The detailed story of Curtin's engagement with J J Simons and Victor Courtney, joint owners of the small Perth newspapers the Call and the Mirror, is interesting.

Since 1917 Curtin had been promoting the cause of J J Simons in his paper. Simons was a towering soap-box orator who worked with him on the anti-conscription campaign of 1917. Simons could match Curtin's oratorical skills, and could also be very funny - something Curtin found difficult.

J J Simons


In Curtin's early years as editor of the Worker he enthusiastically reported Simons' speeches in various campaigns under headings like 'Sayings of Simons' and, in the following week or two, 'More Sayings of Simons'.

Simons was looking like a future Labor leader when he was elected, with Curtin's support, as the ALP member for East Perth in 1921.

Simons soon fell out with the party machine over an argument about pay rates for his printers and an article that Courtney had written in the Call under the heading 'Trades Hall Trash'.

Simons was summoned to appear before the Metropolitan District Council of the ALP. He refused, withdrew from the party, and resigned his seat. (He later re-contested it as an independent but without success.)

In the Fremantle Fight.
Platform Flashes
"Tyranny and oppression have often killed democracy, but have never saved it."
* * *
"The strong arms of the democracy of Australia took them from the humble miners' huts in the mulga, and placed them in the mansions of the mighty, from the steps of which they mourn the men whose sacrifice brought their elevation."
* * *

Westralian Worker 28 April 1917



It was against this backdrop that Curtin found himself engaged in a battle on the front pages with Courtney and Simons and their papers the Mirror and the Call.

But this time there was a difference from the usual cut and thrust of small papers, since Simons had been a protégé of Curtin's before this falling out.

The Mirror said Simons had been 'head-hunted by a secret junta' within the Labor movement.

Curtin, his writing now stripped of the language of class war, showed he had a strong, more-in-sorrow-than-anger style for just such an occasion.

With three columns on page one of the Westralian Worker of 3 November 1922, he lamented the loss of Simons' advocacy of the 'Great Cause', and ridiculed the head hunting claim, under the heading 'The Latest and Brightest of all the Martyrs".

Well, what of it? I confess to having placed my faith in him. I worked hard to support him in his elections He was glad - so he said - to have me. I could not offer him a 1000 pounds a year job but I did help him to a tolerable one. So did hundreds of others - men and women whose wages were small but whose hearts were uplifted at the prospect of adding an able fighter to the ranks of those who were devoted to their Movement. He breaks with them as he breaks with all of us. Too much prosperity is not always a good thing, as witness, for example, that of the tape worm - J.C.

Westralian Worker 3 November 1922


In the continuing ruckus, Victor Courtney gave Curtin both barrels in his Mirror:

Courtney kept up the ferocity of the class war in his writing, calling Curtin the 'Yarra Bank Futility' and one who 'concentrated on his job of serving up the re-hashed bones of Marxism to his Communist admirers'.

Courtney attacked Curtin for basing his front page story on what he said was an unchecked report in Smith's Weekly, a populist broadsheet published in Sydney.

Years down the track, these bitter enemies were again the best of friends, the animosities of this front page battle a thing of the past.

The Mirror 1922

The Yarra Bank Futility, John Curtin, who instead of concentrating on his job of serving up the re-hashed bones of Marxism to his Communist admirers has a habit of turning his pen to batter journalists, is at it again.

Hardly a week goes by without attacks of some sort.

Truly the code of Curtin is something to marvel at. No wonder genuine workers all over Australia are rebelling against these would-be high priests of class hatred and insatiable spleen.

Victor Courtney




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