John Curtin: A Prime Minister and his People

Prime Minister John Curtin (1885-1945) led Australia through the crisis of World War II. He is the only Western Australian Member of Parliament ever to lead his country's government.

In the years since World War II, Curtin's appeal to America for support and protection has been seen as the beginning of Australia's alliance with the United States.

By standing up to Churchill, he ensured that Australia's interests were not overridden by Britain's. Curtin's actions have been hailed as a milestone on Australia's road to independence.

Curtin was born in the Victorian mining town of Creswick and left school at the age of 13. He worked in a variety of occupations before moving to Western Australia in 1917 to become the editor of the Westralian Worker.

He first entered politics in 1928 as the member for Fremantle in the House of Representatives, but his term was cut short when Labor was defeated in 1931 and he lost his seat. However, one year after re-entering Parliament in 1934, he was elected parliamentary leader and when the Fadden government collapsed, Curtin become Prime Minister in October, 1941. He died in office in 1945 only six weeks before the end of the war.

As a wartime leader, he was able to transcend party differences by appealing for national unity and his government worked hard to formulate a plan for a better post-war Australia.

Those closest to Curtin spoke of his constant agonising over the crucial decisions he had to make and these undoubtedly contributed to his final illness.

More than 20,000 people attended his funeral service at Karrakatta Cemetery in July, 1945. Described by Fadden as "the best and fairest" of all his politcal opponents, Curtin had been "the right man in the right place at the right time" and deserves the accolade as one of this country's greatest prime ministers.

Last modified 19th February 1998.
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