Document Study 9
Radio broadcast speech by Curtin to the American people, 14 March 1942

Background information

1942 was a turning point in the war for Australia. With regard to the United States, Prime Minister Curtin was fully aware of our status as junior partner in the arrangement and left the waging of the war to the generals. He appeared to play only a facilitating role but it was a difficult one where he had to manage the Labor Party and the Australian economy in a way that met the needs of the war and of US General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific Area.

Curtin and MacArthur shared a keen sense of the politics of the enterprise they were jointly engaged in. They both saw the need to bring the Pacific war to the attention of the American President and to find ways in which this could be done.

PM John Curtin shaking hands with General Douglas MacArthur, Sydney 8 June 1943. JCPML00376/69

JCPML. Records of the Curtin Family. PM John Curtin shaking hands with General Douglas MacArthur, Sydney 8 June 1943. JCPML00376/69

John Curtin had his first serious heart attack in 1944. Although urged to retire, he chose, with the support of party and parliament to stay on. He can be viewed as a casualty of the war – his mind and spirit were exhausted by the war. He was, however, an extraordinarily successful Labor leader. He was the first Labor prime minister to win an election while in office and his popular acclaim and success helped sustain Labor through the long years of opposition.

Document: Radio broadcast speech by Curtin to the American people, 14 March 1942

Source: JCPML. Records of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. John Curtin's speech to America, 14 March 1942. JCPML00434/1. Original held by Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

You can Listen to the broadcast or read the excerpt below.

We, the allied nations, were unready. Japan, behind her wall of secrecy, had prepared for war on a scale of which neither we nor you had knowledge. We have all made mistakes, we have all been too slow; we have all shown weakness - all the allied nations. This is not the time to wrangle about who has been most to blame. Now our eyes are open...

We are all the one race - the English speaking race. We will not yield easily a yard of our soil. We have great space here and tree by tree, village by village, and town by town we will fall back if we must. That will occur only if we lack the means of meeting the enemy with parity in materials and machines. For, remember, we are the Anzac breed. Our men stormed Gallipoli; they swept through the Libyan desert; they were the 'rats' of Tobruk; they were the men who fought under 'bitter, sarcastic, pugnacious Gordon Bennett' down Malaya and were still fighting when the surrender of Singapore came. These men gave of their best in Greece and Crete; they will give more than their best on their own soil, when their hearths and homes lie under enemy threat...

We fight with what we have and what we have is our all. We fight for the same free institutions that you enjoy. We fight so that, in the words of Lincoln, 'government of the people, for the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth'. Our legislature is elected the same as is yours; and we will fight for it, and for the right to have it, just as you will fight to keep the Capitol at Washington the meeting place of freely-elected men and women representative of a free people. But I give you this warning: Australia is the last bastion between the West Coast of America and the Japanese. If Australia goes, the Americas are wide open...


a. What did Curtin say the United States and Australia had in common?
b. What did he say it was time to do?
c. What strategy did Curtin suggest Australia would use in the event of an invasion?
d. What reasoning did Curtin present to convince the Americans to come to Australia's aid in the war against the Japanese?

Compare your answers with the Answer Key

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