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image icon Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 1930

Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 1930
Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 1930
Letter from John Curtin to Elsie Curtin, 1930
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a handwritten letter from John Curtin (1885-1945) to his wife, Elsie, dated 2 August 1930. It is on letterhead marked: 'The Parliament of the Commonwealth, House of Representatives, Canberra'.

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Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset mentions the difficulties James Scullin (Labor Prime Minister of Australia from October 1929 to January 1932) was having with Sir Otto Niemeyer at the height of the Great Depression - Niemeyer came to Australia in 1930 at the invitation of the Commonwealth Bank Board and with the concurrence of Scullin; Niemeyer led a mission from the Bank of England 'to assess the nation's parlous credit and formulate advice about restoring it', with the aim of ensuring that Australia could repay its debts to English bondholders; essentially, Niemeyer's conclusion was that Australia could not support its standard of living at that time.
  • This asset indicates that Scullin was also under pressure from Edward Theodore, Labor member for the New South Wales federal seat of Dalley - Theodore was appointed federal treasurer in the Scullin government in October 1929 but resigned from the ministry in July 1930 after a Royal Commission in Queensland, set up by his political opponents, found him guilty of 'fraud and dishonesty' in connection with the Mungana mines, which had been sold to the Queensland Government; Theodore wanted a Federal Royal Commission to clear his name, but this did not eventuate; when the Queensland Government failed to lay charges against Theodore, Scullin controversially reinstated him as federal treasurer; when civil proceedings were later instituted, Theodore was found not guilty.
  • This asset reveals the approach that John Curtin, then a backbencher in the Scullin government but later Prime Minister of Australia (1941-45), advocated to deal with the problems of the Depression - Curtin tried to convince Scullin that the obvious course was 'an attack on the banking control, a reduction in the interest rate and the credit of the nation being made the monopoly of the nation', but argued his case 'fruitlessly'; in August 1930, the Scullin government took the different approach advocated by Niemeyer, reaching agreement with state premiers to balance budgets, reduce wages and pensions, and raise new loans overseas; the strategy proved impossible to implement, caused a Labor Party split and saw Labor lose office in the December 1931 elections.
  • This asset suggests the close and loving relationship between John and Elsie Curtin - Curtin begins his letter with 'My beloved' and finishes with 'Cheerio, my sweetheart. Your loving husband John'; Curtin shared with her his day-to-day political and personal experiences, whether of great significance like the management of the nation's economy, or of little consequence like the purchase of a pair of shoes.
  • This asset indicates that Elsie Curtin was well informed politically and took a real interest in matters of government - Curtin writes to her of political events and his own beliefs; Elsie Curtin was actively involved in the Labor Women's Organisation in Western Australia from the 1920s, being a member in the Perth area for several years and then, in 1924, a founding treasurer of the Fremantle group; she continued her association through the years of the Second World War and served as state president, 1944-46.
  • This asset reveals that Australian parliamentarians often endured separation from their families - John Curtin wrote to his wife in Western Australia from Parliament House, Canberra; he spent long periods in Canberra once he entered Parliament in 1928 and, although the parliamentary sittings provided a break from Friday to Monday so that Melbourne and Sydney members could return home, the distance from Perth made this impossible for WA politicians; Curtin writes that 'the booking is fixed' for his train journey between Melbourne and Perth, a trip that took three-and-a-half days and involved several changes of train.
  • This asset provides a description of a 'great ball at the Kurrajong' Hotel in Canberra in 1930, an occasion that did not interest John Curtin who 'went to bed and read two novels' - members of Parliament attended this grand social occasion with 'evening dresses, bright lights, gentlemen of the civil service and fair ladies', with the music playing until 3 am; many parliamentarians, including Curtin, stayed at the Kurrajong Hotel when they were in Canberra for parliamentary sittings.
  • This asset mentions Percy Stewart and his belief that the 'social system was wrong at bedrock' - Stewart was elected to the House of Representatives in 1919, representing the Victorian seat of Wimmera as one of the original five Country Party members of Parliament; he took a radical line and often voted with the ALP.