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image icon Telegram from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 1941

Telegram from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 1941
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a telegram sent by John Curtin (1885-1945) from Parliament House in Canberra to his wife, Elsie, in Cottesloe, Western Australia, on 3 October 1941, four days before he became Prime Minister.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset provides an insight into the fall of the short-lived Fadden government, which held power for only 40 days (from 29 August to 7 October 1941) - in this telegram, John Curtin (then leader of the Australian Labor Party in opposition) writes that two independent members of the House of Representatives, Arthur Coles and Alexander Wilson, 'have announced their intention of voting for our amendment and the government will be defeated'.
  • This asset refers to the impending demise of the 'stopgap' government led by Prime Minister Arthur Fadden - Fadden was the leader of the Country Party that, with only 13 members in the House of Representatives, relied on the United Australia Party (UAP) and two independents to retain power after Prime Minister Robert Menzies (beset by dissension in the UAP) resigned on 28 August 1941; on 3 October 1941, Coles and Wilson crossed the floor of the House to secure the passage of a no-confidence vote, which had been moved by Curtin in the form of an amendment to the government's budget; following its defeat in the House, the Fadden government resigned and, four days later, John Curtin became Prime Minister of Australia.
  • This asset suggests the close and loving relationship between John and Elsie Curtin - in this birthday telegram, Curtin not only sends his love but shares with the person most important to him some significant personal and political news about the imminent rise to power of a Labor government in which Curtin would be Prime Minister.
  • This asset reveals a little of the sense of humour of both John and Elsie Curtin - the telegram announces that the change of government is Elsie Curtin's birthday gift (she turned 51 on 4 October 1941), provided for her by the two independent members, Coles and Wilson; Elsie Curtin took a keen interest in politics and was actively involved in the Labor Women's Organisation in Western Australia; accordingly she would have been amused and delighted, both as the wife of the Prime Minister-to-be, and as a Labor supporter, that the fall of the Fadden government coincided with her birthday.
  • This asset reveals the separation of families that politics and the needs of war bring about - John Curtin sent the telegram from Parliament House in Canberra to his wife across the continent in Cottesloe, Western Australia; Curtin spent long periods in Canberra once he entered Parliament, especially when he became Leader of the Opposition (1935) and then Prime Minister of Australia in the war years (1941-45); Elsie Curtin spent some months of each year in Canberra but maintained their family and home in Perth, helping with electoral matters in Curtin's seat of Fremantle during his long absences.
  • This asset is an example of a telegram from the 1940s, an era when telephones were not commonplace in private homes and before communication options such as mobile phones and email were invented - the postal service hand-delivered telegrams to private homes and businesses; telegrams could be rapidly transmitted, and were commonly used for urgent communications or to send messages on special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and Christmas; the telegram service ended in the late 1980s due to rising costs, the almost universal uptake of telephones and cheaper long-distance phone calls.