Fighting Labor's Battles


John Curtin's life was defined by his commitment to the cause of Labor, initially as a radical Socialist and unionist, and then as editor of a Labor newspaper, member of parliament, and leader of the Australian Labor Party. The battles he fought were always Labor's battles. He pursued fair wages and conditions for working men and women, and better social services and security for all.

Labor also had internal battles to be fought, with the ALP enduring deep divisions over issues such as military conscription in the two world wars and how best to deal with Australia's problems in the Great Depression. Curtin did not shrink from these battles - he was a strong anti-conscriptionist in World War One and opposed the Premiers' Plan in the Depression years.

As ALP leader from 1935, he 'battled' to unify the Party which was depleted financially and ideologically split into warring factions in New South Wales. His success saw him heading a Labor government in wartime. Ironically, as Prime Minister, different times and desperate circumstances meant he reversed Labor's policy of 'no conscription for overseas service'.

In 2014, Dr Deborah Gare gave a JCPML Visiting Scholar lecture, focusing on John Curtin's involvement with the anti-conscription movement.

Ongoing conscription in Victoria
Taking the anti-conscription message West
Working for Labor in Western Australia
Unifying the party in opposition
Leading the party in Government


Author: Associate Professor Bobbie Oliver, School of Social Sciences & Asian Languages, Curtin University
Web Designer: Sue Grey-Smith
Published by John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library © 2010

Image used in header: JCPML. Records of Tom Fitzgerald. Crowds at pageant, 21 October 1916. JCPML00687/15/7