Document Study 6
• Oral history interview with Adele Hodges, Curtin's secretary from 1936 to 1941, who recalls Curtin as Leader of the Opposition
• Speech in Parliament about Australia's place in the world by Curtin as Opposition Leader, 1935

Background information

After being elected to the House of Repesentatives in 1928, John Curtin lost his Fremantle seat when the Scullin Labor Government lost office in the election of 1931.

When he was re-elected to parliament in 1934, Curtin was quite unexpectedly seen as a potential leader, although he had been passed over for membership of the Scullin Ministry. Being able to stand apart from that ministry is probably what made him a likely candidate. In 1935 Scullin resigned as leader of the ALP and Curtin contested the leadership, winning the position by one vote ahead of Frank Forde. He worked to re-unite the Labor Party and to present the party as one which had the right and capacity to govern the country.

John Curtin and Adele Mildenhall, 1940. JCPML00217/1

JCPML. Records of Adele Hodges. John Curtin and Adele Mildenhall, 1940. JCPML00217/1

Document: Oral history interview with Adele Hodges (nee Mildenhall), Curtin's secretary from 1936 to 1941, who recalls Curtin as Leader of the Opposition

Source: JCPML. Records of the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Interview of Adele Hodges, 2 July 1997. JCPML00211/1

You can Listen to the interview or read the short excerpt below.

Excerpt:

I used to go over to him [Mr Curtin, Leader of the Opposition] every session when Parliament sat and that went on for about 12 months and as the workload increased they started to need a secretary in the office all the time, so he then asked that I be available permanently as his secretary. We had a Press Officer, Don Rodgers, and Eric Tonkin was the male secretary. So the three of us were the office staff at that time...

We had three rooms on the Opposition side of the House opposite the House of Representative doors and he had a big room with a couch and easy chairs and a lovely desk... Eric Tonkin and I occupied the second room and the third room was occupied by Don Rodgers...

[Curtin] always wrote his own speeches and then we typed them out as a draft and then the draft became the final copy... [He] had a very great command of the English language... Although I had typed the draft and then retyped the accomplished speech for Hansard and for him to speak by he frequently disregarded the script and just spoke straight from the heart. He knew exactly what he wanted to say. And we always went into the House [in Parliament] and listened to his speeches for the time that he was speaking. That was one of the joys of the office...

As a boss I found him very considerate to the staff and frequently when pressure of work necessitated staying back at night he would come in in his kindly way and say, "I think it's time that you went home," or alternatively he would say, "Come on, it's tea and toast time," and we would go over to the dining-room and we would have some supper and then come back and carry on...


Questions

a. What evidence is there in Adele Hodges' oral history that Curtin was a very good speaker?
b. Why do you think Curtin employed a press secretary? (He was the first Federal politician to have a press secretary)
c. How did Curtin treat his office staff? What does this tell you about his leadership style?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

Document: Speech in Parliament about Australia's place in the world by Curtin as Opposition Leader , 1935

Source: Commonwealth Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), vol 147, 5 November 1935, pp. 565-566

Excerpt from speech:

... We cannot be indifferent to... anything that threatens or jeapardizes the peace of the world, and may by its repercussions profoundly affect our own security. But at the same time we must have regard to our position, to our circumstances, to the place that we hold in the geography of the world and to what we are capable of doing towards the maintenance of the peace of the world... Australia is but a minor power.


Questions

a. To what world events is Curtin alluding in this November 1935 speech when he speaks of 'anything that threatens or jeopardizes the peace of the world’?
b. What does Curtin say about Australia with respect to its contribution to maintaining world peace?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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