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image icon Gold pocket watch presented to John Curtin in 1924

Gold pocket watch presented to John Curtin in 1924
Gold pocket watch presented to John Curtin in 1924
Gold pocket watch presented to John Curtin in 1924
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


These colour photographs show three views of an engraved gold pocket watch that was presented to John Curtin (1885-1945) by friends in the labour movement when he represented Australian labour at the International Labour Organisation Conference in Geneva in 1924.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset is an example of a gold pocket watch from the early years of the 20th century - such watches were often used as presentation items to commemorate significant events such as twenty-first birthdays, retiring from the workforce or attaining 25 years with an employer; this watch marked the appointment of John Curtin (future wartime Prime Minister of Australia, 1941-45) as a member of the Australian delegation to the 1924 International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference.
  • This asset shows details of the pocket watch, including the top winding mechanism and the ring that allowed a chain to be attached - such watches were wound by hand, usually daily, and often placed in the small fob pocket of a waistcoat, with the chain looped across to, and secured in, the opposite pocket; formal photographs of John Curtin show him wearing a fob watch with the chain visible across his waistcoat, although the excellent condition of this watch suggests that it was unlikely to have been worn for everyday use.
  • This asset reveals John Curtin's involvement with the Australian and international labour movements in the 1920s - the watch is engraved on the inside back lid with the words: 'Presented to John Curtin by Labour Friends on the eve of his departure as Australia's Labour Representative to the Geneva Conference 1924'; this conference considered questions about workers' compensation, the development of facilities for workers' leisure time, and night work in bakeries; although frustrated by the workings of the conference and by the Australian Government's lack of interest in the deliberations, Curtin was positive about the potential for such meetings to improve the lives of working people and promote world peace.
  • This asset suggests that John Curtin was well regarded by Australian labour - despite his isolation in Perth (he was then editor of the labour weekly 'Westralian Worker'), Curtin was nominated by the labour movement, and subsequently appointed by the federal Bruce-Page Nationalist-Country Party coalition government as the Australian labour representative for the ILO Conference; Australia sent just three delegates: one to represent labour, one to represent employers and the third appointed by the Australian Government (Britain sent 29 delegates to the same conference).
  • This asset shows Curtin's initials, 'JC', embossed in a decorative design on the front casing of the watch - this personalisation of what would have been an expensive gift for the time suggests the high regard in which Curtin was held by his labour colleagues.
  • This asset suggests the international outlook of, and connections between, labour movements worldwide at this time - the ILO Conference took place under the auspices of the League of Nations and delegates from 40 countries, including Australia, travelled to Geneva in Switzerland to take part; founded in 1919, the ILO seeks to promote social justice and formulate international labour conventions; it recommends minimum standards of basic labour rights, including freedom of association, the right to organise, collective bargaining, abolition of forced labour, and equality of opportunity and treatment.