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John Curtin's death and funeral

The belief that Elsie spent barely any time in Canberra was perpetuated in the 1985 film Hellfire Jack, released a decade after her death, which pronounced Curtin the 'lonely saviour of Australia' and in which the narrator, Leo McKern, insisted, in doleful tones, that even when Curtin was seriously ill in a Canberra Hospital, 'still she did not come'.

In response to the film, Elsie's daughter defended her thus:

My father was determined to retain the Cottesloe home as the family residence, and he considered that by my mother returning to Cottesloe for various periods it reassured the people of Perth, who at that time, were living in real fear of a Japanese invasion. During the four-year period of my father's Prime Ministership my mother not only helped him to entertain a host of visitors involved with the war and parliamentary business, but she also held fund raising functions at The Lodge to benefit the Red Cross Society and the National Shilling drive for women in the services. 95

Elsie was at John's bedside when he died in the pre-dawn hours of 5 July 1945. She demonstrated decisiveness and fortitude in assisting with arrangements for his lying-in-state at Parliament House and the return to Perth for the funeral.

Elsie spent her last night in the Lodge, with son John and the housekeeper, packing John's personal effects and papers, before departing from Fairbairn Airport at 7am the next morning in the Duke of Gloucester's personal plane, to fly back to Perth for the funeral. 96

A 'veteran' of only two previous flights, she showed interest in seeing snow on the Australian Alps, and even joked with the Reverend Hector Harrison, a first-time air passenger, who would be officiating at her husband's funeral. Despite a sleepless night, she did not retire on the long flight although sleeping facilities were available. She kept her composure until greeting her daughter at the Perth airport, after which the family was hurriedly whisked away by car to Cottesloe. 97

Elsie bore herself with grace and dignity through the largest funeral that Perth has ever seen. An estimated 100,000 people, or one-third of the population of Perth, lined the five-mile long funeral route, with some 25,000 gathering at the gates or attending at the graveside in Karrakatta Cemetery. The crowd included many children. Mrs Curtin reportedly remained 'remarkably calm', although 'deeply moved' when her son placed the family wreath on the coffin and saluted his father's body. 98

The last photo of John and Elsie together
The last photograph of John and Elsie Curtin, taken at the Lodge, Canberra, 1945.
Records of the Curtin Family. JCPML00004/36

Curtin Family at John's funeral
Curtin family group at John Curtin's funeral, Karrakatta Cemetery, July 1945.
Records of the Curtin Family. JCPML00376/186