'The Lost Leader' - by Vigilant , Westralian Worker, 2 February 1917, page 5

This is the first appearance of Curtin’s Vigilant articles in the Westralian Worker. Fitzgerald wrote:

Note: the strategic sense in beginning a series of literary articles with this poem because, through Browning’s words, it declares that a great host of eminent poets can (will?) be shown to be allies in Labor’s objectives. Curtin was to claim this explicitly in non-Bookshelf piece of 14 Sept: “we claim Sisterhood with Literature”.

[Vigilant’s] thesis that after enduring hardships and abuse on the way up, Labor leaders tend to defect in “the mild breezes of prosperity”….Both Kidston and Daglish …defected when in office as Premier. [1]


The Lost Leader by Vigilant

Just for a handful of silver he left us,
Just for a ribband to stick in his coat'
Found the one gift of which fortune bereft us,
Lost all the others she lets us devote

What reflections the above few lines of Robert Browning’s awake in the minds of Labor’s sons to-day. How often have we pinned our trust to men who could and did withstand hard knocks and blows, abuse, slander, malicious falsehood, victimisations, and the hundred slings and arrows that fell to the lot of labor’s champions, and yet, before the mild breezes of prosperity faded utterly. Look over the long list of apostates from the Labor cause, and one or two points in common stand out against all others. Most prominent is the attitude of the Press. Before their apostasy no vulgar terms of vituperation are too damning to apply to them. After, what a change! These men are the very elect of the nation. The columns of the dailies are open and eager for their defence. Always, too, we hear that it is not these men who left Labor, but Labor that left them. If the Labor Party had only maintained its original purity, disinterestedness, etc., these things would never have been; and endless twaddle in similar strain. In fact, one would imagine that it would only be necessary to turn back some ten years in the files of the journal to discover articles fervidly in support of Labor. But do we? The facts are quite to the contrary. The new party at its birth was subjected to an unmitigated and unscrupulous campaign of slander and falsehood. Its principles were distorted, its champions libelled and held up to public ridicule as disloyalists, traitors, dynamiters, cut-throats, blackmailers, associates of criminals, advocates of free-lust, atheists, drunkards and birds of passage. To Press ridicule was added social and business boycott, and even public insult in the open street. Such was the genesis of Labor. Such was the stormy environment through which the lion-hearts of the worker’s cause battled, first, to toleration, and later, to success. And with the latter came the temptation to desert the cause. Time and again an individual, or a little group, “ratted,” and with every secession the Press raised its paean of joy – Lo, this monster is dying.

But, strange to say, it never died. In fact, its greatest successes have always followed on the apostacy of the weak and corrupt elements. Each apostate in turn has prophesied the debacle of the movement. Each in turn, no sooner had he changed his coat, adopted even to details the methods, manners, and phrases of his erstwhile enemies. Thus Fowler, M.H.R., one-time enthusiastic distributor of Blatchford’s “Merry England,” refers slightly to his old associates as “Socialists.” Truly, a damning charge! And another, formerly so marked in her Australian Nationalism as to be regarded as a “cut-the-painter.” Advocate, now shrieks “disloyalist,” “traitor,” to Laborites shrewd enough to smell a rat in the Hughes-Irvine conscription conspiracy.



All these reflections, of course, are but idle without some topical application, for which, however, we need not go far. The section of the Federal Labor Party which, under Hughes, left the organisation, is a case in point. No sooner were their backs turned upon the door of the party meeting room, than a most grating, but not unfamiliar chorus broke from their lips: “Traitor,” “disloyalist,” “criminal,” “receiver of German gold,” “blackmailer,” “liar,” “I.W.W.-er,” “Caucus,” “junta,” “coercion,” mingled in minor keys with “Freedom,” “Empire,” “Throne,” “religion,” and reinforced with vociferations of “Men without God or Country,” “ferocity of the Bengal tiger,” are among the clamorous screams of the Big Secession. But despite the volume of noise, its high pitched key betrays it. It does not terrify, it hardly interests, so threadbare is its burden, so familiar its turn and phrases. It is the squeak of a rat.

And the big secession, like all the little secession that went before it, gets up on its hind legs, swells out its chest and says, “I am a reformation,” “I am the real thing,” “I’m not a shadow,” “I’m not like Kidston and Daglish and - ?

But it’s no good. Its big voice rings hollow. It fails to convince even itself. We grant it a short period of artificial respiration at the hands of the Press, but so soon as that old lady finds out that this, her latest foundling, has somewhat missed the ‘bus – well, there’ll be an advt. For a “kind person” to adopt it, and – whoof! – out goes Billy Hughes like a blown-out candle!

Blot out his name, then, record one lost soul more,
One task more declined, one more footpath untrod,
One more triumph for devils and sorrow for angels,
One wrong more to man, one more insult to God!

Labor may suffer a set-back, will certainly be obliged to go back painfully over old ground. Old tasks, which, perhaps, were scamped, must be taken up and done over again. Hard work is before the toilers in the cause, hard sacrifices will be demanded, and the old-time boycotts will be revived. Labor must meet them unflinchingly, fortified with the remembrance of the soul-stirring struggles of the past, and inspired by the glorious mission to be accompanied. Little need we fear or regret those who have left us, for to return again to Browning:-

Shakespeare was of us, Milton was for us,
Burns, Shelley were with us – they watch from their graves!
He alone breaks from the van and the freemen
He alone sinks to the rear and the slaves.


1. John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin: Book discussions (largely from Our Bookshelf), 1917 - 1988. JCPML00653/36