The research papers of  Tom  Fitzgerald


Events and identities in Curtin's life

Tom Fitzgerald explored a multitude of events and identities in Curtin’s life and collated the resulting information under the various themes of the proposed biography.

The examples below are a just a small selection from some of these themes:

  • The furore created when Curtin advocated that workers had a right to loaf in a 1912 lecture The man on the job
  • Curtin's involvement in the 1916 Anti-conscription campaign and his arrest and imprisonment
  • The influence on Curtin of labour comrades such as Frank Hyett and Tom Mann
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Extract from: Notes re The Man on the Job and The Right to Loaf and The Argus, July-August 1912

“The Man on the Job” was the subject of an address delivered last evening at the Gaiety Theatre by Mr John Curtain, secretary of the Woodworkers’ Union.

Mr Curtain said there was a time when the Government let contracts, and “The Argus” said it was a glorious system. It was a beautiful system while “the men on the job” worked for a contractor who did not give the Government full value. It was a system under which the country had to employ half a dozen inspectors to ensure that the contractor did his work faithfully. But the Commonwealth Labour Government altered the system. It was not until the Government employed navvies at 9/- a day that “The Argus” published an outcry for political purposes, and because a system which enabled contractors to get rich was abolished. The charges made had not been substantiated. No man had been found loafing in a trench, no man had been found smoking. Nothing had been proved.

(A young man’s irritation/exasperation with the disingenuous “Argus” copy could lead to exuberant over-statement, to which Curtin, when young, was prone.)

It was stated that the community had no readers under the day–labour system if men loafed on their jobs. Was it not a fact that workmen should be thrifty and saving; that they should put a little away for a rainy day? Then why should they not spare themselves and reserve a little energy for a rainy day. (“Hear, hear” and laughter). It was only human to give as little as possible and take as much as possible. There was not a man in business who was not engaged in the extraction of values above what he was entitled to.

The world was suffering from too much work. (Hear, hear). Workmen were mad to get work, mad to get something to do, and when they got it they were mad to finish it. They rushed pell-mell to get a job and rushed to get it finished. The speeding-up process was wrong. It aimed at getting out of the worker all that was in him; at crippling him and eventually breaking his back. The workers worked too hard too long. They produced too much and got too little for it. Loafing was a good thing. Jesus Christ said it was. He said, “Consider the lilies of the field hear them grow; they toil not, neither do they spin,” If that was all right the people had a right to loaf, because it was a doctrine of Christianity. If a man said he would not work because he owned a factory, the workmen should say, “Neither will I work, although I do not own a factory.” The Bible said, “He that will not work, neither shall he eat,” but the modern translation of that quotation was, “He that will not work, neither shall he eat, unless he has someone to work for him.” (Laughter.) Throughout the world loafing was the ambition of every man who wished to get on. People would live longer if they did not work so hard. If they reckoned it would take five weeks to build a house, they should make it last six weeks. If they made the jobs last longer they would reduce the competition for the next. Every man out of a job was a menace to those in one. (Hear, hear.) If “the Argus” said the “man on the job” loafed they had to answer it and say that the man who was not “on the job” should get no pay because he did not work. Because “The Argus” reporter saw a man straighten his back and put his hand on his hips it was concluded that he had been like that all day. If they did loaf it was to their credit, because every man who made a job last longer helped to reduce the time between that job and the next.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Notes re The Man on the Job and The Right to Loaf and The Argus, July-August 1912. JCPML00653/27/25.

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Image from: The Loveable Loafer, a "Curtain" lecture illustrated. Punch, 29 August 1912

[Fitzgerald followed the vigorous and sometimes humorous debate in the press following a lecture that Curtin gave in 1912 in which he advocated the workers' 'right to loaf'.]

First panel of cartoon strip " The loveable loafer"

The first panel of the cartoon strip reads:

"Loafing is a good thing ... The workers have a right to loaf." - John Curtin, hon. sec. Wordworkers' Union.


He lifts the brick at 11.40. The wild ultimate career of the brick may be traced through this page to its climax in the lower right hand corner. Follow the hand.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. The Loveable Loafer, a "Curtain" lecture illustrated. Punch, 29 August 1912. JCPML00653/232/5.

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Images from: United Women's No-conscription Pageant & Procession, Melbourne, 21 October 1916.

Crowds at pageant, 21 Oct 1916
Crowds at pageant, 21 October 1916. Inscribed by John Curtin "Womens demonstration Saturday afternoon October 21st"; Inscribed by Elsie Macleod "Anti conscription meeting 1916" (JCPML00687/15/6)

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. United Women's No-conscription Pageant & Procession, Melbourne, 21 October 1916. JCPML00687/15.

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Extracts from: Anti-conscription material, October 1916


Trade Unionists of Australia, -

Two specially convened and emphatically representative inter-State Conferences of trades unionists have unanimously agreed that Labor's attitude to conscription is one of implacable hostility. For the workers that should be the last word on the subject...

Success is vital. Singly, individually, the workers are weak – bound together they are strong. Without unity the workers will be crushed and beaten. United, their class solidarity will break a traitorous Government, astonish and hearten a continent and save the situation...

Fellow workers, Trades Unionism is your trenches, emancipation is your flag, solidarity is your bayonet, and the stop-work meeting your machine gun.

Onward to victory! Stop work and vindicate your claims, and win respect for your demands. Thus, you will march in a deathless army.


For the National Executive,
J CURTIN, Secretary

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Anti-conscription material, October 1916. JCPML00653/220/16

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Extract from: Notes re Curtin's arrest and imprisonment, December 1916

From “Socialist” 22 December 1916, p. 2 (under “Crisp Comment”)


On Monday of last week (11 December) Mr Norman Grant, president of the No–Conscritpion Fellowship, was arrested for the reasons already familiar to our readers. On the next day (Tuesday) (12 December) Mr Jack Curtin, secretary National Executive, was arrested. Those interested in the release at once began operations to this end, but it was Friday noon (15 December) before the pair were let out of jail. At Sunday night’s meeting (at Guild Hall) of the S.P. (Socialist Party) the chairman (T.J. Miller, Commonwealth organiser of the Australian Freedom League) expressed pleasure at the release from jail of two such stalwort warriors, a sentiment which was very heartily applauded. During their incarceration Messrs Curtin and Grant were permitted to wear their own clothing. They speak without complaint of their own treatment whilst in jail, but with bitter detestation of the abomindable conditions prisoners have to endure.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Notes re Curtin's arrest and imprisonment, December 1916. JCPML00653/28/16

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Extract from: Curtin, J. The Late Frank Hyett. The Railways Union Gazette, 7 June 1919.

A well-known comrade in Melbourne recently received the following letter. It is characteristic of the writer, and shows the very great friendship that existed between two great personalities in the Australian Labor Movement:-

Cottesloe, W.A.,
May 22, 1919.

Dear --,

I’ve tried a dozen times to write to Ethel Hyett. I tear the letters up. What is there to say?..

You remember asking me one day what was Frank’s weakness. You would have it that each man did have some kink, if only it could be located. Well, I rather think the exception to your rule was Frank Hyett. He could do everything. For him weakness was only observable in others. Looking back, I do not recall an instance where it could be said Frank was weak. As a matter of fact, many of his most potential qualities were allowed to rust, simply because he was strong enough to do without them. He most certainly could have been a great public lecturer. Had he pursued the intense culture of his speaking powers the way some others have, he would have become the greatest lecturing figure Socialism in Australia has produced. I often speculated why he didn’t. Now and again I’d chide him with it. And yet he was always able to do an effective platform job when the occasion demanded.

The first time we met was at Brunswick P.L.C. about 15 or 16 years ago. [Tom Fitzgerald note: i.e. in 1903 or 1904] Frank had then read a good deal of economics – I was a blank. Somehow, I think he filled me up. For I do not know ever subsequently differing from him on the view he took towards the things to do and the way to do them. I now suspect that the explanation is to be found in the fact that I accepted what he put up, simply because he put it up. And that was part of his great equipment. He possessed the great gift of persuasion. Many advocates lack it. But Frank rarely failed to convince any who listened to him. No matter what their point of view, they could not fail to be impressed by his. His power over the V.R.U. is to signal testimony to the truth of that...


(Note by Tom Fitzgerald) Did Curtin intend this letter to be his indirect means of conveying his sympathy to Ethel Hyett?)

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Curtin, J. The Late Frank Hyett. The Railways Union Gazette, 7 June 1919. JCPML00653/28/5

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Extract from: Notes re Tom Mann and his militancy in 1913-1914, 23 January 1914

[reprint from the “National Socialist” (US (or UK) paper??). Detested the Boer War!]

Tom Mann’s Beliefs ‘An American View’

One’s first impression of Tom Mann, the Labor leader of England, is the wholesome sincerity of his manner and his beliefs. Also one catches and is impressed with the power and magnetism of a compelling personality.....

A revolutionist speaks in every utterance of Mann’s.

“Am I in sympathy with violent measures if ends can be obtained in no other way? Most certainly,” Mann declared. “If you mean to accomplish anything you must fight to hurt the enemy. I do not know the details of the McNamara dynamite cases, but I do say I approve of their methods. I would not fight Capital until Capital compelled me to but once the battle was on I would fight to hurt. Capital kills our laboring classes constantly. Look at the stream of dying infants and adults killed off twenty years before they ought to die.” ...

“To my mind the only solution for the laboring classes lies in industrial organisation, not legislation. This is the meaning of Syndicalism. I have no faith in legislation to right the wrongs of the poor. We must fight for what we want to obtain. (what was now Mann’s idea of democracy?)...

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Notes re Tom Mann and his militancy in 1913-1914, 23 January 1914. JCPML00653/27/23

Investigating John Curtin home
Curtin as seen by his contemporaries
Correspondence with Curtin's daughter