John Joseph Ambrose Curtin – Fact sheet 80

John Curtin (NAA: A1200, L36449)

Prime Minister of Australia 1941–45

A Victorian by birth, John Curtin moved to Perth, Western Australia in 1917 to become editor of the Westralian Worker newspaper. He was a known activist within the labour movement, and an outspoken opponent of conscription – the issue that split the Labor Party in 1917.

Curtin failed in his first two attempts in Western Australia to win a seat in federal Parliament – in the seats of Perth (1919) and Fremantle (1925). He won election as member for Fremantle in 1928, and held the seat in 1929, serving as a backbench member of the Scullin Labor Government (1929–31). Curtin lost the seat in 1931, when Scullin's government was defeated, but regained Fremantle in 1934 and held it for the remainder of his career. He succeeded Scullin as party leader in 1935 and led the opposition as the world drifted towards World War II.

John Curtin became Prime Minister in October 1941 when the short-lived Fadden Government lost its majority in parliament. As well as Prime Minister, Curtin served as Chairman of the Advisory War Council, member of the War Cabinet, Minister for Defence Coordination and Minister for Defence. He was also acting Minister for External Affairs in 1942, 1943 and 1945, during the absence overseas of HV Evatt. In 1944 Curtin attended the conference of dominion prime ministers in London and visited Canada and the United States.

In the face of the Japanese threat during World War II, Curtin took steps seen as necessary to protect Australia. In 1942, he invited American General Douglas MacArthur to Australia to prepare the combined force that would repel the Japanese from the Pacific. He also stood firm in a dispute with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill over the destination of Australian forces recalled from the Middle East.

John Curtin died in office on 5 July 1945.

Research guide - John Curtin: Guide to the Archives of Australia’s Prime Ministers

Other records relating to John Curtin

Records relating to Curtin during his time as Prime Minister may be found in various Departments' record series, especially the Prime Minister's Department and the Department of Defence. Some selected items appear below.

Other records relating to John Curtin – in Canberra

Other records relating to John Curtin – in Sydney

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemCurtin, John – Declaration of War on Japan (audio tapes)1941C102, POL18
ItemThe passing of John Curtin1945SP286/16, 13

Other records relating to John Curtin – in Melbourne

 Title or description of recordDate rangeSeries number
ItemBooklet: 12 months Labour Rule: What the Government led by Rt Hon. John Curtin has accomplished1943MP956/2, 1078
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