John Curtin 1885 - 1945

John Curtin of Kilpadder near Dromahane and Mourne Abbey Mallow was born in 1853. His parents John and Mary (O’Hanlon) had six other children and John was the third youngest. Some of the Curtin descendants still live in the area, which is approx. four miles from Mallow. In 1873, he took his brothers Denis and Michael to Mallow railway station by jennet and cart as his two brothers immigrating to Australia. John became so upset at their departure they decided to bring him along! The porter had to send word to their parents to collect the jennet and cart and the three brothers set sail on the Earl Dalhousie landing in Southern Australia on Jan 12th 1874.

Denis didn’t settle in Australia and returned home and bought a pub at Clonbanin cross on the Mallow Killarney road. Michael stayed on in Australia and died there in 1921 aged 71 years. John stayed in Australia and married Kate Bourke from Cork in 1883. They had four children and their son John Curtin went on to become leader of the Labour Party in Australia and was Prime Minister during the course of World War II. Born in 1885 he left school ay 13 to work as a copy boy in Melbourne’s leading newspaper The Age. He went working at such a young age to help his family. His father had to retire early from police force owing to ill health and the family struggled financially for some time. While working for the newspaper he developed a love of reading and after working long hours each day he visited the library each evening.

To understand John Curtin’s life we have to understand the many social political and economic changes affecting Australia at that time. During this period, he joined the Socialist Party of Victoria. He wrote numerous political and economic articles for them and addressed many political rallies and meetings. He believed Australians should be free to fight for their country voluntarily but should not be subject to compulsory or forced conscription. He was not unpatriotic and had his own applications to serve the Australian forces rejected twice due to poor eyesight.

He was sent to jail for a few days because of his anti-conscription campaign and this and pressure of work reduced him to a state of exhaustion. To regain his strength he took up a less difficult position as editor of a Labour newspaper. These years and the stress of work and political campaigning were a difficult time for him. In 1928 he was elected to Federal Parliament for Western Australia. He was not happy as a backbencher with little voice or influence and being so far away from his wife was felt by them both. There was a swing away from Labour in the elections of 1931and Curtin lost his seat. He was re-elected in 1934 and resumed his work with increased vigour gaining the respect of his peers for his hard work commitment and political flair.

In 1935 an internal rift within the Labour Party led to a leadership vote and he was persuaded to stand as one of the candidates. He was duly elected much to his own surprise and he said, “I feel a deep sense of my responsibility. I can only express my whole hearted determination to do everything which could be humanly expected of me to carry out my tremendous responsibility”. Curtin applied himself to the difficult task of uniting his party. Ha worked hard at times to the detriment of his own health. The PM at the commencement of the Second World War was Robert Menzies. John Curtin was determined to present his party as a strong, patriotic opposition full of energy with a long range view of politics. Menzies lost a NO Confidence motion in parliament in Oct 1941. Curtin formed a Government and became Prime Minister and an inspiring leader. He and his ministers governed with a new brand of patriotism.

Japanese forces were closing in from the North and from 1942 onwards commenced bombing Australian towns. Curtin showed a great grasp of military strategy and an ability to predict unfolding events. He became good friends with the US General McArthur in charge of co-ordinating the fight against the Japanese. The Labour Party led by John Curtin was re-elected with a majority in 1943. During these years he worked tirelessly with great personal sacrifice. The years of hard work and dedication took their toll physically. Having suffered a heart attack in July 1944 his health declined and he passed away in his sleep on 5th July 1945. He is revered in the history of Australia as one of its finest Statesmen.