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Address at the John Curtin Memorial Plaque, Creswick, Victoria



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Statement by

The Minister for Trade and Member for Fremantle

Today is the centenary of the birth of John Curtin. He was born in Creswick, Victoria on 8 January 1885. He died on 5 July 1945.

John Curtin represented the electorate of Fremantle between 1928 and 1931 and again from 1934 until his death in 1945.

He was elected leader of Parliamentary Labor Party in 1935. He was Prime Minister from 1941 until 1945.

On Sunday 6 January at Creswick I unveiled a relief sculpture and memorial plaque in memory of John Curtin's name.

A copy of my speech is attached.

J S Dawkins 8 January 1985

ADDRESS BY

THE HON J S DAWKINS MP

MINISTER FOR TRADE

MEMBER FOR FREMANTLE

JOHN CURTIN MEMORIAL PLAQUE

CRESWICK, VICTORIA

6 JANUARY 1984

Di s t i n g u i s h e d Gu e s t s, La d i e s and Ge n t l e m e n. .

Or, as John Cu r t i n would have commenced: Mr Ch a i r m a n, Comrades

and Fr i e n d s . . .

I t IS A VERY GREAT PRIVILEGE AND HONOUR TO BE ASSOCIATED WITH

THIS CEREMONY TWO DAYS SHORT OF THE CENTENNIAL OF THE BIRTH HERE

of John Cu r t i n . Creswick has had more than i t s share of

DISTINGUISHED SONS AND DAUGHTERS BUT JOHN CURTIN MUST BE

REGARDED AS THE GREATEST OF THEM ALL.

I ndeed h i s fame i s as we know, not c o n f in e d to t h i s h i s t o r i c

TOWN FOR AS SIR ARTHUR FADDEN WROTEi "THERE WAS NO GREATER

f ig u r e i n Au s t r a l i a n p u b l i c l i f e i n my l i f e t i m e than Cu r t i n. I

ADMIRED HIM BOTH AS A MAN AND AS A STATESMAN. CURTIN IS

ENTITLED TO BE RATED AS ONE OF THE GREATEST AUSTRALIANS EVER."

Th i s e n t h u s i a s t i c accolade coming from the man who Cu r t i n ousted

from the Pr im e Mi n i s t e r s h i p - j u s t over M3 years ago on 7

October 1941 serves to e m ph a s is e that Cu r t i n was not just a hero

of Labor but was g e n u in e l y loved by the Au s t r a l i a n people i n a

WAY WHICH HAS SEEN FEW IF ANY PARALLELS BEFORE OR SINCE.

I ndeed at the t im e of h i s t r a g i c death almost the en t ir e

p o p u l a t i o n of Perth turned out to pay t h e i r last r e s p e c t s.

Ο c ' ν

Western Au s t r a l i a was in d e e d fortunate that J ohn Cu r t in l e f t

Vi c t o r i a i n 1917 a t the age of 32.

I t was i n Vi c t o r i a and p a r t ic u l a r l y Melbourne where following a

PATCHY SCHOOLING WHICH ENDED WHEN HE WAS 13 CURTIN’ S POLITICAL

EDUCATION AND IN ITIATIO N TOOK PLACE AND WHERE HIS FINE QUALITIES

FIRST EMERGED. DURING THAT TIME HE WAS A POLITICAL ORGANISER.

PUBLICIST. THEORETICIAN AND SPARKLING ORATOR. HE WAS YOUNG,

SHY, PASSIONATE AND INTENSELY SENSITIVE TO CRITICISM, A

COMBINATION OF CHARACTERISTICS WHICH OCCASIONALLY LEFT HIM

OVERWHELMED BY DEPRESSION. WHILE CONVALESCING JUST PRIOR TO HIS

DEPARTURE FOR THE WEST HIS GREAT MENTOR, FRANK ANSTEY WROTE

THESE ENCOURAGING WORDS TO HIM - "STAND UPRIGHT, PROUD OF

YOURSELF, PROUD OF THE CONQUEST THAT YOU ARE GOING TO ACHIEVE

AND THE GOOD THAT YOU WILL DO YET".

Eleven years after l e a v in g Vi c t o r i a he was e l e c t e d .to the

Federal Pa r l ia m e n t as member of Fr e m a n t l e .

Those eleven years were im porta nt i n the development of Cu r t in

THE POLΙ Τ Ι CAN, BECAUSE, WHILE HE NEVER SURRENDERED HIS IDEALISM,

HE DID SHARPEN HIS DEDICATION TO FINDING THE MEANS OF GETTING

THINGS DONE. IN DOING SO HOWEVER HE WAS NOT ONE FOR ABANDONING

PRINCIPLES. WHEN THE BELEAGURED SCULLIN GOVERNMENT WAS ON THE

BRINK OF ACCEPTING THE PREMIERS PLAN WHICH CURTIN STRENUOUSLY

OPPOSED, PREFERRING INSTEAD AN ELECTION BASED ON THEODORE’ S

POLICIES, HE SAID " I F WE CANNOT IMPLEMENT OUR OWN PROGRAM WE

SHOULD GET OUT AND NOT FUNCTION AS DIRTY BOTTLE WASHERS FOR

Lyons" .

We l l Sc u l l i n d i d go and with h i m went the seat of Fr e m a n t l e.

Bu t, n o t w it h s t a n d in g the b i t t e r n e s s of the t i m e and the

DISAPPOINTMENT OF THE LABOR PARTY IN ITS POLITICANS, CURTIN WAS

EASILY RESTORED TO THE HEART OF THE LABOR MOVEMENT IN WA.

Throughout h i s l i f e and p a r t i c u l a r l y dur ing h i s p e r i o d as leader

HE TOOK AS HIS MOST IMPORTANT TASK THE PRESERVATION OF UNITY

w i t h i n the Party which meant d e v e l o p in g p o l i c i e s which were at

ONCE PRACTICAL AND CONSISTENT WITH LABOR TRADITION.

I t i s s a i d that the p e r io d from 1931 to 1934 was perhaps John

Cu r t i n ' s h a p p i e s t .

He loved WA and Cott es loe where he l i v e d , he loved the beach

where he spent many l a n g u i d Su n d a y s, he even potte red around the

g a r d e n, a p a s t im e not e n t i r e l y a p p r e c i a t e d by El s i e , h i s w i f e,

who had to survey and r e p a i r the wreckage once he had returned

to h i s d e s k!

Through much of t h i s p e r io d h i s inco me, was haphazard and meagre

but the enjoyment of b e i n g surrounded by h i s w i f e and c h i l d r e n

MORE THAN SUSTAINED HIM.

I n the year before h i s return to Pa r l ia m e n t i n 1934 he worked

FOR THE NEWLY ELECTED LABOR STATE GOVERNMENT ON ITS SUBMISSION

to the Grants Co m m i s s i o n .

4

I t was an important e x p e r ie n c e and exploded the myth put around

AT THE TIME THAT HE WAS NO GOOD OFF THE PLATFORM.

He greatly im pressed a l l who worked with h im with h i s mastery of

STATISTICS AND ECONOMICS AND HIS POWERFUL ADVOCACY BEFORE THE

Co m m i s s i o n .

I t was only a year after h i s return to Canberra that he became

Federal Leader a p o s i t i o n he held for the rest of h i s l i f e .

He was very much the o u t s id e r i n the contest and had not

CONSIDERED HIMSELF A CANDIDATE AT ALL UNTIL IT BECAME CLEAR THAT

HE ALONE COULD LEAD AND UNITE A STILL DEEPLY DIVIDED PARTY.

I T WAS PARTLY BECAUSE HE WAS FROM WESTERN AUSTRALIA THAT MADE

HIM ATTRACTIVE FOR THE JOB. BUT THIS FACT MADE THE JOB

PARTICULARLY UNATTRACTIVE TO HIM PERSONALLY.

The next 6 years of h i s l i f e as o p p o s it io n leader must have been

A MISERABLE EXPERIENCE " ARDUOUS AND CONSTANT TRAVEL, LONG

PERIODS OF SEPARATION FROM HIS FAMILY AND CONSTITUENCY AND ALL

THE TIME PRESIDING OVER A FRACTIOUS CAUCUS AND PARTY.

For me to get from Perth to Canberra yesterday took just 6 hours

I n those days there were two t r a in s a week and when there were

PLANES THEY WERE SMALL ROUGH AND VERY SLOW.

5

Even i n the late 4 0 's some MP's from WA preferred to take the

b o a t!

And when a l l t h i s t r a v a i l was rewarded by the o f f i c e of Prime

Mi n i s t e r i t was to c o i n c i d e with the one t im e i n Au s t r a l i a ' s

HISTORY WHEN THE VERY FUTURE OF THE NATION WAS AT STAKE.

Pearl Harbour came j u s t two months after h i s swearing i n .

Hi s nearly four years as Prime Mi n i s t e r i s well known -

INCLUDING BY MANY OF YOU PERSONALLY. BUT THOSE OF US BORN AFTER

HIS DEATH MUST LEARN FROM HIS LIFE MORE INDIRECTLY.

AS THE PROUD SUCCESSOR TO THE SEAT OF FREMANTLE. WHAT JOHN

Cu r t i n ' s l i f e reveals i s , q u it e s i m p l y , a c e r t a in g r e a t n e s s .

He CARRIED THROUGH HIS LIFE AN IDEALISM AND A PASSION TO GIVE IT

EFFECT. HE HAD A DEDICATION TO UNIFY HIS PARTY AND HIS COUNTRY

AT A TIME WHEN ANY OTHER COURSE WOULD HAVE BEEN FATAL.

HE WAS A DEEPLY SENSITIVE MAN WHO WAS PERSONALLY COMMITTED TO

EVERYTHING HE DID IN AN OCCUPATION WHERE EVEN THE THICKEST SKINS

ARE SCARRED.

AND MOST OF all he HAD TO CONTEND WITH great PERSONAL HARDSHIPS

AND STRUGGLES AND LONG PERIODS OF SEPARATION FROM HIS FAMILY

DURING CRUCIAL PERIODS OF HIS CAREER.

6

Many p o l i t i c i a n s have entered Pa r l ia m e n t because of events in

THEIR LIVES THAT HAVE AROUSED IN THEM A SENSE OF INJUSTICE AND A

DESIRE TO CONTRIBUTE TOWARDS FIGHTING SUCH WRONGS. FEW HOWEVER

WOULD HAVE THE BROAD EXPERIENCE OF A DIFFICULT LIFE AND HARD

TIMES THAT JOHN CURTIN BROUGHT TO THE PARLIAMENT. I T DID NOT

HOWEVER MAKE HIM BITTER OR VENGEFUL. IN HIM BURNED A DESIRE TO

STRENGTHEN HIS PARTY. PREPARE I T TO AVOID THE MISTAKES MADE BY

ITS PRECEDESSORS. HE SUCCEEDED ON ALL COUNTS AND HE LED

Au s t r a l i a through i t s darkest hour with great s k i l l , courage ,

DETERMINATION AND COMPASSION. I T WAS THIS COMBINATION OF

VIRTUES THAT LED HIM TO WORK UNCEASINGLY ON BEHALF OF THE NATION

AND ULTIMATELY LED TO HIS DEATH A FEW WEEKS BEFORE THE END OF

the War through which he had guided the n a t i o n .

Au s t r a l ia n s of the day acknowledged the debt they owed h i m . By

our ac t io n s here today we are c o n t in u in g to acknowledge h i s role

and h i s memory.

And i n r e m in d in g ourselves of h i s c o n t r ib u t io n to Au s t r a l ia n

LIFE, WE SHOULD NOT THINK THAT HIS WORK BELONGS ONLY TO THE

p a s t. Th i s work pr o v id ed a foundation on which t h i s n at io n has

CONTINUED TO GROW AND PROSPER.

HE was a man who cared for h is fellow c i t i z e n s - A MAN WHO

BELIEVED IN THE DEVELOPMENT OF A FAIR AND EQUITABLE SOCIAL

SYSTEM, A MAN NOT BOUND BY TRADITIONAL, INTERNATIONAL LOYALTIES,

who put Au s t r a l i a f i r s t and whose concern was the peace and

SECURITY OF ITS CITIZENS.

He governed at a t i m e when the Gove rnme nt, i n the n a t i o n a l

INTEREST, IMPOSED GREAT RESTRICTIONS ON THE LIVES OF THE

PEOPLE. I T DID SO HOWEVER, IN A WAY THAT THE PEOPLE WERE

PREPARED TO ACCEPT. IN THOSE TIMES, THERE WAS A GREAT FAITH IN

THE ABILITY OF GOVERNMENTS TO ACHIEVE, TO IMPLEMENT NEW

POLICIES, TO ACT FOR THE GOOD OF THE PEOPLE. THE ENDORSEMENT

the Labour Party r e c e i v e d i n the 1943 e l e c t i o n and a g a i n i n 1946

IS PROOF THAT CURTIN GOVERNED IN A CONFIDENT, GENEROUS AND

CARING WAY.

Those of us i n the present Government should remember those days

AS WE COMMENCE OUR OWN SECOND TERM AND PROCEED TO DEVELOP AND

IMPLEMENT POLICIES WHICH WILL BENEFIT ALL AUSTRALIANS. I F W E

SUCCEED THEN WE WILL HAVE LIVED UP TO THE FINEST IDEALS OF THE

Labor movement that John Cu r t i n em bo die d i n h i s d e s i r e to develop

. A SOCIETY BASED ON FAIRNESS, JUSTICE AND SOCIAL EQUITY

. A SOCIETY IN WHICH GOVERNMENT WAS PERCEIVED AS A SERVANT OF

THE PEOPLE

. A SOCIETY LIVING IN PEACE AND SECURITY.

John Cu r t i n i s remembered as a great Prime Mi n i s t e r a nd

St a t e s m a n.

I doubt there i s any other Au s t r a l i a n who gave so much to h i s

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country and i t s p e o p l e .

* - · >

8

X

J ohn C u r t i n g a v e and ga v e u n t i l he h a d n o t h i n g l e f t to g i v e .

A nd now A u s t r a l i a n s e v e r y w e h r e . w h e t h e r h e r e i n C r e s w i c k whe re

HE WAS BORN OR I N PERTH WHERE HE HAD H I S HAPPI EST DAYS OR I N

C a n b e r r a whe re he d i d h i s g r e a t e s t work or e l s e w h e r e , a r e t a k i n g

THE OPPORTUNI TY TO GI VE SOMETHI NG TO THE MEMORY OF H I S TI MEL ESS

V I RT UE AND TO THE REKI NDL I NG OF H I S T I RE L E S S PURSUI T OF A FREE.

PROSPEROUS. E G A L I T A R I A N AND CARI NG A U S T R A L I A .

I s a l u t e C r e s w i c k for i t s i n i t i a t i v e and i t s h a r d work a nd h a v e

GREAT PLEASURE I N UNVE I L I NG T H I S PLAQUE AS A PERMANENT MEMORI AL

TO THE OR I G I N S OF A GREAT A U S T R A L I A N . JOHN C U R T I N .