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'Her official life has begun'

A year later, she was 'Mrs John Curtin …wife of Western Australia's first Prime Minister'. 52 The Western Mail reported that 'women in all parts of Australia are anxious to know something about her'.

A visiting reporter depicted a somewhat flustered Elsie, at home in the midst of flowers, cables and telephone calls from well-wishers, including Pattie Menzies, wife of the Leader of the Federal Opposition and recent Prime Minister, Robert Menzies. Similar reportage appeared at the opposite end of the country in the Cairns Post. 53

The WA Branch of the ALP was holding its triennial congress at the time Curtin became Prime Minister. Elsie arrived in the hall to cheers, and was present when the congress passed a resolution congratulating Curtin. 54 Two weeks later, the Labor Women's Central Executive farewelled Elsie before she departed for Canberra by train, with lunch at Boans' Department Store. Guests again included Premier and Mrs Willcock.

Elsie had spent much of the time since John's swearing in as Prime Minister 'burning the midnight oil' answering the messages and telegrams that had flooded into her home. 55

On the trip to Canberra, she was met at every major stop by local groups of Labor Women. The Melbourne Herald reported of the reception at Spencer Street Station,

It was one more of the congratulatory platform receptions Mrs Curtin has found waiting for her since she left her home life in Perth to her temporary home in Canberra. Her official life has begun. 56

Elsie spent her first day in Canberra familiarising herself with her new home at the Lodge, lunching at Government House with Lord and Lady Gowrie, and listening to Ben Chifley delivering the Budget speech. No wonder she confessed feeling 'sleepy' by the end of it.

The press reported her comments on her 'sadness' at 'breaking up' the family home in Cottesloe, and her intention to return west for Christmas, hopefully with John. 57 It seems clear that she felt quite ambivalent about living in Canberra for any length of time.

Later, she spoke in an inerview with The Women's Weekly, of those difficult first weeks in Canberra, learning to run such a big establishment as The Lodge, with 'well-meaning people' giving her advice on everything from dress and hairstyle to how to 'act' as the Prime Minister's wife. 58


Elsie and her daughter
Elsie and daughter Elsie, 8 October 1941.
Records of the Australian Consolidated Press Pty Ltd. JCPML00410/10

Elsie Curtin
Mrs Curtin speaking from the balcony at the Lodge at the opening of the garden fete in aid of the Canberra Hospital Auxilliary Fund, 29 November 1941.
Records of the Curtin Family. JCPML00376/31