Diary of a Labour Man 1917 - 1945

Full Text On the Backbenches


14 Jarrad St., COTTESLOE.

8th March, 1934.

Dear Frank,

First. I failed to send you the usual Xmas greetings owing to a chapter of happenings. I was in Adelaide shortly before the holidays in connection with the claims of this State and South Australia for special grants. In case you do not know I have prepared the Westralian case and have the job of submitting it. The visit to Adelaide was rushed and as I had a lot to do there I left the Xmas messages until I had returned home. Back here a few days I was playing tennis with young John when I came down on my ankle somewhat awkwardly and to my amazement found that I had broken it. That put me in bed for a fortnight, and then the ankle was in plaster for the best part of a month. The better part of last month I was unable to walk and doing the work I simply had to do was quite enough. Lately the ankle is more comfortable and I am practically back in harness. Of course I limp a bit but I understand that is only a question of time for the ankle to recover strength and all will be well. But the episode explains why I missed the messages which I customarily send. Generally I have been in fine condition and the rest of us are well also. Personally 1933 treated me very decently and I have no complaints. And I think I can say I treated it well also. Honours between old Father Time and me are even. Neither of us has yet beaten the other. This is the end of the preliminary chapter of what I have to write to you in dead earnest.

Second. My good friends here who know the way of these matters have not been able to trace Jack McColl. They are, however, keeping their weather eye open. Their difficulty is increased, so they say, owing to my insistence that the inquiry is not to be regarded as official. Thinking about this aspect of it suggests to me that there is really no reason why it should not be made official. Let me know if this is considered proper.

Third. When I was in Melbourne last November I was consulted about the Bourke seat. I answered that the proper course was that you should be urged to nominate again. Since then matters have moved. Blackburn is hot on the selection. He has opponents. Furthermore, I do not regard Blackburn as a Messiah of the Better Day. He is a blanc mange, clever, proper, a man without sin he is really destitute of virtue. He is personally too good to be politically worth a damn. Anyhow his activity has spurred others to the scent. A few of the old brigade who do not like him have pressed me for a declaration. I have said that I am not making decisions regarding the next elections at present. But the press got hold of it and that moved me to a public declaration. I send you, in case you have not seen it, an extract from "The Age" which expresses my message to Bourke.

Fourth. And here I am at a loss. I do not like trespassing on your personal affairs. I have never done so. But I do it now because at least I have reached years of discretion and because I feel very deeply for your personal welfare. If I break confidence I know that it will not be used by you to occasion embarrassment to someone else. Taking that for granted, I enclose a letter I have received from Daron. And I beg of you not to hold it against either him or me. He has your welfare at heart. SO have I. If there is an offender in this matter it is me and not Daron.

Fifth. I hope to be in Melbourne either towards the end of April or early in May. I am firmly bent on pressing that you be urged to nominate for Bourke again. And, in any event, I refuse to allow myself to be considered as a candidate. That is flat. I do not know or care whether you have any interest in the succession to Bourke if you stand aside; what I do know is that no matter how the question is viewed no successor would be as good for the Labour Movement as would be your continued occupancy of the seat. I do not know all the proposed candidates. But I know Blackburn and he gives me the joes. The fellows who wait on the doorstep for the holders of a safe seat to either die or retire induce in me a nausea worse than all the whisky I have ever seen. They bring no trophies to the party while eagerly clutching at them for themselves. They are like the thin men in Orthello – I like them not for they have a lean and hungry look.

Sixth. Memories. My mind goes back to the day Frank Hyett and myself importuned you to leave the State seat and nominate for Bourke. We both felt that you had a life's task ahead. And so you had, and so you still have. It is your life – for all your life! And you have no right to lay down your arms while life moves in you. The Labour Party may be a muddle. But the workers cause is still your cause and you cannot be worth as much to them aimlessly watching the waves roll in and out as you can be in the Parliament. O, I know the blither about the Parliament. It is a sickener. But men have to fight even when sick. In fact the fight of the sick man is a better fight than that of the robust time-server. He never gets fed up because his appetite is for the job and not for the struggle.

Seventh. You are a physically fit man. You are a mentally alert man. You have an intelligence probably unequalled by any man that can be named. It is true that you are an episodical man – you are the greatest in the great moments and you hide yourself from the time of the routine. I say this because neither you nor I nor any man knows when the great moment will leap from the night of inertia. And if it hap in the near future that vibrant things emerge from the chaotic flux of the commonplace what can you do as a retired watcher of the sea. I do not know. What I do know is that whatever it may be it will not be nearly so much as what you could do as a member of the Parliament who has stood quietly these days for the hour to strike. Are these illusions of mine? Is it that there is no such thing as the psychological day, when after years of preparation time and fate moves to great occasions. I refuse to acknowledge that this is the law and that there is no parallel for us in the miracles of history. We sow and the seed lies unseen in the ground and apparently nothing happens. Perchance a drought comes and the seed is wasted and we sow again. But even so it may fall on barren ground. Man makes these mistakes. But he sows again. And still it would appear in vain. But lo! There is a goodly rain. And in the night things happen. He goes out in the morning to find that there are green shoots, that life has risen from its womb. You have been a sower. I agree that you have reason to be disappointed. More reason than I have because you have sown for even longer and sown more abundantly. But are you sure that even now germination is not in progress. True, there are no signs. But there rarely are signs until all men see them.

Eighth. I look at the human material of the Labour Party of Australia. I tell you that I measure my own capacities no less than those of the others about me. We are the instruments of its evolution. Can you say that you do no measure up in strength with the best other man you can name? You cannot. I could understand a veteran standing aside to enable youth to come forward in a cricket team or a football club. There the best is more than knowledge. But you have not to engage in an athletic contest. The physical essentials of the work required of you are not in question. You possess them. So do many others, Blackburn for example. But there is more in demand than that. And you have what Blackburn never had, never will have, and would be afraid of if he were to get it. It would not go with his wig. No, we are poor in human quality; too poor to be further impoverished by your withdrawal. It was because of what you possessed that led Hyett and me to your house that day in the years agone, and it is because you still have it, cannot part with it no matter what you do, for it is you, the essence of you, that impels me to fight you, if need be, in order to keep you in the struggle. I have my hurts. I have my days of dark clouds. But we were standard bearers in a holy war and we must go on to the end and not yield while life is left to us. You can say of me that I did not fight every day. I agree. But what of it? I played for Brunswick and did badly some Saturdays, but I turned up the next match and lived it down. That is it. Stick it out and see it through.

Ninth, (and last). Read about Tom Mann these days? In my boyhood I had two heroes. They are still my shining stars and they twinkle for me their message as I grow older. Age is nothing to these white lights that have guarded my ship from the rocks of dismay. Why should one of these lights suffer self-extinction. There is no reason. Tom Mann in England and Frank Anstey in Australia! Both alert, fit, still battling! What an example for the young men! Too precious an example for me to allow be lost. Too valuable for Labour. So I say to you what I say to all men; - you must see at least another Parliament out; you must do it in order to give a hope for the fulfilment [sic] of the work you started. I am certain that if only you stated that you would be willing to consider the matter that the steps needed would be taken. Anyhow, I send you my affection and my express determination, which is to encourage every man I can to pester you until you agree to nominate again for Bourke.

[John Curtin]