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film icon 'Man of the hour', 1943 - asset 3

'Man of the hour', 1943 - asset 3
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library


This is a clip taken from near the middle of a black-and-white election campaign film, 'Man of the hour', produced by the Australian Labor Party in 1943. It shows scenes of troop carriers and artillery speeding along roads, soldiers marching, fighter planes in the air and factories building aircraft. Over this footage, the commentary emphasises the energy and commitment shown by Prime Minister John Curtin in mobilising the country for war, and contrasts this to the inactivity of the previous government. The clip concludes with footage of Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde welcoming US General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific, while the commentary explains why Curtin made his famous 'call to America'.

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Educational value

This resource is useful because it:

  • This asset provides an example of election advertising during the Second World War - 'Man of the hour' runs for about 4.5 minutes and was shown in cinemas in 1943, in the years before television brought such advertisements into Australian homes.
  • This asset focuses 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 speed with which Curtin built up Australia's fighting forces - this clip paints a picture of nearly two years' vigorous activity to get Australia on a war footing from the time Curtin became Prime Minister on 7 October 1941 until he called the election on 7 July 1943; in his campaign launch in a radio broadcast, Curtin expressed much the same message as shown in this clip when he stated that 554,000 people had been serving in the forces or working in war industries in 1941, whereas in 1943 there were 1,172,000; the commentator points to the build-up of 'fighting forces, from a poorly armed 431,000, to 820,000 men, fully equipped with modern weapons'.
  • This asset refers to how, when Curtin assumed government, 'Australia lacked even one modern fighting plane or torpedo bomber' - Curtin's activities present a striking contrast to the previous government's 'business as usual' approach; war in the Pacific had been predicted for years, and as Leader of the Opposition Curtin had often attacked the inadequacy of defence planning and preparation; on 8 December 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, the Prime Minister of eight weeks 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 emphasises how Curtin built up the air force, describing the build-up as 'the policy he had voiced for years' - Curtin had long been convinced of the value of air defence; when he first stood for parliament in 1914 he had argued for a fleet of airships; in 1918 he had outlined a vision, quite amazing for the time, of a modern, efficient, mobile air force, capable of striking at and destroying sea-borne invaders; in 1936 he had attacked the government's defence budget's spending on the navy and the government's strategy of relying on the British fleet at the Singapore naval base, instead of strengthening Australia's army and air force.
  • This asset includes a reference in the commentary to Curtin's famous 'call to America' - in a New Year's message to the Australian people published by the Melbourne 'Herald' on 27 December 1941, Curtin had written 'Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it quite clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom'; this statement caused an uproar both in Australia and in Britain; by 1943 the Labor Party spin was that 'realising that the mother country was herself fighting with her back to the wall, John Curtin called on the great USA to share with Australia the deadly battle for the south-west Pacific'.
  • This asset refers to the USA sharing with Australia 'the deadly battle for the south-west Pacific' - this illustrates Australia's growing alliance with the USA, and its dependence on the USA for military protection; at the request of the Curtin government, US General Douglas MacArthur was appointed Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the South-West Pacific in 1942.
  • 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'.