Document Study 2
Personal letter from John Curtin to Jessie Gunn, a young family friend in the socialist movement, 1909

Background information

In 1906 John Curtin, just 21 years old, joined the Victorian Socialist Party, founded by the British socialist Tom Mann. Curtin was a passionately involved member of the party in Melbourne.

When he moved to Western Australia in 1917 he was a man with a mission – a socialist mission. Curtin believed that the churches had taken over Christianity and subverted it. He saw socialism as the true religion - the ideas of Christ put into action.

Jessie Gunn (seated 1st left, front row) with Bruce family & friends, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, ca 1911. JCPML00542/1

JCPML. Records of Robin Glenie. Jessie Gunn (seated 1st left, front row) with Bruce family & friends, Fitzroy Gardens, Melbourne, ca 1911. JCPML00542/1

The Victorian Socialist Party shared many characteristics of a church. They held street meetings like the Salvation Army and on Sundays, after sufficient time had been allowed for people to attend mass or some other church service in the morning, the party would run their own Sunday school for children. They held afternoon teas and public lectures in the evenings where thousands of people would attend. They even had their own orchestras, bands and choirs and organised picnics and other outings to the countryside.

Document: Personal letter from John Curtin to Jessie Gunn, a young family friend in the socialist movement, 1909

Source: JCPML. Records of Jessie Gunn. Letter from John Curtin to Jessie Gunn dated 20 April [1909]. JCPML00300/15. Original held by National Library of Australia: MS 889.

You can view each page of the letter by clicking on the images below or read the text of the letter underneath.

Letter from John Curtin to Jessie Gunn, page 1. JCPML00300/15 Letter from John Curtin to Jessie Gunn, page 2. JCPML00300/15 Letter from John Curtin to Jessie Gunn, page 3. JCPML00300/15

16 Barry Street
Brunswick

April 20th

My Dear Jessie

    We are having the life that thrills. Whether it be long or short one cannot tell, but it is indeed at once delightful and unpleasant. All things have their opposite compensations and if one goes fast then one must miss many pleasant views on the way and if we should "go slow" then the pleasures of the wayside are outweighed by the discomforts of the train.

    We have had a bazaar, a picnic - a row on the river with reckless and incapable oarsmen - dances and meetings and lectures with vast audiences that rise up and face you like mighty waves of the boundless ocean - verily what they do for themselves make us miserable and dissatisfied; but what they try to do for others being in the circumstances attendant thereon all those things that poets sing of and hope - which ever thrives - promises. I cannot tell you of all - to tell you of some would be to no purpose for we see things and understand them and to tell of or about them but disappoints the reader or the listener.

    As I write the trials of Albury fill my mind so that to think of other things is impossible. Jessie you have never met that "man of men" who is known as Tom Mann. Papers say of him all the wrong and nasty things imaginable - when the years pass and you know more of social affairs you will understand why it is so - but I want you to know that he and his good comrades are the purest and the best among many who are indeed worthy. It has ever been that the pioneer[s] of new and better days are persecuted and oppressed by the times in which they lived. To acclaim the future has incurred the odium of the present, and all of human progress has been won by the men who have stood four-square to all the winds that blew - who, seeing the right, did daily maintain it. Let there be no moaning at the bar wrote the poet, and perhaps we should not repine but be glad that men have been, and are of this kind. No more for the present with fondest love to all.

Jack.

Questions

a. What activities organised by the Victorian Socialist Party did 'Jack' Curtin write to Jessie Gunn about?
b. What did Curtin say in this letter about his mentor Tom Mann?
c. What did Curtin mean when he wrote: 'It has ever been that the pioneer[s] of new and better days are persecuted and oppressed by the times in which they live'?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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