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The move to Tasmania

After a decade in South Africa, all of the Needham family except Leslie returned to Australia. Leslie, a professional musician, remained in Cape Town for some years before moving to Sydney in the 1920s.

It is unknown what factors motivated the Needhams' return to Australia, although Abraham may have become disillusioned with the Socialist movement's lack of success in spreading a doctrine of equality in South Africa.

During his visit to Cape Town, Keir Hardie was snubbed by the trade union movement because he advocated 'equal rights for all men'. To trade unionists, this suggested placing African and Indian workers on an equal footing with themselves and they objected forcefully. 10

The Needhams settled in the Hobart suburb of Bellerive, purchasing a house on the Esplanade. William Needham found employment as a journalist on the staff of The Mercury. William was a keen sportsman. As a dinghy sailor, he participated in the Derwent Sailing Club's regatta in April 1908. He was also known as a club-swinger and weight-lifter, later becoming the proprietor of a gymnasium. 11 Abraham Needham established another business and Elsie again worked as his bookkeeper.

She took an active part in the life of Hobart Presbyterian Church, where she played the organ and sang in the choir. 12 For a while at least, Abraham Needham continued to contribute to the South African press, in May 1908 publishing a comment titled 'Voice of the People', in the newspaper Izwi Labantu, in which he warned against the evils of the 'natives' congregating in slums similar to those found in the larger British cities. At the end of a harangue about the failure of modern medical sciences to combat the evils of social disease, he penned a few lines of poetry:

There are hordes of starving helots in the alleys and the slums;
There the new and fierce barbarians, those modern day Goths and Huns
That, like mighty tides, shall, surging, pour their thousands to and fro,
And engulf all Law and Order in a wild, restless flow.

Needham family home
The Needham family home, 5 The Esplanade [now Victoria Esplanade] Bellerive, Tasmania, n.d.
Records of the Curtin Family.

Abraham Needham
Abraham Needham, Bellerive Tasmania, n.d.
Records of the Curtin Family. JCPML00381/5

Elsie's political education was extended by her father's decision to stand for election to the State Parliament as the Labor candidate for the seat of Denison in April 1912. The campaign brought her in contact with her future husband, John Curtin.

Curtin was Secretary of the Victorian Timber workers' Union; he had gone to Tasmania to recruit members in an attempt to establish a national federation of timber workers. Needham was one of the Labor men whose support Curtin sought in this venture, and his visit coincided with the election campaign.

Curtin, who already had a reputation for fine oratory, was a valued edition to the speakers. Polling Day was on 30 April 1912. Despite having pursued the campaign with his usual commitment, including passionate and lengthy addresses urging the electors to vote Labor, Needham came eleventh (out of sixteen candidates) with only 520 votes. 14 Undaunted, Needham continued his political activity as a speaker at the Hobart Domain, and he stood again for Denison in April 1919 – also unsuccessfully, coming tenth out of thirteen candidates. 15





William Needham

William Needham, Tasmania, 1911. Records of the Curtin Family. JCPML00381/10