John Curtin

John Curtin

Australian statesman and politician
Date of Birth: 08.01.1885
Country: Australia

  1. Biography of John Curtin
  2. Early Life and Political Career
  3. Prime Minister of Australia
  4. Legacy

Biography of John Curtin

John Curtin was an Australian statesman and political leader who served as the 14th Prime Minister of Australia from October 7, 1941, to July 5, 1945. He was born on January 8, 1885, in Creswick, in the central part of the Australian state of Victoria. His father, John Curtin, was an Irishman who worked as a prison warden, policeman, and manager throughout his life, while his mother was named Mary Ann.

Early Life and Political Career

Curtin received his primary education in several Catholic and state schools and began working at a Melbourne factory at the age of 12. He soon became an active member of the Australian Labor Party as well as the Socialist Party of Victoria. He published works in a radical socialist newspaper and worked as a secretary in the Timber Workers' Union in 1911, becoming its first federal president in 1914. In the same year, he ran for a seat in the Australian Parliament as a member of the Labor Party but was unsuccessful. He was imprisoned for three months for refusing compulsory medical examination before military service due to his pacifist and socialist anti-militarism principles, although he would have been deemed unfit for service due to poor eyesight regardless. After his release, he struggled with alcoholism, which continued during his years as Prime Minister. In 1917, he married Elsie Needham, with whom he had two children. In 1918, he moved to Perth in Western Australia, where he became the editor of the "Westralian Worker" newspaper, the official union newspaper. He joined the Australian Journalists' Association in 1917 and became its president in 1921. He ran multiple times for parliament until finally winning a seat in the Fremantle electorate in 1928. After the formation of the Labor government led by James Scullin in 1929, Curtin was considered one of the main contenders for a ministerial position but was not approved due to his alcohol addiction. In 1931, Curtin lost his seat in parliament but regained it in 1934.

Prime Minister of Australia

After Labor leader Scullin resigned in 1935, Curtin unexpectedly won the leadership position with a one-vote majority, thanks to the support of the left-wing union group in the party leadership. In the early 1940s, Curtin received an offer from Robert Menzies to form a "national government" during wartime, but he declined, fearing a split in the Labor Party. With the support of two independent members of parliament, Arthur Coles and Alexander Wilson (who had previously sided with the conservatives), Curtin became the Prime Minister of Australia in October 1941. As the Japanese advanced in the Pacific in 1941 during World War II, Australia declared a state of emergency and redirected its industries towards wartime production. Simultaneously, Curtin withdrew Australian troops from the Middle East and relocated them to defend New Guinea and Australia from the Japanese threat. In April 1942, Australia entered into a military defense alliance with the United States, and command of Australian forces was handed over to American General Douglas MacArthur. There was a real threat of Japanese invasion in Australia, as evidenced by the Japanese air raid on Darwin, the largest in Australian history, on February 19, 1942. However, this did not stop the Labor Party from achieving its greatest victory in history in the parliamentary elections in August 1942.


Overall, the war years under Curtin's leadership witnessed significant social and cultural changes in Australia. Measures were taken to protect against air raids, numerous shelters were built for aviation, food rationing was introduced, and women were mobilized to work in factories. John Curtin passed away on July 5, 1945, in Canberra, just one month before the end of the war, making him the second Australian Prime Minister to die in office. He was briefly succeeded by Frank Ford, followed by Ben Chifley after another week.