Tag Archives: John Curtin

Beyond the Call of Duty: Australia’s War Time Prime Minister.

Last week, I shared about helping my son out with his project about Australian Prime Minister, John Curtin. I also mentioned that I’d become so interested in that period in our history, that I just had to do a project of my own, resulting in a couple of posts for the blog. Otherwise, I knew I’d do his assignment for him and both he and his teacher would be after me. .

Here’s my previous post: WWII What I Learned From My Son’s Homework  https://beyondtheflow.wordpress.com/2015/10/25/australia-during-wwii-what-i-learned-from-my-sons-homework/

Thank you blog. You provided me with that much needed blank canvas to paint my own word portrait of Prime Minister John Curtin, whose selfless and passionate commitment to our country and our freedom, ultimately claimed his own life when he died in office.

This isn’t going to be some stuffy history essay but more of an informal portrait of the man I discovered.

John Curtin Becomes Prime Minister-  7th October, 1941.

On 7th October, 1941, John Curtin became our 14th Australian Prime Minister. Being new to the job, I’m sure he would have appreciated a few weeks to settle in before the proverbial @#$% hit the fan at full blast. After all, we all know what it’s like to start a new job. You’ve got to find the bathroom, the lunchroom and get to know a bunch of strangers. Naturally, you’d like to have enough time to get on top of all of that before you faced a major challenge.

John Curtin at his desk in The Lodge

John Curtin at his desk in The Lodge

However, when John Curtin came into office, Australia was already at war.  Then, on the 7th December 1941 only 6 weeks into the job, Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. A day later, the Pacific War was declared. His headaches didn’t get any better as the  Japanese forces swept across the South Pacific and country after fell like tumbling dominoes . Australia was obviously facing a severe security threat and being “The Boss” he was at the helm. It was ultimately his job to save the country.

Yikes! What a job! I certainly wouldn’t want to be in his shoes! They were such big shoes that  quite frankly, my feet would have been swimming laps.

Australian War Time Poster.

Australian War Time Poster.

The War in the Pacific

Although I studied Australian History at university, there are always gaps. You can’t know everything. Despite studying the Causes of the Russian Revolution twice and the same with the Causes of World War I, I never studied the actual course of either World War. Of course, I knew the big events and had heard family stories. However, the magnitude of what was going on only hit home once I drew up a time line of events for my son, which suddenly connected a disparate group of dots and formed a much more cohesive picture.

A damn scary picture if you, like my grandmother, were living in Brisbane in 1942!

I was also reminded over and over again that while it’s all very well looking at history through the benefit of hindsight, the person on the street had no crystal ball. They had no idea how the war would end or who would win and everything was pretty much hanging in the balance.

Defending Australia.

Defending Australia is still challenging with it’s vast coastline and comparatively low population. John Curtin was looking at defending a mainland coastline of  35,876 km with a population of only 7,180,736 and most of our troops were off fighting Hitler. The situation as dire.

Put simply, our entire defensive strategy rested on the British and their base in Singapore and while our focus was naturally on the Pacific War, Britain was wanting to beat Hitler first.

In a famous article in The Melbourne Herald on December 27, 1941, Mr Curtin insisted that Australia “refused to accept the dictum that the Pacific struggle was a subordinate segment of the general conflict”. HV Evatt later reflected: “Certainly, Mr Curtin’s words, if read fairly, were in no sense critical of Britain; on the contrary, they merely stressed the principle that as Mr Churchill was resolved that Britain should never fall to the enemy, Mr Curtin was equally resolved that ~Australia shall not go”….The Courier Mail, 14th November, 1950 pg 2.

Before the Fall of Singapore, Australia looked to Britain for our national security. Like some desperate gambler placing all their chips on one number, Australia’s defense rested on Singapore and the bulk of our troops were over in the Middle East under Churchill. However, John Curtin realising this enormous risk, took Churchill on and brought the bulk of our troops home.

The Fall of Singapore.

The Fall of Singapore.

The fighting in Singapore lasted from 8 to 15 February 1942. It resulted in the capture of Singapore by the Japanese and the largest surrender of British-led military personnel in history.About 85,000 British, Indian and Australian troops became prisoners of war, joining 50,000 taken by the Japanese in the earlier Malayan Campaign. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the ignominious fall of Singapore to the Japanese the “worst disaster” and “largest capitulation” in British military history.

Bombing of Darwin

Bombing of Darwin

Four days later, on 19 February, 1942 the Japanese substantially bombed Darwin. The Bombing of Darwin, also known as the Battle of Darwin,  was both the first and the largest single attack ever mounted by a foreign power on Australia. On this day, 242 Japanese aircraft attacked ships in Darwin’s harbour and the town’s two airfields in an attempt to prevent the Allies from using them as bases to contest the invasions of Timor and Java. The town was only lightly defended and the Japanese inflicted heavy losses upon the Allied forces at little cost to themselves. The urban areas of Darwin also suffered some damage from the raids and there were a number of civilian casualties. The two raids killed at least 243 people and between 300 and 400 were wounded. Twenty military aircraft were destroyed, eight ships at anchor in the harbour were sunk, and most civil and military facilities in Darwin were destroyed.

The raids were the first and largest of almost 100 air raids against Australia during 1942–43.

While Britain’s approach to the two-pronged war was to beat Hitler first, in March 1942, Australia’s salvation came when President Franklin Roosevelt  ordered General Douglas MacArthur, commander of US forces in the Philippines, to organise Pacific defense with Australia. Curtin agreed to Australian forces coming under the overall command of MacArthur and passed the responsibility for strategic decision-making onto MacArthur who was titled Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific. From MacArthur’s point of view this was a workable alliance – he told Curtin to ‘take care of the rear and I will handle the front’.

This was a dramatic shift in our defence strategy and a very gutsy and heroic move.

Yet, Curtin’s headaches continued.

Japanese midget submarine retrieved after attack on Sydney Harbour.

Japanese midget submarine retrieved after attack on Sydney Harbour.

On the night of 31 May – 1 June, three Japanese midget submarines, each with a two-member crew, entered Sydney Harbour, avoided the partially constructed Sydney Harbour anti-submarine boom net, and attempted to sink Allied warships. Two of the midget submarines were detected and attacked before they could successfully engage any Allied vessels, and the crews scuttled their boats and committed suicide. These submarines were later recovered by the Allies. The third submarine attempted to torpedo the heavy cruiser USS Chicago, but instead sank the converted ferry HMAS Kuttabul, killing 21 sailors.

As history records, however, eventually the tide began to turn and the dominoes started to fall in our favour.

Yet, the stress of the war had taken a major toll on Prime Minister John Curtin. On 3 November 1944, after one of his rare breaks at his home in Perth, he suffered a major heart attack in Melbourne on the long train journey back to Canberra. When he was strong enough he was driven back to Canberra to complete his recovery. On 8 January 1945, he celebrated his 60th birthday at The Lodge. Although he returned to parliament in February, Curtin was by no means back to normal.

On 18 April 1945, he moved the parliament’s motion of condolence on the death of President Franklin Roosevelt. Soon after, severe lung congestion forced him back into hospital. Deputy Prime Minister Frank Forde was in San Francisco and Ben Chifley was acting Prime Minister. It fell to Chifley to announce the end of the war in Europe on 9 May 1945.

Curtin was released from hospital on 22 May. That day he was driven back to The Lodge, and he and Elsie Curtin strolled in the garden together for photographers. They then walked back into The Lodge together for the last time.

On 5 July, 1945 John Curtin died at The Lodge, just six weeks before the end of the war in the Pacific. That he didn’t live to see the end of the war in which he fought so hard, maybe not out in the trenches with “our boys” and the women who supported them as nurses etc but he gave his heart, his mind and this battle ultimately consumed him. Naturally, there were a multitude of tributes when he passed away and I’ve chosen to quote the one that best represents my thoughts:

“The Prime Minister saw his country through deadly invasion peril and sacrificed his health in his intense devotion to the national defence. He saw to it that literally everyone had a war job and the nation entered it’s national defence with the fervour and energy which characterise its activities in national causes.”

– The New York Herald Tribune.

What an incredible man and I’m so glad I took the time to get to know him better.

xx Rowena

Australia During WWII…What I learned from My Son’s Homework.

For the last couple of weeks, we’ve been very preoccupied with my son’s project on an Australian Prime Minister, which I suspect feeds into his upcoming Canberra Excursion. The Canberra Excursion is a virtual rite of passage for Australian school kids close enough to get there. In case you’re not aware, Canberra is Australia’s capital and where we herd our Federal politicians.

When we discussed who he should choose, I suggested Prime Minister John Curtin.I am a Curtin and all my life, people have asked me whether I’m related to John Curtin. Indeed, it only dawned on me recently that all those questions had stopped. These days, I usually go by my married name.

Well, as it turned out, we are related to John Curtin , just not Prime Minister John Curtin. Ous was an Irish sailor from City of Cork, County Cook who worked his way to Australia as ship’s crew.Last year, we had a family dinner honouring that John Curtin and while that wasn’t this John Curtin, at least there was a link for me.

Prime Minster John Curtin served Australia during those horrific years of World War II where a Japanese invasion looked imminent and the Germans weren’t far away either.Just to put you in the picture, he came into office on the 7th October, 1941, only six weeks before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, launching The Pacific War. The stress of the war had a huge toll on Curtin’s health and he ultimately died in office on 5th July, 1945, only a few months before the Pacific War ended. So, you’d have to say that his time in office was one enormous stress pill and I am really struck by the huge personal sacrifice he made, in effect, dying for our country!

While acknowledging it’s horrors, it is a fascinating period of history, especially when you look at it through a contemporary perspective, not hindsight. After all, life is lived going forward and there’s no crystal ball to see into the future. No one knew in 1942 how the war would turn out. Who would win. It is all too easy to forget that now. I personally find it interesting to see how people react under such stress, what they were thinking and how they get through. These are important life lessons that we can carry forward and a critical reason for studying and really knowing our history.

Anyway, as you can obviously sense my undisguised enthusiasm about to blow a gasket, this brings me to the awkward question of just how much a parent should be helping their kids with their homework and in particular, home projects. Should the kid be left to do it “all by myself” or is it okay or even a good idea for parents to “help”?

As I’ve found out, the answer is not so clear cut.

While I don’t believe a parent should be doing their child’s assignment in total, I do believe that being able to give them that one-on-one support at home, can really boost their learning experience, especially if they are having any troubles. Perhaps, a parent or grandparent has a bit more time to sit down and explain things one-on-one like a personal tutor and personalise that help, in a way that a teacher in charge of a class of students, can not.Having that older perspective, particularly if they’ve lived through that period in time, can also add insights and make history feel more real. It’s hard to have that sense of history when you’re 11 years old.

Moreover, learning how to process information and put it together in a report is a challenging process. I did Honours in History at University so I am well equipped to help. Just don’t ask me to help him with his Maths. Thank goodness that’s his strength and he could no doubt help me.

Yet, at the same time, there’s also that fine line between guiding and taking over. Of course, we’ve all heard parents talking about “our assignment”, “we scored” or even “I got an A in their last project”.

There has to be be a middle ground but when “your pupil” is watching TV, playing computer games and looking like those lollies weren’t a good idea, it’s all to easy to just push them out of the way and “do it myself”…particularly when I’ve been avidly interested in this period of history since I was a 13 year old school girl reading The Diary of Anne Frank.

But to quote John Curtin himself:

Prime Minister John Curtin: “The game is not lost – or won – until the last bell goes.”

Perseverance isn’t just something for kids. It’s also for grown-ups.Sometimes, it takes a lot to stand back and let our kids do it themselves. Sink or swim. Yet, even if we have to tie ourselves to the chair just as much as we long to do the same to our kid, it has to be done!.

However, does that mean we should stop our own learning experience? After all, these school projects can be fascinating once you’re mature-aged. I know myself how I’ve become embroiled in the John Curtin Project and have taken off like a hound chasing the fox through the undergrowth. If only I’d studied like that with the research skills I have now, I’d be a complete genius.

But…

That doesn’t entitle me to do my son’s project for him.

Thank goodness for my blog because I’ve been able to do my own project, which I’m still working on.

Moreover, through working through John Curtin’s term as Prime Minister on my own, I also realised that I wanted him to learn some valuable stuff, which wasn’t directly part of his project. I wanted him to gain some understanding of the socio-political context of the Prime Minister he was studying and not just parrot off dates or cut and paste stuff from the Internet. I wanted John Curtin to go through those two eyes, two ears and pass through his brain and fire off a few neurones on the way.

That’s what I call learning. Getting an education.

I didn’t grasp that when I was 11 either but we adults all live in hope that somehow we can improve the next generation in areas where we fell short.

Mister has been away at a Scout camp all weekend and while the project is almost finished, it’s now down to the final countdown and really making sure that he’s answered the question and nailed it. Thank goodness, he’s had a nap and recovered somewhat as the hard yards lie ahead  and I’m not sure who is going to struggle most…him or me.

How have you gone with the kids’ projects? Or, if you’re a teacher or educator, any advice?

xx Rowena

A Brief Trip to Ireland

Last night our family celebrated what I’ll call a brief trip to Ireland.
Unfortunately, we were still very much at home in Australia. However, we did the next best thing. We cooked ourselves an Irish Stew and some Irish Soda Bread, listened to Riverdance and instead of our usual grace, we said an Irish Blessing. We even had green serviettes.
While it wasn’t St Patrick’s Day, we had a special Irish celebration of our own. You see, yesterday marked the 160th anniversary of the arrival of the first Curtin in Australia. His name was John Curtin and he was my Great Grandfather’s Grandfather. John Curtin came from Cork City, County Cork and he was an Able Seaman arriving in Sydney on board the Scotia on the 4th April, 1854.
As I’ve never been to Cork City, County Cork, I did the next best thing and went their online via Kieran McCarthy’s blog. I recommend you pop over for a quick visit yourself. Like me, you might find out it extends into quite an extended sojourn!
http://corkheritage.ie/

DSC_9765
Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to find a picture of John Curtin or the Scotia but the Scotia was one of those beautiful Tall Ships with white sails like tea towels billowing in the wind. These were the sorts of sailors who no doubt shared many, many yarns about their time at sea, especially stories about “Crossing the Line”, which referred to crossing the equator for the first time. These ceremonies were quite theatrical and sailors dressed up as King Neptune and his bride and the unfortunate initiates called “Johnny Raws”, were usually shaved with a very nasty, rusty implement and dunked. I will elaborate more on these ceremonies in a subsequent post. It is no wonder I’ve been so lost in my research. It’s riveting stuff!
Of course, the journey itself wasn’t my only entertainment. Their arrival in Sydney didn’t go unnoticed by the local water police.
On the 10th April 1854, The Sydney Morning Herald reported that John Eatough, Edward Wall, William Ferris, Stephen Malone, Henry Franklin, and John Grur, six seamen belonging to the Scotia, were charged with obstructing a constable in the execution of his duty. It appeared from the evidence, that constable Cassidy, of the Water Police, went on board the Scotia, at the request of the captain, for the purpose of apprehending a man on the charge of drunkenness, and that whilst so engaged the prisoners combined to prevent him from executing his duty, that several of them struck him, tore his clothes, and otherwise ill-used him.
At the trial, it appeared from the evidence of Captain Strickland that the assault was a most cowardly and unprovoked one, nearly the whole of the men having assaulted and ill-used the constable, who at the time was endeavouring to perform his duty in the most inoffensive way possible, and who was not in a position to command assistance. As there was no material evidence against Eatough and Greer, they were discharged, and the others were sentenced to pay a fine of 20s, each, or be imprisoned for fourteen days.
This wasn’t the only incident which ended up in court. On the 29th May 1854, The Sydney Morning Herald on page 5 again reports:
Daniel Carlos, a Portuguese seaman, belonging to the Scotia, was charged with desertion. The evidence showed that he had been apprehended on board the American vessel Revenue, on board which he had managed to obtain an engagement through the Shipping Master’s office by means of a false discharge. This document represented him as being a man lately discharged from the Jane. Captain Strickland stated that the prisoner had shipped as an able seaman on board his vessel some months previously, but that he had since been disrated for incompetency. The pri denied, amid much laughter, that he either knew Captain Strickland or his vessel. The case was ultimately remanded until Monday (this day), for the production of the articles, &c.
Another man, belonging to the Scotia, named Engine Depouta, was also charged with desertion. Like his shipmate, Daniel Carlos, he was discovered with a false discharge in his possession, bearing the name of Robert Ripley. Having pleaded guilty, he was sentenced to 12 weeks’ imprisonment with hard labour, his Worship remarking that he considered this a case in which the full term of punishment ought to be inflicted, in consequence of the aggravation which the offence received from the possession of a false discharge.
Never a dull moment, there was even a death onboard the Scotia:
SUDDEN DEATH.-Yesterday morning a very melancholy and unexpected occurrence took place on board the Scotia, whilst that vessel was being drawn off from the wharf, for the purpose of being placed in a position to proceed to sea. The business was entrusted to the management of Captain Barnett, one of the harbour pilots, au old and respected public servant connected with this port. Whilst releasing the vessel from the wharf, Captain Barnett was one of the most active in hauling on the ropes, and it is feared that he exerted his physical strength to an undue extent, for in about two minutes after he had relinquished his hold of the rope, he fell down on the deck and expired instantly. Medical aid was immediately sent for, but, unfortunately, too late. It appears that the deceased gentleman had been suffering for some time past from a disease which had worked very perceptibly on his frame, and which was generally attended with spitting of blood. The immediate cause of death appears to be the rupture of a blood-vessel[1] SMH Tuesday 30 May 1854 pg 2

So while we do not have a great many details about John Curtin himself, we are slowly putting together some kind of jigsaw of his life or milieu.

After looking at a selection of paintings depicting Cork Harbour and Sydney around 1854, we had our dessert. I thought it was only fitting for us to finish our trip to Ireland with an Australian pavlova oozing with cream and topped with sumptuous kiwi fruit, strawberries and banana. After all, although John Curtin wasn’t born in Australia, he did become an Australian. Actually, he wasn’t technically an Australian because he died in 1882 and that was 18 years before Federation. Let’s just say that he was an Australian before his time who still had a chunk of Ireland lodged in his heart.
I really recommend you do something similar to share your cultural heritage with your family. Bring some of your assorted ancestors out of the closet and celebrate who they were and indeed what is a part of ourselves our very flesh and blood. You never quite know who you will meet once you start digging beneath the surface.
I have posted the recipes separately to make them easier to print out.
Just one note about this menu. It is best to make the pavlova the day before. This allows the pavlova to cool properly and it also allows you to juggle the use of your oven better if you only have a single oven. Pavlova is fairly quick and easy to make but it does need that hour to rest in the oven after cooking and can tie your oven up if you are trying to bake the bread.
I don’t know how to wish you a Bon Appetit in Gaelic but there’s always 2,4,6,8 bog in, don’t wait!
Xx Rowena

An Irish feast

An Irish feast