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film icon 'Man of the hour', 1943 - asset 2

'Man of the hour', 1943 - asset 2
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a clip taken from near the beginning of a black-and-white election campaign film, 'Man of the hour', produced by the Australian Labor Party in 1943, during the Second World War. It shows footage from 16 December 1941 of Prime Minister John Curtin moving a motion in parliament to approve the declaration of war on Japan, and to pledge to defend Australia and its territories, fight alongside 'our allies, and to achieve final victory over our enemies'.

transcript iconA transcript is available for this resource.

Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset is historically significant footage of Curtin at the beginning of the war with Japan - the motion in the House of Representatives in fact took place eight days after the actual declaration of war was made; news of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Sunday 7 December 1941 broke in Australia early on Monday 8 December, when parliament was in recess; a meeting of the War Cabinet was held in Melbourne, and Governor-General Lord Gowrie and Curtin signed the proclamation of war in the War Cabinet room that day; parliament was recalled to discuss the crisis.
  • This asset focuses entirely on John Curtin (1885-1945), Australia's fourteenth prime minister - Curtin was born in Victoria of Irish immigrant parents; he became a political activist even before he was old enough to vote; he rose to prominence within the Socialist and Labor parties and within the trade union movement, and was an outspoken opponent of conscription in 1916-17; Curtin edited the Perth-based 'Westralian Worker' newspaper over the years 1917-28; he won the federal parliamentary seat of Fremantle in 1928 and served in the Scullin Labor government; he lost his seat in 1931 but regained it in 1934, holding it for the remainder of his career; Curtin was elected leader of the parliamentary Labor Party in 1935; he became Prime Minister on 7 October 1941 and died in office on 5 July 1945.
  • This asset refers to the formal declaration of war against Japan - the formal declaration was in clear contrast to the way Australia entered the war against Germany in 1939, when Prime Minister Menzies simply announced that, because Britain was at war, Australia was also; by formally declaring war and then moving the motion in parliament, Curtin wanted to signal a more independent attitude and to make sure Australians realised that the war against Japan was a new war.
  • This asset refers to defending Australia and its territories - the territories mentioned were the Territory of Papua and the Territory of New Guinea; defending both territories and Australia would be a huge task and would require Curtin to introduce conscription for service in a limited zone beyond Australia and the territories; on the day that war was declared on Japan, Curtin was informed that Australia could not be defended against a Japanese invasion; rifles, machine-guns and antitank guns were in such short supply that only some of the militia regiments then being called up could be equipped to half-strength, tanks were non-existent, and there were no capable fighter and bomber aircraft.
  • This asset refers to 'carry[ing] on hostilities in association with our allies' - the attack on Pearl Harbor brought the USA into the Second World War and Curtin quickly realised that the USA's involvement would guarantee victory eventually, although he was probably not aware that Britain and the USA had already agreed to pursue a 'Germany first' strategy (focusing on the war in Europe before the war in the Pacific); from 1941, Australia formed a part of the alliance against Germany, Japan and Italy that consisted of Britain and its colonies and dominions, Russia, China and the USA.
  • This asset refers to 'final victory over our enemies' - Curtin lived to see the victory over Germany on 8 May 1945, but died six weeks before the end of the war in the Pacific.
  • This asset provides some evidence of Curtin's speaking abilities - Curtin was a famous public speaker, having honed his skills on the soapbox in Melbourne from a relatively young age; the three-part pledge contained in the motion indicates his ability to deliver a succinct but powerful statement.
  • This asset shows the opening words of a speech in which Curtin painted a grim picture for the immediate future - Curtin indicated that he could not predict 'what the fortunes of Australia will be in the weeks, months and years that lie ahead'.
  • This asset provides an example of election advertising during the Second World War - this film of about 4.5 minutes in length was shown in cinemas in 1943, in the years before television brought such advertisements into Australian homes; in an earlier part of the film, the Labor Party, as the party in government, reminds voters of the grim wartime situation Australia faced when Labor came to power in 1941, and of the 'leader of real judgement, courage and inflexible purpose' it had found in Curtin.
  • This asset is from a film that was part of a highly successful election strategy - the Curtin government was returned with an overwhelming majority, winning 49 seats to the 24 won by opposing parties and one Independent in the House of Representatives; the Labor Party also won all 19 Senate seats contested; the leader of one of the opposing parties described it as like 'being struck by a cyclone'.