The life and work of Tom Fitzgerald - header


Influences in youth - 'A succession of enthusiasms'

As an adolescent I was captivated by the image one was given of Jesus Christ. I find this is a fairly common experience. For example, even people with Jewish backgrounds, such as Karl Marx and Albert Einstein, in their adolescence went through a very similar, enormously idealised reverence for Jesus Christ, for the image we have of Jesus Christ.

My mother sensed, when I started at university, that though I still observed the outward practices of a Catholic, my thinking was becoming more sceptical. She noticed it. Did not complain. But she had apparently expressed to others, never to me, the hope that I might be a priest. [1]


In primary school I had begun very strongly to appreciate Shakespeare. I had the luck, I think, of having set at school plays in various years which were more suitable for children than some other children had the luck to have. My first was Henry V, then The Merchant of Venice, then Twelfth Night, then Macbeth and then Julius Caesar. And from Henry V I began to be very interested in Shakespeare and my mother bought me his collected works while I was still in primary school and I read other of his plays and his sonnets and his poems. And in secondary school that continued and I was exhilarated by some poetry I read. Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner was one. Lots of poems like that. And I was quite excited by that. And so it went on. [2]


  Tom Fitzgerald aged about 14 with other family members

Tom Fitzgerald aged about 14 with other family members

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Fitzgerald family. Tom Fitzgerald (at back) and others, n.d. JCPML00720/34



Tom appreciated music, poetry and creative pursuits, recognising that in his boyhood he was 'of an ecstatic temperament' and followed 'a succession of enthusiasms'.


But one waited for the next publication of Eliot and of Keynes. And one was also watching some of the great scientists like Einstein. A little later on WB Yeats. But only for a short period before his death. But they were contemporaries, still living and still to be watched for what would come next. A very exciting thing in the thirties.

Eliot of course turned to religion which was sufficient to make me pause at being a scoffer religion. And I’m still not a scoffer at religion. That’s an issue in itself. Yes, Eliot would have been, I’d say 1936, a very big...a very big...his essays...his Selected Essays had been published by then and they also I read and reread. I borrowed them innumerable times. And his Essays Ancient and Modern, those two books, from the Municipal Library, which was a great source of such good books.

EK Chambers’ two volume work, Shakespeare: a Study of Facts and Problems, I’ve read and reread and I’m happy to say that in recent years I paid a hundred dollars to get the two [volume] set...set from America. It represented the fascination of an unsolvable mystery about Shakespeare done by a scholar whom I greatly admired.

These were, you know, dilettantish, undisciplined interests, which I think everyone must have in these days of specialisation.

...there’s that funny passage in EM one of his essays...he quotes at the beginning of it a line of Matthew Arnold’s, one of a poem by Matthew Arnold. “Who props, thou askd’st, in these dark days, my mind?” Now Forster says immediately, “That word ‘askd’st’ is a problem,” (Laughs). But he goes on then to enumerate the authors, in particular Samuel Butler, who in fact were to him a prop. Matthew Arnold’s choice were all Greek authors. Homer, Epictetes and Sophocles. Epictetus and Sophocles.

Well now I suppose we all do have those props and in all my life, you know, I’ve liked to have alongside my bed some or other author. Eliot’s Selected Essays, certainly, and various other people like that, you like to keep by your bed as someone, you know, the odd half hour or ten minutes even, you pick up for total removal from the world you are in. On a plane that you think good and interesting.


  Tom Fitzgerald as a young man, 1941

Tom Fitzgerald as a young man, 1941

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the Fitzgerald family. Tom Fitzgerald; age 23, 1941. JCPML00720/41



I should say that from the very beginning of my university days a new figure who loomed very large in my interest was JM Keynes. I’m sorry that he’s relegated to the status of an economist only. I tried once to interest Brian Johns in getting the Viking people to put out, in their series, A Portable Keynes. Which would by no means be dominated by his economic writings. His two volumes of essays which I read in my first year at university, they’re not technical essays, Essays in Persuasion and Essays in Biography, especially Essays in Biography, I think are worth reading by anybody however slight their interest in economics. A few other things he’s written. Two Memoirs, posthumously published. And we’re now getting some at least of his very early writings as a youth. He was a very interesting person and a large part of the reason why I found economics worthwhile.

There were other older writers. Adam Smith, Ricardo, who were quite interesting to read. I used to, in my early years at university, ponder the relative merits of studying economics and studying philosophy. … there could be a reciprocal illumination from one to the other. Economics has to grapple with conceptual issues which are not always capable of being resolved by empirical evidence. And I thought it was a very interesting question.

But, yes, the relationship with economics. I mean, when you’re reading a man like Keynes you are engaged in a form of intellectual struggle, often, which would be worth comparing with the kind of struggle you have in economics. Keynes himself of course was a philosopher of a mathematical bent. He got his fellowship at King’s College Cambridge for his enormously influential Treatise on Probability which was a philosophical issue. He was well aware of that area; he knew it well... [3]


1 - 3. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of the National Library of Australia. Interview of Tom Fitzgerald, 01/02/1988 - 3/09/1988. JCPML00658/1. Original held by National Library of Australia TRC 2247


Investigating John Curtin home
Early years - 'Born on a dairy in Marrickville'
War years -'Conjunction of the highest pleasure with the other  job'