Working Man's Paradise
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John Curtin was born into an Irish Catholic working class family. His father was a police constable in Creswick, a small Victorian country town. While the family always had radical political ideas - his father was reputed to be a Fenian and had taken part in the Irish Republican Movement of the 1860s - they were hard working people with aspirations to a decent life.

Both ill health and the economic depression of the 1890s hit the family hard. John Curtin's father was forced to retire from his job as a policeman after developing rheumatism. He decided to invest the family's savings in a hotel just before the onset of the economic depression. The result was financial ruin leading to a very unstable family life, as poverty forced the family to move from hotel to hotel and around inner Melbourne.

The young John Curtin had limited opportunities. His education was patchy as he was constantly changing schools. He left school when he was almost 14 in 1898 in order to find work and help his family. Their situation had become so dire that John Curtin once described his family's experience during the 1890s and early 1900s as one in which they had "tea without milk and bread without butter".

These early experiences profoundly affected John Curtin's life. In many ways, the development of his political thinking and his actions both as

a member of Federal parliament and later as Prime Minister can be understood as an attempt to overcome the deprivations of his childhood.

John Curtin was born to John and Kate Curtin in 1885. These pictures of him as a young baby, one of them with his parents, show us his family's social aspirations. They come across as decent, hard working people. Interestingly, the roles of the parents are reversed. His mother is the one standing upright with her arm over the chair, protecting the family, while the baby sits on his father's lap. John Curtin senior was already ailing and not as physically strong as he would have wished to be.

A few years later we see members of the family outside their hotel in Charlton. John Curtin's father is holding his two daughters' hands while John Curtin looks on in the background. John Curtin began to support the family financially when his father's attempts to earn a living as a hotel proprietor came to naught.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, John Curtin sen. with his two daughters and son, John. Hotel at Charlton, Victoria c. 1896, JCPML 00376/211

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, John Curtin with parents John and Kate, Melbourne 1885, JCPML 00004/1.

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Records of the Curtin family, John Curtin c. 2 years of age, n.d., JCPML 00004/2.

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