The research papers of  Tom  Fitzgerald


Correspondence with Curtin's daughter

John Curtin's daughter, Elsie Macleod, trusted and liked Tom Fitzgerald and his wife Margaret and was willing to talk to them about her parents and to share the contents of documents in her possession. As well as containing personal recollections of her family, the letters from Elsie Macleod deal with issues such as her concern about the accuracy of the portrayal of her parents in books and documentaries and her reflections about contemporary Australian politics.

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Extract from: Letter, Elsie Macleod to Margaret & Tom Fitzgerald, 20 September 1989

Dear Margaret & Tom, ...

During one of my father’s early brief Wartime visits to Perth, he collected me at my office one day to go and have lunch, and as we walked along the footpath he told me he had spent the past hour with the manager of the ABC, Conrad Charlton – the latter’s wife and my mother were friends, both music lovers and sometimes my mother played the accompaniment when Mrs C. sang. My father told me that Conrad had offered me a job at the ABC but he had turned it down, because it would have been less money than my present Govt. job and could have involved some evening work. .. Well, I was stunned and rather hurt to think that I had not even been given the chance to consider the offer – and after working in the same place for years a change of scene suddenly seemed attractive.

However, I remained silent and we went off to lunch. Nothing more was said on the subject – but later at home I mentioned it to my mother – who obviously knew about the job offer already, and she told me that my father really turned it down because he did not want to be indebted to Conrad for a job for me – he did not wish to be in any way obligated to him so that he could remain free to criticise the ABC when and if necessary.

Well – that put the matter in an entirely different perspective for me; I could see my father’s reasoning and seemed to understand his feelings and reaction.'

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Letter, Elsie Macleod to Margaret & Tom Fitzgerald, 20 September 1989. JCPML00705/1/27

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Extracts from: Letter, Elsie Macleod to Margaret & Tom Fitzgerald, 24 February 1986

Dear Margaret & Tom,

It is obviously impossible for me to keep to my promise not to write lengthy
letters to you, while people like David McNicholl make such statements as the
one quoted in the recent Buzz Kennedy article in the “Aust” which you no doubt
read: that dad “took breakfast and frequently luncheon in uncoated braces” on
the ‘Lurline’ en route to America....

John and I were surprised as we both recall that dad always had casual cream outfits: jacket, pants & several short and long-sleeved cream cotton-weave jumpers. We well knew the story that before leaving Melb. in 1917 dad was given a farewell social in the Socialist Hall and presented with a travelling rug and a small bag of sovereigns. As he was travelling to W.A. by ship he immediately bought his first pair of cream trousers, and he certainly had a definite penchant for these cream outfits when on holiday at home or weekends at The Lodge, & when he did a number of trips pre war on the interstate steamers.

Even when he attended the ILO conference in 1924 the official photograph shows dad looking like a tea-planter from Ceylon, dressed in a cream outfit – sartorially marred by black socks. Well, he was not exactly in the McNicholl & Peacock category – but he seemed to buy good clothes & didn’t stint himself in that regard until the war and the advent of clothes rationing...

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Letter, Elsie Macleod to Margaret & Tom Fitzgerald, 24 February 1986. JCPML00705/1/62

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Extract from: Letter, Elsie Macleod to Margaret & Tom Fitzgerald, 19 December 1984

Dear Margaret & Tom, ...

How delighted my mother would be if she only knew that you intend some mention of her father in your book – she & dad both thought the world of “Petty” as they and my grandmother called him. It is evident that we were a family that indulged in nicknames: my father mostly called me “Lambcat” or “Lambie” – but it was always Elsie when he wrote me a letter or when I arrived home after midnight – if he had been in Perth all the time he would have turned me into a midnight Cinderella: he considered that was the deadline socially for young people who had to be at work next morning. Well, that was the reason he gave, but my mother told us that he was always petrified when we were out late at night in cars, he was always fearful that something dire would happen to us. This was when I was around 19-21 and Balls were then the fashion, & they frequently went on to 1 a.m. & later..... oh, well, John and I knew he was a worrier and only considering our best interests, so when he was home we did try to arrive home at a reasonable time – must admit we never had to clock-watch the same with our placid, non-worrying mother when dad was away. John and I always had a good relationship with dad, but there was unfortunately a degree of subterfuge involved at times because we never had alcohol in our home and we would never drink it in front of dad, so when we were all at some function John and I were always on our guard...

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Letter, Elsie Macleod to Margaret & Tom Fitzgerald, 19 December 1984.

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Extracts from: Letter, Elsie Macleod to Tom Fitzgerald, 29 April 1979

Dear Tom,

This package may be a little later in arriving than I had intended, but rather belatedly decided to include these notes – condensed from some earlier material I had written when I had some idea of writing something about my parents: but am sure now that I split my affinitives too often to be an author, anyway; and attempting to write and keep meals going and avoid becoming a complete hermit – well no wonder there are more male than female authors!

Am sure you will already be familiar with most of the material in these notes – < but there may be a few items of interest...

Sincerely, Elsie M


When John was 19 he commenced work as a costing clerk at the Titan Manufacturing Works in Melbourne where he worked for seven (7) years. In the meantime he had become actively involved in the Socialist Party of Victoria and came under the influence of Frank Anstey (later a State and also a Federal Member of Parliament) and an English Socialist staying in Australia, Tom Mann. Some of his early interest in Labour politics probably also stemmed from the influence of his parents, John and Kate, who were both outspoken at the injustices metered out to the working classes, and John snr. often took his eldest son with him to the street corner political meetings so popular in that era. Kate Curtin was an avid reader of historical books and she and her husband took a keen interest in the political happenings in Ireland and England....

Elsie arrived in Perth three weeks before their wedding on 21st April, 1917, which was conducted by the Perth Registrar of Marriages in the dining room of his home in West Leederville. Elsie wore a cream silk suit which she brought from Tasmania. There were two witnesses, Enid Marks, daughter of the proprietors of the “Iron Duke” who was a receptionist at the “Worker”, and the managing director of that newspaper, Dave Watson. After the wedding the four young people boarded a tram which took them into the City and went to a small restaurant for a “tea and cream cakes” rather intimate reception. Later that evening Elsie accompanied John to a political meeting at Midland Junction in an open car driven by Alec McCallum. The next day she found that she had lost her voice – as John said later, the only occasion in their marriage that she was ever short of a word! The young couple lived for several months in a rented house in West Leederville but then, in anticipation of becoming parents, shifted into a small white timber house they rented in Napier St. Cottesloe, a beach suburb 8 miles from the City. Their first child, a daughter named Elsie, was born at the end of December. John’s salary as editor of the “Worker” was £7. per week, and out of this he sent his parents £2.10s. each week...

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Letter, Elsie Macleod to Tom Fitzgerald, 29 April 1979. JCPML00705/1/121

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Extract from: Letter, Elsie Macleod to Tom Fitzgerald, ca 1976.


A few snippets discovered at the weekend – in a book of newspaper cuttings. The ones from the Bulletin could probably be rechecked with their files, as well as the last one.

7th July, 1921 “Bulletin”.

One of the outstanding figures at the Trades Union Conference was Jack Curtin, formerly the boy orator of Melbourne Trades Hall, but for the last five years editor of the Westralian Worker. Curtin is eloquent, studious and desperately in earnest, and if he doesn’t kill himself with overwork (a feat he nearly accomplished at the last Federal election, when he ran his paper and conducted a strenuous political campaign at the same time) he will go far. An anti- militarist, Jack went to gaol rather than undergo training under the Defence Act. All the same, he could sport a rejected volunteer’s badge if he liked.

I had forgotten about this particular clipping...

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Letter, Elsie Macleod to Tom Fitzgerald, ca 1976. JCPML00705/1/135

Investigating John Curtin home
Events and identities in Curtin's life