Diary of a Labour Man


1937 Leader of the Opposition

Wednesday 13 January Fremantle

Attends the ‘usual fortnightly meeting’ of the Fremantle District Council of the ALP.

‘Mr Curtin in an address stressed the need for an Australian outlook; he argued closer unity, and suggested a conference of the Commonwealth and State Governments to make possible our ideal of Australia as a nation.’ 1
Saturday 20 February Wesley Church Fremantle and the Masonic Hall, East Fremantle


Attends wedding of Muriel Robinson (ward of Hon Minister E H Gray and Mrs Gray) and Arthur John Prickett, and proposes a customary toast at the reception. 2

Monday 1 March Perth Trades Hall

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of David Black.  John Curtin addressing a meeting, 1937.  JCPML00180/63
JCPML.  Records of David Black.  John Curtin addressing a meeting, 1937.  JCPML00180/63

Addresses All Unions Conference on full employment attended by delegates from trade unions and district councils. 3
c mid-March Leaves Western Australia for the Eastern States
c Tuesday 23 March Canberra
  Arrives in Canberra. 4
c Thursday 25 March Sydney

Arrives in Sydney and attends Easter Conference of the New South Wales Labor Party at which he is ‘determined to do his share to bringing about restoration of unity in purpose and faith…’ after the rift with the Lang Labor Party under Jack Lang, which split from the Australian Labor Party in 1931.

Gives address at the Conference:

‘…No man in the movement could serve it by trying to score off his mates. No man or woman could give his or her best service by taking finicky points of order.

Remember you have a leader. He did not make himself leader. He has only one vote. No man ever made himself leader of a State Labor Party or the Federal Labor Party. Therefore, you must not blame him if you do not like the way things are going. Tell him about it.

Until you change them by the orderly process of the rules of the party, those men are entitled to the respect and support of every man who places the movement first. (loud cheers).’

Lang in moving a vote of thanks to Curtin for the conference address spoke of Curtin as ‘one of the finest orators I have ever heard at a Labor Conference’. 5
c Friday 26 March Sydney
  Speaks at Easter Conference of the New South Wales Labor Party. 6
Saturday 27 March Sydney
  Attends Labor dinner at which he is introduced by Jack Lang as ‘this great Australian leader’ 7
Tuesday 30 March - Friday 2 April Melbourne

Attends Victorian State ALP Conference.

In referring to the Lang Labor Party:

‘I am not the leader of either a Lang Party or a Garden Party. I lead the Australian Labor Party in the Commonwealth Parliament, and am not associated with any group, inner or outer, I have not made a pact with any faction.' 8
Tuesday 6 April Canberra

JCPML.  Records of Arthur Calwell.  "Mr Curtin Critical" Herald, 6 April 1937.  JCPML00694/1/36
Courtesy National Library of Australia: MS 4738, Series 21, Box 74

Arrives in Canberra to make plans for the Labor campaign in Gwydir and to prepare for the coming sitting of Parliament. 9
c Thursday 13 April Gwydir

Gives speech at the opening of the Labor campaign in Gwydir. 10

[A sprawling rural electorate in north-west northern NSW, covering the middle and upper reaches of the Darling River.]

Wednesday 14 April Sydney
  Attends meeting of the Federal Executive. 11
c. Monday 19 April Narrabri, NSW
  Gives speech in Gwydir by-election. 12
c. Tuesday 20 April Sydney
  Returns to Sydney. 13
Wednesday 21 April  

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 21 April 1937.  JCPML00402/32p1

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 21 April 1937.  JCPML00402/32p2
JCPML.  Records of the Curtin Family.  Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 21 April 1937.  JCPML00402/32

Writes to wife Elsie on their wedding anniversary. 14


Thursday 22 April – Tuesday 27 April Sydney

Attends meeting of the Federal Executive of the ALP.

  Curtin's office at the Commonwealth Bank

‘The most fatiguing and difficult conference I have ever attended … we sat for six days from 10 am to 11 pm. Very terrible. … The meeting was in my office at the C’wealth Bank. From here (Commercial Travellers Association Club, 35 St Martin Place) to there is 75 yds. That is all I have seen of Sydney in the 6 days’.

‘It would appear that there is still bitterness between the sections … where there is pronounced conflict of opinion there is a need for both parties to be prepared to go some of the distance to reconciliation. An inflexible resolution on the part of either, or both, is a big obstacle to a united and harmonious working together.’

[See entry for 25 March 1937, and the rift with the Lang Labor Party]. 15
Tuesday 27 April Gwydir, Northern NSW
  Catches train to some place in Gwydir. 16
c. Friday 30 April Coonabarabran
  Gives speech. 17
Friday 30 April Mudgee, NSW
  Attends meeting and gives speech. 18
Sunday 2 May Probably Sydney

Broadcasts speech in the Gwydir campaign at 6.30 and does ‘a sound record as well’.

Catches train to Melbourne. 19
Tuesday 4 May Melbourne-Perth

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of the Curtin Family.  The Curtin family, 24 Jarrad St Cottesloe. 1937.  JCPML00376/40
JCPML.  Records of the Curtin Family.  The Curtin family, 24 Jarrad St Cottesloe. 1937.  JCPML00376/40

Catches train to Perth.

‘….My goodness I'll be glad - a very tame monkey - when I get home. I am just aching to get to Port Augusta which is, as I see it from here, a Perth suburb.

That is all now.  Once more on the spout but this week will see my labour's end & then; home sweet home!

Love to the kids & Grandma. I feel very tired, a bit nervy, but no worse than the others. Cheers & loud cheers! We want Gwydir & if that is won then we are on the threshold of a move upward.  Keep your face smiling, old girl, this note will beat me home, but I will be following it hot footed.

Your loving husband


c. Saturday 9 May Perth
  Arrives in Perth 21
Friday 14 May Perth 22
Monday 17 May Perth
  Attends meeting of State Executive of the ALP and reports on a recent meeting of the Federal Executive in Sydney, which he attended as a delegate with P J Mooney. 23
c. Monday 24 May Perth
  Attends meeting of ALP Council at which he was given a ‘rousing welcome’ and gave a ‘brief but very interesting address on the business of the recent special conference of the Federal Labor Party when the chief business was consideration of the appeals of certain members of the Party against their expulsion’. 24
Wednesday 26 May Trades Hall, probably Fremantle

Attends coming of age of ‘Lal’ daughter of Mrs and Mr G Fraser MLC, who ‘gave a very enjoyable and successful social’.

‘The Trades Hall was tastefully decorated for the occasion and the large attendance was eloquent testimony to the popularity of Miss Fraser and the Fraser family.

Mr John Curtin, MHR, Leader of the Federal Labor Party proposed the toast to the guest of the evening and congratulated Miss Fraser on attaining her 21st birthday. The toast was received with acclamation and enthusiasm. Miss “Lal” Fraser, who is very popular at the port, modestly and becomingly replied.' 25
c. Thursday 10 June Perth/Melbourne/Canberra
  Leaves Perth for Melbourne and Canberra. 26
Thursday 17 June Canberra
  Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 27
Wednesday 18 June House of Representatives
  Responds to the Governor-General's speech in Parliament, raising issues concerning the delay in summonsing Parliament, the referendum, the Imperial Conference, internal conflicts within the Government, the unemployment insurance scheme, trade diversion policy, federal-state relationships and national and state finances. 28
Wednesday 23 June Canberra

10.30 am? – 12.55 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party and participates in discussion on unemployment insurance.

  House of Representatives
  During debate on the Supply Bill (No. 1) 1937-1938, discusses restoration of pensions, the introduction of the 40 hour week and the Government housing scheme. 29
Monday 28 June House of Representatives
  Questions a statement made by Menzies about the financial state of the Commonwealth. 30
Tuesday 29 June House of Representatives
  Points out that the use of a Trust Fund for the payment of pensions was at the suggestion of the Australian Labor Party. 31
Wednesday 30 June Canberra

10.30 am? – 1 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 32

c Tuesday 6 July Probably Canberra
  Broadcasts address on the needs of youth. 33
c. Wednesday 7 July  
  Leaves Eastern States to travel to Western Australia.
Friday 9 July Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
  Criticises the Federal Government on the grounds that it failed to give a lead to the country on matters of national importance. 34
Saturday 10 July Perth
  Arrives by Great Western express for a brief visit to WA during which he visits districts recently added to his Fremantle electorate. 35
Monday 12 July Perth
  Is a pallbearer at the funeral of close friend Alex McCallum. Pays tribute to McCallum in speech.
Wednesday 14 July Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
  Passes through Kalgoorlie, en route to the Eastern States and comments on political affairs to a representative of the Kalgoorlie Miner. 36
c Tuesday 27 July Adelaide

Speaks on policy on war.

‘To be drawn into war in spite of everything would be bad enough, but deliberately to indicate some willingness to be a participant, for or against certain European groups, would be a piece of national madness… The wise policy for Australia in regard to Europe is not to be embroiled in the perennial disputes which mark the old world. We can neither solve nor appease them, and we ought not to risk the lives of our own people in a future endeavour to pacify a disordered world.’ 37
c end July Melbourne

Speaks on policy on war. Defines Labor defence policy as:

‘… one of resistance to foreign aggression, provided that no forces are sent outside Australia, and that no promises are made of participation by Australian troops outside Australia, except after a decision by the people.

… in view of the growing strength of European nations, Australia could not reasonably expect Britain to assure Australia’s safety. Australia had to be self-reliant.’ 38
Monday 2 August Brisbane

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of Arthur Calwell.  "Queensland greets Federal Labor leader" Worker, 3 August 1937.  JCPML00694/1/30
JCPML. Records of Arthur Calwell.  "Queensland greets Federal Labor leader" Worker, 3 August 1937.  JCPML00694/1/30.
Courtesy National Library of Australia: MS 4738, Series 21, Box 74, selected folios only.

Arrives in Queensland. 39
Tuesday 3 August Town Hall, Ipswich, Queensland

Discusses policy and urges an ‘adequate social service system’.

‘At the outset Mr Curtin said he was glad of the privilege of speaking at Ipswich, not because he wanted to discuss Labour’s policy, but because he desired to make a preliminary survey of those portions of
Australia which hitherto had not been as accessible as the party would like.' 40
c Tuesday 10 August Probably Sydney Trades Hall
  Gives speech on what the position would be if Labor won the election. 41
c Wednesday 11 August Sydney
  Leaves for Canberra. 42
Monday 23 August Canberra

10.30 am? – 12 noon and 2.30 pm – 5.55 pm
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. After dealing with some business ‘The Leader then mentioned the death of Senator McDonald, the following resolution was carried, moved Messrs Curtin & Scullin: That as a tribute of respect to the late Senator McDonald the meeting be adjourned until 2.30 pm this day. Carried. Members standing in silence.’

Chairs resumed meeting at which ‘Messrs Curtin & Lazzarini moved that the 40-hour principle be endorsed and that the Party take all possible and necessary steps to give effect to same, at the earliest possible date. …’

Meeting adjourned until 10 am on 25 August. 43
Wednesday 25 August Canberra

10.00 am
Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, and moves with Mr Collings, ‘That this Party deeply regrets the death of its late Member, Senator J V McDonald, places on record its high appreciation of his lengthy and invaluable services as Labor Journalist and Senator and expresses its sincere sympathy with his widow and family in the irreparable loss they had sustained.’

  House of Representatives
  Comments on Prime Minister's statement on the Imperial Conference, and criticises his views on a Pacific Pact. Requests additional comment concerning the agreement at the conference on the responsibility of individual Empire parliaments to ‘...decide the nature and scope of their own defence policy’. Raises issues on naval versus aerial defence spending. 44
Tuesday 31 August House of Representatives
  Welcomes the Invalid and Old Age Pensions Bill, 1937, but criticises the delay in restoring the pension to previous levels. 45
Wednesday 1 September Canberra
  Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 46
Tuesday 7 September House of Representatives

Criticises Government policy of raising overseas loans for defence spending, and also criticises the lack of spending on social services. Comments on radio broadcast time during the election. 47

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Wednesday 8 September Canberra
  Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 48
Friday 10 September Canberra

Attends special meeting of the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party and:

‘…expresses his thanks to all members of the Party for their help during the time of his leadership and expressed an earnest wish that each member would be returned and that Labor would be sufficiently successful to form a Government.

Mr Forde moved, Mr Beasley seconded, a resolution of appreciation for the great service given by Mr Curtin as Leader and wishing him a most successful campaign. The resolution was warmly supported and carried by members singing, “for he’s a jolly good fellow”’ 49
Friday 10 September  
  Travels to Western Australia
c Saturday 11 September - Friday 22 October Western Australia

Canvassing for the Federal election:

In which ‘Curtin kept up a gruelling pace … travelling some nine thousand miles by train, five hundred miles by ship and spending an average of nearly ten hours a day in trains. Through it all, he was punctilious about his appearance. … As a reporter observed, “Never has he flung such fighting vigor into a speech. Sixty-four times he buttoned up the coat of his favourite brown suit as he spoke of the Prime Minister as the arch-assassin of the Scullin Government … Sixty-four times a rebellious button unbuttoned itself to allow his coat to fly and flutter once more to the swing of his arms.”’ 50
c Friday 17 September Perth

Comments on the communist party. 51

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Monday 20 September Town Hall, Fremantle

Delivers policy speech.

‘For the first time in the history of the Commonwealth, a policy speech was delivered in Western Australia when Mr John Curtin MHR, Leader of the Federal Opposition and of the Federal Labor Party, delivered the policy speech of the Party not only to electors of Fremantle, but, by broadcast, to the whole of Australia.

The speech comprehensively covered the many problems besetting Australia and the solution of them as advanced by the Labor Party.’

‘The real decision which the people of Australia are called upon to make at this election is one of values. The Labor Party declares that the immediate task of statesmanship is to overcome the forces which are undermining the moral, social, and economic foundations of civilisation.

It affirms that the level of social well-being is the crucial test of economic policy and that peace is an idle dream without social justice between nations and between individuals. The primary purpose of Government is to give leadership and direction so that all citizens by their work and industry may contribute to their own welfare and to the common heritage of society.’

‘… The strength of Australian defence must lie in aviation.

… the Lyons Government has so far provided only eight squadrons or 96 planes, while there was, not far away from us, a power equipped with a sea-borne plane strength of not less than 300 planes.

… Twenty-five squadrons equalled the existing sea-borne planes of any nation which could be regarded as a potential danger to the Commonwealth… For a capital outlay of £7,500,000 Australia could have an aerial fleet of 25 squadrons or 300 planes.’ 52
Tuesday 21 September Unity Theatre, Perth
  Electioneering. 53
Wednesday 22 September Victoria Park Town Hall, Western Australia

Canvassing for the Federal election.

‘In a phrase, “Australia First”; is the Labor Party’s policy for the elections.' 54
c Thursday 23 September Perth

Makes allegations on organisation of strikes.

Is interviewed on Labour Party’s policy of ‘Australia First’.

Comments on his financial policy. 55
Thursday 23 September Leaves for Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
  En route to Eastern States. 56
Friday 24 September Kalgoorlie Town Hall and Boulder Town Hall, Western Australia
  Provides goldfields electors with the opportunity of hearing ‘Labor’s policy expounded by the outstanding personality in the Commonwealth political sphere.’ Supported by member for Kalgoorlie, Mr A E Green. 57
Saturday 25 September Kalgoorlie, Western Australia
  Kalgoorlie Town Hall

Attends civic reception.

Attends declaration of North-East Province selection ballot.

  Kalgoorlie Central School

Speaks to the children of the school.

  Kalgoorlie Road Board Hall
  Attends meeting, where he receives a warm welcome.
  Boulder Town Hall


Attends civic reception ‘tendered by the Mayor and councillors of Boulder’ 58
Monday 27 September Adelaide
  Electioneering. 59
Tuesday 28 September Murray Bridge, South Australia


Replies to Chauvel on defence. 60
c Thursday 30 September Melbourne
  Gives election campaign speech replying to Lyons on defence. 61
Thursday 30 September - Monday 4 October Tasmania

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of Bobbie Oliver.  Labor Day procession ["Make Jack Curtin Prime Minister" banner], 1937.  JCPML00568/10/2
JCPML.  Records of Bobbie Oliver.  Labor Day procession ["Make Jack Curtin Prime Minister" banner], 1937.  JCPML00568/10/2

Election campaign tour. 62
c Wednesday 6 October Melbourne/Wagga

Election campaign.

Speaks on defence in reference to China and Spain. 63
Thursday 7 October Town Hall, Randwick and Wagga, New South Wales

Speaks at meetings.

‘”The first duty of an Australian Prime Minister is to conserve the capacity of his own country to defend itself.” Mr Curtin declared amid the applause of a big audience which heard his speech….’

‘Economic sanctions, whether in the form of a trade boycott, or definite export prohibitions are futile. In 1935 the Lyons-Page Government took the initiative without consulting Parliament in committing Australia to the adoption of sanctions against Italy. That might easily have involved Australia in war against a powerful European nation. Two types of sanctions are recognised by the League of Nations Covenant. The first is that of economic sanctions. Such were invoked against Italy and failed…

Mr Bruce has given us a clear warning that in accepting the league covenant, the Government knows full well that the only possible way to make the covenant work is through the application of armed force.’


JCPML.  Records of Arthur Calwell.  "Tying Australia to Wheels of War" Labor Daily, 8 October 1937.  JCPML00694/1/27.
Courtesy National Library of Australia: MS 4738, Series 21, Box 74.

8- 9 pm Broadcasts nationally. 64
c Friday 8 October Hurstville, New South Wales
  Election campaign speech on ‘No real League of Nations’. 65
Saturday 9 October New South Wales 66
c Sunday 10 October and Monday 11 October Brisbane

Election Campaign – Gives address on social services and League of Nations.

Gives interview on Lyons being ‘thin in the skin’. 67
c Wednesday 13 October Kempsey, New South Wales
  Election Campaign – broadcast on Queensland prospects. 68
c Thursday 14 October Marrickville, New South Wales
  Election campaign – gives speech. 69
c Friday 15 October Orange, New South Wales

JCPML.  Records of the Curtin Family.  John Curtin, 1937 Federal Election souvenir.  JCPML00382/56

Election campaign – gives speech. 70
Saturday 16 October Geelong
  Electioneering. 71
Monday 18 October Melbourne
  Broadcast address which included comments on conscription. 72
c Tuesday 19 October Creswick, Victoria
  Speech on the League of Nations.
  City Hall, Ballarat, Victoria
  ‘The most enthusiastic meeting at Ballarat during the Federal campaign was held tonight when Mr J Curtin addressed a large audience......' 73
Wednesday 20 October Horsham, Victoria
  Election Campaign – pledge to electors. 74
Thursday 21 October Adelaide

8.30 – 9 pm
Broadcasts nationally. 75

Friday 22 October Port Pirie, South Australia
  Electioneering. 76
Saturday 23 October en route to Western Australia

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.  Records of David Black.  John Curtin casting a ballot 1937.  JCPML00180/64
JCPML.  Records of David Black.  John Curtin casting a ballot 1937.  JCPML00180/64

Election Day.

Mr Curtin was on ‘the trans train on election day, returning to his home in Cottesloe for a brief rest after a strenuous campaign in the Eastern states. He will reach Perth Monday morning; and meanwhile would have listened to the radio set on the train to the broadcast of election results.’

Despite fears of the Government being in trouble and Curtin’s hopes for a great Labor revival, Labor only won two additional seats in the House of Representatives, giving it 29 seats in the 74-seat House. 77
Monday 25 October Perth
  Arrives in Perth and broadcasts speech - ‘majority next election’. 78
Tuesday 26 October - c Friday 19 November Cottesloe, Western Australia
  Spends time with family in Cottesloe after the election. Draws up a will in that time leaving everything to Mrs Elsie Curtin and naming her his executor. 79
Wednesday 3 November Fremantle

Attends meeting of Fremantle ALP District Council.

‘Mr Curtin, who was warmly received, thanked all for their assistance during the campaign and pledged himself to direct all his energy and ability to the furthering of the Labor Cause. …’ 80
c Thursday 4 November Fremantle
  Statement on policy – Australia responsible for its own defence. 81
c Friday 19 November Perth/Canberra
  Leaves Perth for Canberra. 82
c Tuesday 23 November South Australia
  States that Australian Labor Party policy will be constructive criticism. 83
Monday 29 November Canberra

Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party, at which:

‘Mr James nominated Mr Curtin as Leader. Mr Forde seconded.

Mr James added that this Party had every confidence in Mr Curtin as Leader. Mr Curtin was re-elected to the leadership unanimously. Mr Forde was unanimously elected Deputy Leader.’ 84
Wednesday 1 December House of Representatives

Responds to the Governor-General's speech, calling for a delay in the establishment of the select committee on election for the Senate. Emphasises the importance of economic prosperity and social justice for the peace of the world. Stresses the importance of forward planning to deal with any potential economic downturn. Raises issues concerning unemployment insurance.

Comments on the taxation system in the Committee of Supply on the 1937-38 Budget, and calls for a comprehensive survey. Suggests a higher level of direct taxation on the wealthier sections of the community to avoid taking out overseas loans, and further suggests that reductions in the salaries of parliamentarians be abolished. 85
Thursday 2 December House of Representative
  Reiterates the comment that the Government should not be raising funds for increased defence expenditure through overseas loans, but through funds from anticipated increased revenue and increased taxation of the wealthy. 86
Friday 3 December Canberra
  Chairs meeting of Federal Parliamentary Labor Party. 87
Wednesday 8 December House of Representatives

Argues for an increase in the Maternity Allowance and a return to the levels paid prior to the Financial Emergency Act.

Comments on the Loan Bill 1937, stating again that the Government should raise defence funds through increased taxation or raising loans in Australia, not through overseas borrowing.

Criticises the Appropriation (Works and Services) Bill 1937 stating that while the intentions of the Bill were good, ‘...as a gesture it is almost worthless’ 88
c middle December Travels to Western Australia
Friday 24 December Trades Hall Perth

Attends ‘goodwill gathering’ of secretaries of affiliated unions, members of Cabinet, and representatives of Fremantle and Eastern Goldfields District Councils, at the invitation of the Metropolitan District Council.

‘Expressions of mutual goodwill and a strong plea by the Leader of the Federal Labor Party for the promotion of the spirit of mateship were the principal features of this year’s Christmas gathering.' 89