2a

Thursday 11 February Trades Hall, probably Fremantle

Speaks at ‘Labor’s Big Social’.

‘This happy gathering at Trades Hall was held … to bring together those men and women who had worked so hard for the return of the Labor Party in the recent Federal election, and to enable leaders in the movement to endeavour to clarify the present very difficult position in the minds of all. …

Mr Curtin, who received an ovation on rising to speak, said that the time would come when those who voted against Labor would find out how utterly wrong they were. We have reached a stage in our affairs when practically all the leading thinkers of the world are beginning to advocate, in broad outline, all the big things for which the radical movement which was born and fed on the spirit of the workers’ sufferings – the Labor Movement – had declared for from time to time. World Labor was opposed to the war; it was opposed to the Versailles “Peace” Treaty, which it declared would starve and enslave the human race, while ever it was accepted as a basic policy in the peace settlement. Labor claims that the problems of mankind can only be solved by international means, and that the chief problem to solve, on which all others hang, is the economic puzzle. …’ 3
c. Friday 19 February Trades Hall, Fremantle

Attends farewell party in honor of Mrs Jean Beadle.

‘After Mr and Mrs Ives had rendered a dialogue, Mr J Curtin added his tribute to the object of the gathering, and said that one of the most precious things about the workers’ movement was the fellowship and personal friendships which it brought into being often stretching, as in the case of their guest, over many years. Referring to the troubles of Labor Mr Curtin said that Great Britain had a lesson for us in that it presented an almost united opposition to the capitalist government. The world was not going without in such a large way because it had war debts etc. but more because the people were being so confused and bluffed that they were losing faith in themselves, and their ability to put wrong right. He appealed to all to recognise that our cause must triumph and to realise that we were already turning our faces to the light. As there were 26 millions of people unemployed in the world last December, it was obvious that there would be many martyrs and much suffering before the fight is over; he noticed at the last election that we were not reaching the young people, the meetings being all attended by older folks. He did not hesitate to say that it was a bigger calamity for the young to be out of work than the old, as the future of the race depended on the young.

After a dainty supper had been served, dancing was continued to a late hour, when a big circle of friends joined hands and sang “Auld Lang Syne” around the departing guest.’ 4
c. Wednesday 23 March Perth

Spends ‘an hour or two in the company of Wendell Phillips, the most famous American personality of his generation’.

‘His biographer recounted to me the story of his work in connection with the abolition of slavery. The eloquence of this man; his power in debate and the tremendous depth and range of his intellect moved me profoundly.’ 5
c. Monday 4 April Perth

Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘To-night Sir James Mitchell goes to Melbourne to take part in one more of the many conferences of Premiers arising out of the crisis. That he carries the good wishes of the community for a happy consummation to the deliberations goes without saying. The problem, let us acknowledge, is gigantic; it is, if anything, more grievous than it was, in that the policies hitherto pursued have admittedly failed. To the extent that the Federal budget has been put in better shape, it has been offset by the leeway of the States - the nation, as such, is no nearer equilibrium than when the Premiers jointly essayed their economy programme! The unemployed position has not been relieved by the measures that have been taken. Their plight is as grave as ever; that is, viewed nationally, from the aspect of their personal difficulties, moreover, it is worse. Their savings have evaporated in the necessities of their privations; their personal credit is at its nadir; and their hopes that policy changes would usher in an era of confidence, paving the way to the rehabilitation of industry, have turned to ashes in their mouths.’ 6
c. Monday 11 April Perth

Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘The Labour movement has ever been the friend, perchance on occasions not quite so well understood as it would like, of the university life….’ 7
c. Monday 25 April Perth

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Two John Curtins, 1932.  JCPML00004/17
JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. Two John Curtins, 1932. JCPML00004/17

Writes sporting articles for The Westralian Worker:

Ideal weather conditions helped to give the new season a splendid opening last Saturday. At Fremantle, last year's pennant was handed to the famous veterans, and on behalf of "The Mirror", Mr J J Simons, himself a former secretary to the League, presented the shield donated by that paper. "Old Easts" are the greatest club in the State, and one whose organisation and control takes rank with the best playing the Australian rules in the Commonwealth.
And they started off this year by beating Claremont to a frazzle. The first quarter saw the visitors with the wind, but their forward work was almost helpless, and East Fremantle went steadily ahead with play that was by no means first-class, but was still too good for their opponents....’

[Curtin took over the sporting page of the Westralian Worker ‘as a one-day-a-week casual. His product was conventional: the football reports began with a comment on the weather. His son John reported on one of the league football games.’]

John Tonkin recalled that a ‘lot of people’ thought Curtin’s race selections were ‘pretty good’, though Curtin told him: ‘"I don't know where I'm getting these selections from, I don't know the first thing about it myself."’ … Curtin used ‘to talk to other people and find out what they thought and he'd put these selections in the paper and he had a fair amount of luck with them.’] 8

c. Monday 23 May Perth

Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.


"Which experts are you to trust?" asked Professor Murdoch, when presiding over a crowded meeting at the Town Hall recently.  The question may well be put.  In 1910, Mr. Lloyd George appointed experts to estimate Germany's "capacity to pay," the intention then being to make Germany pay the full cost of the war.  The report resulted in the fantastic sum of twenty-four thousand millions being computed.  Since that time the number of "expert" revisions of the amount has been a commonplace.  Next month at Lausanne more "experts" are to assemble to effect a further variation of the original total.  In the meantime, the German budget for 1932-33 contains no provision for the payment of anything….’ 9
Tuesday 24 May Trades Hall, Fremantle

Attends fortnightly meeting of the Fremantle District Council of the ALP.

‘There was a very large attendance of delegates. … Correspondence was received from the Fremantle Labor Women’s Organisation suggesting that Sunday afternoon lectures should be held at the Trades Hall, and that a committee be appointed from the ALP Council to work in conjunction with the president and secretary of the Labor Women’s Organisation. The proposal was adopted and a committee consisting of J T. Tonkin, F W. Mann, and John Curtin was appointed.

…A notice of motion had been tabled for Tuesday’s meeting seeking the rescission of a minute denying the use of the Trades Hall for meetings of the Communist Party. Mr J Curtin gave an eloquent contribution to the debate on this question, setting forth clearly the reasons why anti-Labor should not be allowed in the headquarters of the movement. When the vote was taken an overwhelming majority was given against the motion.

This means that our communist friends will not be able to use the Labor movement headquarters at the port as a base for active operations against the Labor movement and selected Labor candidates. The decisive vote taken on Tuesday night should silence the active operations of the so-called communists who try to work points in order to obtain a footing at the Trades Hall and mislead the workers. 10
c. Monday 6 June Perth

Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘The position in Europe is ominous. Notwithstanding the widespread recognition that international debts are practically threatening civilisation itself, the progress made towards their cancellation is almost negligible. As a result, the burden of the reparations and war debt payments, which led to the uneven distribution of monetary gold and caused the crisis in the world economic system, frustrates recovery. Europe appears politically incapable of dealing with the position. Unless the Governments of Great Britain take their courage in their hands and boldly declare that cancellation is to be regarded as accomplished, the inevitable glide towards catastrophe must continue….’ 11
c. Monday 27 June Perth

Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.


An influential section of business men of Sydney have proposed to the Federal Government that a Commonwealth tax of one shilling in the pound be levied on wages and salaries in order to find work instead of sustenance relief.  This is another form of wage reduction; the money thus collected will not add to the purchasing power of the community as a whole, but, in effect, will re-distribute the present volume.  Put into practice prior to the cutting down of wages it could be regarded as not unreasonable, but super-imposed on the cuts already effected it merely works as the equivalent to a further cut of 5 per cent…’ 12
c. Thursday 14 July Perth

Writes article for the Daily News.


‘…One of the paradoxes of the economic crisis is the relatively worse plight of the necessity trades and industries, compared with those regarded as serving comfort and even luxury.

The milk producers are a case in point.  The agriculturists here and elsewhere; the building trades everywhere; and the wool industry and the market-gardeners are all apparently suffering more losses than certain other activities which, whatever their nature, cannot be considered in a rational world as of equal vital importance to mankind.

Indisputably the demand exerted by the rich and the well-to-do on the services associated with the satisfaction of their leisure and pleasure, has diminished to a less extent than the demand of the mass of people with small incomes for the products essential to human welfare.  While the essential industries are languishing, all kinds of unnecessary, and even harmful, occupations relatively flourish.  The fact illuminates the general character of the social order…’ 13

c. Thursday 21 July Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.

‘…The men who sell the goods this community buys, the employers and the traders, the producers, and the landlords have a live interest in the sustenance workers; the less these get the less they can pay. Their misery is the explanation why trade and industry is unprofitable; we cannot save ourselves until we first save them…’14
c. Thursday 28 July Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.

‘…War has been declared upon the poor. War may yet be declared upon the rich, but of that we are not certain at the moment. In this matter the poor have the preference – they are, once more, placed in the front line for the attack; it is their historic and traditional place…’ 15
c. Monday 1 August Perth
  Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘On Monday last the Premier astounded a representative deputation headed by Mr Collier when he said that it was intended that the firms supplying materials for the works being carried on out of the loan to provide employment would have to employ sustenance labour under sustenance conditions; the effect of this policy is not to better conditions but to make them worse. Firms that have regular staffs cannot use their labour at full time work, and will have to replace them with unemployed sustenance men, who will be in many instances entirely unfamiliar with the work, and who will be paid each week one pound above the sustenance payment they would receive if not working at all providing that the amount does not exceed three pounds in the week…’ 16
c. Monday 8 August Perth
  Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘The State Parliament reassembled last Thursday for the transaction of business. At the end of the month the Federal Parliament is to meet. In both legislative arenas it is clear that the respective Governments propose further drastic economies and, in some respects, increases to existing taxation…’ 17
Wednesday 10 August Perth
  The Board of Directors of the People's Publishing and Printing Company approved an increase in Curtin's salary as a contributor to the Westralian Worker from £3 to £6 per week. 17a
c. Thursday 18 August Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.

‘…In some respects the supreme tragedy of the world depression is its ravaging of the fair hopes of the young. In our own young and vigorous country we perceive boys and girls leaving the primary schools and drifting aimlessly through the day vainly seeking employment. It is a dreadful fact that for millions of matured men unemployment is depriving them of the means of life; but it is also the case that for a large part of the rising generation it is depriving them of hope…’ 18
c. Monday 22 August Perth
  Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘This week has been more than usually notable. Two conferences, the Imperial Conference at Ottawa and the Science Conference at Sydney, have concluded. And a band of about four hundred men have evacuated the sustenance work camp near Mt Barker. The three events are linked with the problem of the world…’ 19
Sunday 4 September North Perth
  Speaks on ‘Man Does Not Live Alone,’ at the Eighth Pleasant Sunday Afternoon for the North Perth Citizens’ Relief Committee, a meeting to support those affected by the depression. An ‘afternoon that was heavy with hymns and prayer by a Baptist minister.' 20
c. Monday 12 September Perth

Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘During the week the yeast of discontent has been in ferment. The men from the Frankland River have made a public demonstration against the Government; the coal miners in New South Wales, incensed by a further drastic reduction in wages, have carried resolutions favouring a general strike; and public meetings have been held in protest against the double cut in old-age and invalid pensions. Meanwhile, the Commonwealth Attorney-General takes pride in the number of persons who have been deported since Mr Lyons became Prime Minister, and Sir James Mitchell asks the State Parliament to increase taxation upon the already greatly diminished incomes of the community. A week of portents, undoubtedly!...’ 21

Top of page


c. Friday 23 September Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.

‘World Problem of the Workless

Mr J M Keynes was recently asked if any other depression in history compared with that through which the world is now passing. His reply was that nothing on the same scale is recorded since the crisis that is called the Middle Ages. "And that," he told his interrogators, two great international bankers, "lasted for 500 years." Although this may be a somewhat exaggerated view, it has its message. Our civilisation is as vulnerable as any other. It cannot withstand indefinitely the failure to provide one-third of the population with the essentials of existence.’ 22
Friday 30 September Probably Cottesloe

Writes to E G Theodore:

‘… Since I last wrote to you last January I have relied on the pen and typewriter to keep things going. More recently, the Worker has pressed me to rejoin the staff under the editorship of the chap who followed me, and I have done so. In addition, I keep the regular articles going for the dailies, as well as a weekly syndicated contribution to a group of country journals. … life has been good; I have a reasonable amount of leisure and browse at home with books and periodicals, and enjoying the time with Mrs Curtin and the kids – They are growing more rapidly than I thought. One of the nasty aspects of the Parliament was the confoundedly lengthy separations. Young John is nearly twelve, plays football in the school team, and he goes with me to the matches and assists me to follow the game, and sub-edits the blooming report before it goes in.* One point all of us must take in mind is the judgement of youth. It is horribly critical. And it applies to more than football matches.’

*[Curtin took over the sporting page of the Westralian Worker ‘as a one-day-a-week casual. His product was conventional: the football reports began with a comment on the weather. His son John reported on one of the league football games.’] 23
c Friday 14 October. Perth

JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. Letter from EG Theodore to John Curtin, 14 October 1932. JCPML00399/4

Received reply from E G Theodore.



c. Thursday 27 October Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.


What the banks have done is to make the national credit a tool for the sectional exploitation of the nation. That is what they have done. When anyone is asked whom they have "done", the answer is that they have "done" civilisation by depriving the people of the fruits of the great technical and productive advances which industry and science have made possible. In a nut-shell, the banks have converted money from being a means for the efficient exchange of goods and services into a systematic embezzler in respect to every transaction between human beings…’ 24
Friday 4 November Trades Hall, probably Fremantle.
Delivers ‘a most interesting address, in which he endeavoured to show the best means which Labor women should adopt to carry on propaganda for the Movement of Labor. Mr Curtin explained that as he entered the room someone was speaking about the fight for peace, and definite ideas were put forward in respect of attacks on the war mongers. One might be successful in persuading people to emphatically oppose war, but the fact remained that the machinery for propaganda against our ideals was so strong that the opposition generated would be rendered futile by the appeal which such machinery could bring to bear in the minds of the people whom we, as yet, could not come in close contact. The result was that owing to our influence not going deep enough we should be undermined at every point by those who could make a more continuous and effective appeal. Basic causes must be challenged. We must challenge the capitalist state without ceasing.

We have to destroy capitalism and the only way to do that is to break the position it holds in the minds of the people by counselling the people whenever we get the chance by showing them in a logical way the effect it is having on human life the world over. Instead of Labor women getting out of the various social bodies with which many of them were connected, he advised them to remain there to hold up the great ideals of the working-class movement of the world and make these different groups understand why the workers’ thoughts on this subject are what they are.

It was for Labor women to endeavour to educate the women who thought differently on the economic effects of the capitalist system, and by their influence convince them that the Socialist ideal of common ownership would bring about the only means under which human beings born into this world would be sure of security and happiness without undue struggle and stress throughout life. By doing so a steady body of solid opinion would grow up which would clarify the fact that the collective ownership of the means of life, together with mutual cooperation, is the only road to permanent human continuance and happiness.’ 25
Tuesday 8 November – c. Sunday 13 November Trades Hall, Perth
  Attends triennial conference of the West Australian branch of the Labour Party. 26
c. Wednesday 9 November/ Thursday 10 November Perth
  Writes article for The West Australian newspaper, covering (among other things) the triennial conference of the West Australian branch of the Labour Party. 27
c. Thursday 24 November Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.

‘…For three years now the primary producers have experienced depressed prices and at the same time they have found it impossible to reduce costs proportionately. The fact that so many of them should now profess a sense of desperation is not surprising. It is the same with the unemployed. They, too, have waited helplessly for things to recover, and hope oft deferred now finds millions of them also desperate. The bonus army at Washington, the hunger marchers to London, the hold-up of wheat deliveries in Western Australia, are all related to the central issue of the collapse of capitalistic trading and industry…’ 28
c. Monday 5 December Perth
  Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘….I have urged continuously in this column that until the masses of the people are assured of work and wages and therefore of purchasing power, there cannot be any escape from the catastrophe which has overtaken the capitalistic era. Markets for wheat, wool, and the products of industry generally are made by buyers. That is an elementary truth. But it is the root and marrow of the whole position….’ 29
c. Friday 9 December Perth
  Writes article for Daily News.

‘…World recovery is possible. But it involves justice for debtors; the longer everything is made subordinate to the interest of creditors, the longer will misery stalk the earth…’ 30
c. Monday 19 December Perth
  Writes article for The West Australian newspaper.

‘….The Labour Movement is a movement of redemption. In that sense it is neither new nor old; rather is it eternal. It began with the beginning of human effort and has never paused. Redemption is a drama whose scenes includes every step in progress, every act of emancipation, every liberation from bondage, every contribution towards the fuller realisation of man's creative power. And the Labour Movement celebrates the Day of Christmas with all the more reverence because it holds that man is a redeemer. This is not only history, with all its lessons, it is the purpose of the age, with all its hopes….’ 31
c. Thursday 22 December Perth
  Writes article for the Daily News.

‘…You see money is everything. Food, clothes, wages, distributing
power, productive capacity, all are as nothing. Money is Lord of
Lords!...’ 32