Some of the most precious objects held by the JCPML were John Curtin’s personal possessions, books from his library, and mementos kept by daughter Elsie in the family home in Cottesloe. These were some of the first items donated to the Curtin University Library by the Curtin family.
John Curtin's briefcase
Between the wars, leather travel goods were popular as gifts to mark achievements and farewells. Before his voyage to attend the Geneva conference John Curtin was presented with a leather suitcase by members of the Australian Journalists Association in Perth, and a travelling bag from his colleagues at the Westralian Worker.
The Curtin briefcase is one of three leather briefcases held in the collection which date from the 1920s and 1930s; the other two belonged to John Curtin’s friend and fellow Labor politician Alex McCallum.
Together with Peter Fraser, Prime Minister of New Zealand, John Curtin was bestowed with the Honorary Freedom of the City from the Corporation of London in a ceremony held in the Guildhall, London.
At the ceremony the Freedom was presented in the silver casket by the Acting Chamberlain, and the newly conferred Freemen signed the Declaration Book and responded with speeches.
Freedom Caskets were frequently made of gold and featured ornate decoration related to the achievements and interests of the recipient. Manufactured during the war years, John Curtin’s silver Freedom Casket is more simply embellished. Inside the hinged lid is a plaque with the arms of the City of London, and the inscription.
John Curtin's pocket watch
In 1924 John Curtin set sail on his first overseas journey, to attend the 6th International Labor Conference held in Geneva. Shortly before his departure on May 19th, Curtin was presented with this gold pocket watch by J Willcock, Minister for Railways, on behalf of the State Executive of the ALP, the Parliamentary Labor Party, and the Westralian Worker as a farewell gift.
John Curtin wore the watch with his membership badges attached to the fob chain, one for the Australian Journalists Association, and the others for his AFL and cricket club affiliations.
John Curtin's library
John Curtin bought his first books as a young working man and his library grew to several hundred titles during his lifetime.
Copy no. 36 of 150 of The Eureka Stockade (Sunnybrook Press, 1942) was given to Curtin during 1942 by Herbert Evatt, Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs in the Curtin government, who also wrote the introduction to the edition.
First published in 1855, The Eureka Stockade: the consequence of some pirates wanting on the quarter-deck a rebellion by Raffaello Carboni is the only firsthand published account of the events at the Eureka rebellion episode of 1854.
John Curtin loved reading and loved libraries. He began buying books in his early working life, and borrowed from several libraries. Books he owned were kept by his family long after his death and became some of the first items acquired by the JCPML. The Camp connects John Curtin the passionate reader with two of his life long friends, both noted authors in Australia.
Written by Vance Palmer, The Camp was given to the Curtins by Western Australians Hugo Throssell and his wife Katharine Susannah Prichard in 1920.
From the Australian Front was a collection of photographs and artwork, portraying the grim reality of the war in France, with images of devastated landscapes, soldiers in active engagement and trench living, exploding shells and ruined buildings, with a smattering of ‘trench sketches’, Digger humour and slang.
John Curtin's letters and documents
The JCPML has letters and telegrams that John Curtin wrote to Elsie from their early courtship until late in his life, together with personal correspondence to friends, colleagues and contemporaries. These precious documents provide insights into the passions and private thoughts behind the public person of John Curtin.
When Curtin wrote this Australia Day letter to his future wife, Elsie Needham, he had spent the previous night at the small Victorian town of Katamatite.
Curtin was doing the rounds of bush camps and small towns in Victoria while working for the Australian Workers’ Union. He had proposed to Elsie before she departed for South Africa in 1914, and it was to be a long engagement. Curtin was still to find secure employment before they could marry, and he needed sufficient income to support a wife, while still providing some financial support for his mother and invalid father.
At his first Christmas as Prime Minister, John Curtin was to spend the holiday in Canberra while Elsie was with the family at home in Western Australia. This telegram was sent by John to Elsie during this first war time Christmas of 1941.
Curtin sent telegrams to Elsie for significant occasions and regular letters during his absences, from before they were married until the final months of his life. The JCPML holds seven of the telegrams John sent to Elsie between 1916 and 1941. This Christmas telegram is the last in the set kept by his family.
Shellac gramophone discs
Recordings of some of John Curtin’s most important broadcasts and speeches were given to his daughter Elsie after he died. The original discs have been preserved by the JCPML, and the recordings copied to different formats several times over the years so they can still be heard today.
Curtin delivered numerous speeches during his working life and political career. Many of these were to live audiences with only a small number recorded for broadcast on radio between 1938 and 1945.
The set of gramophone discs held by the JCPML includes two types of records produced up to the mid 20th century, and captures some of the significant war time statements made by Prime Minister John Curtin. The speeches are recorded on shellac course groove disc records, the most common recording discs until after the Second World War when vinyl became dominant.