Accommodating work and family life
Changes in the home
It is not possible now to know exactly when each alteration to the living areas of the house took place, but we can make a few educated guesses based in part upon photographic evidence, and in part upon family memory, although the two occasionally conflict. Once Annie Needham arrived, the flexibility of the house design was tested. This two bed-roomed home now had to accommodate three adults and two growing children.

One of the adults, John Curtin, led a very active working life that included a good deal of travel especially at election time, and included meeting many people some of whom came to his home. He was a notable speaker and in great demand to explain ALP party policies even before he won a parliamentary seat in 1928.

Once elected to Canberra he travelled from west to east four times a year and back again, notching up more than 250,000 miles, mostly on the train.

Elsie Curtin with the children, 1925
Elsie Curtin with the two children, 1925

John Curtin's briefcase
The briefcase John Curtin took with him on his travels

 The verandah, an architectural addition apparently modelled on Indian and colonial designs for coolness, proved very popular in Australia. It was a supremely flexible space that could serve a number of purposes: a place for walking, as John Curtin first proposed, a place for smoking (John Curtin was a heavy smoker), a cool location for sitting or eating, especially in the evening, or a place where children might be accommodated in what was then called a 'sleep-out'. This last function was common in Perth.

John Curtin's daughter, Elsie Macleod remembers her father as a heavy smoker.

Link to audio clip of Elsie Macleod
John Curtin's silver cigarette box
John Curtin's silver cigarette box
 Enclosing the verandahs
Elsie MacLeod, John Curtin's daughter, recalls that her grandmother Annie was soon accommodated in a small room on the back verandah although she first shared a room with her granddaughter in what had been the children's bedroom. Her grandson, then barely three, moved in with his mother. However on father's return from his overseas trip, it is more than likely that three year-old son John was banished from the master bedroom.

Enclosed verandahs of home, 1939
Enclosed verandahs on the home, c 1939

By then part of the front and side verandah had been rudimentarily enclosed with lattice-work. Did this space serve as a bedroom for him? In Perth, children, especially boys, commonly slept on verandahs where it was cool in summer and brisk, even cold, in winter. Safety was taken for granted, no one envisaged that children could be molested or stolen from a sleep-out. But the child was very small and although memory is unclear on the sleeping arrangements in these early years it seems that the kitchen was soon transformed into the children's bedroom.

In most families small children shared bedrooms, John Curtin even shared a bed with his brother when he was young, but as they grew up, sisters and brothers generally were separated. The Jarrad Street home eventually supplied a separate room for each child and for their grandmother. The parents remained in the master bedroom. The kitchen was moved to the back verandah.

View of the sleepout, 1998
A view of the sleepout in 1998
By 1934 the whole of the back verandah had been enclosed and the lattice-work around the front corner had been replaced by weatherboards and windows making a separate bedroom for son John. Daughter Elsie stayed in the former kitchen.

This 1998 video footage provides a glimpse of the enclosed verandah that served as a sleepout.

Link to video clip of sleepout

Her brother recalls a breakfast room next to the new one, built while his grandmother utilised the children's first bedroom. But this little breakfast room at the back became Annie Needham's sleep-out until she died in 1944, and her first bedroom was transformed into the family dining room. Her private space included part of the side verandah until it was enclosed in a later dining room extension.

Mrs Annie Needham
Mrs Annie Needham
Home for a working journalist and parliamentarian
When the house was constructed the assumption in the plan was that the family would eat in the kitchen. Such may have been the case initially, but as John Curtin became better known, his children grew older, and his mother-in-law aged, accommodation had to be reshuffled. The dining room was extended over the eastern side verandah and a doorway was provided from the front porch directly into this room.
Front room of house, 1943
The front room of the house, 1943
Extra space became the more necessary because of all the people who were likely to drop in to see the editor of the Westralian Worker, or the member for Fremantle.

The other room that was enlarged was the lounge. In 1927, John Curtin had a desk built to his own design. For many years it stood in the front lounge room and is presumably where he worked on his speeches, his correspondence and his party duties when at home.

This 1998 video footage provides a glimpse of the comfortable front room of the house and the extensive library.

Link to video clip of front room of house
John Curtin's writing desk
John Curtin's writing desk
His son recalls the many visitors being ushered straight into this room to meet his father. Once it had been extended there was space for his large library, [list of library books] and for comfortable reading chairs. John Curtin was an omnivorous reader.

Curtin's daughter, Elsie Macleod recalls how work duties took up her father's time at home:

Link to audio clip of Elsie Macleod
John Curtin reading, c 1942
John Curtin reading, c 1942
When the kitchen was relocated, it was also equipped with a gas stove and a large pantry. John Curtin's favourite meal was roast lamb and vegetables. He didn't like pork or poultry and only ate plain sweets, no ice cream or strawberries. It is not too difficult to believe that a modern kitchen became steadily more important as wife Elsie produced scones [recipe] and pikelets, cakes and sandwiches for the tide of visitors.

In this pre-television world, cups and saucers were used instead of mugs; plates and dainty serviettes were required for the food - all meaning extra work for the housewife.

This 1998 video clip provides a glimpse of dining room of the Jarrad St house.

Link to video clip of dining room of house

John Curtin never had an office in Fremantle where he could meet his electorate as parliamentarians have today. He used his home.

Curtin's daughter, Elsie Macleod remembers her mother's cooking:

Link to audio clip of Elsie Macleod
Kitchen of Jarrad St house, 1998
The kitchen of the Jarrad St home in 1998

Art deco cabinet in Jarrad St house
Art deco cabinet in the Jarrad St home

Dainty teacups for entertaining visitors
Dainty teacups for entertaining visitors

When were these alterations completed? Presumably the kitchen was the first to be moved and the other changes followed.

Between 1931 and 1934 John Curtin, who lost his seat in the landslide that swept the Scullin government from office, was living at home, an unemployed man, dependent upon party and friends to find him rewarding freelance work. It seems likely that the extensions to lounge and dining room were finished during these years.

Despite his frequent absences from Jarrad Street, especially after his election to parliament, he retained the house in his mind as a place of refuge, peace and succour. The comfort he found there, which he refused to relinquish despite his wife's wish to build a new and larger home on the site of a small place she had acquired opposite, was undoubtedly enhanced when these rooms were enlarged. In 1934 he was re-elected and returned to Canberra to become leader of the opposition the following year.

View of the living room and study
View of the living room and study

View of the living room with fireplace
View of the living room showing the fireplace

Visiting John Curtin home page Moving west Early years Accommodating work and family life At home in the war years Farewell to the PMOnline activities