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Issue #1921      June 29, 2020

Australia mourns a great leader

Victory, progress are Curtin’s memorials

Australia lost her greatest Prime Minister when John Curtin sacrificed his life in the stress and strain of leading his people to victory over fascism.

[The Communist Party of Australia] can pay this tribute to the nation’s lost Labor leader the more sincerely because, from the time Mr Curtin took over the task of mobilising the nation for war and survival, Communists loyally supported him in all measures needed for victory and progress.

John Curtin’s greatness was the greatness of the Australian people in their crisis; they found in the dark hours of 1941 and 1942 the leader who reflected their democratic will to triumph over difficulties.

John Curtin graduated to national leadership from the stump of an Australian gum-tree. He addressed shearers at their camps, spoke on the Yarra bank in Melbourne, the Esplanade in Perth, on many a street-corner.

He battled up the hard way. With an invalid father to support, he became a “printer’s devil” at 14, was page-boy at a club, copy-boy for the Melbourne Age, pottery apprentice and odd-jobs lad.

Mann’s pupil

Before the war he became Timber Workers’ Union Secretary, and wrote in the Union’s paper:

“All our troubles begin once we forget we are Socialists.”

He was in the Victorian Socialist Party; he sat at the feet of the great Tom Mann, who died a Communist Party member, to learn Socialism.

Young John Curtin threw himself into the No Conscription fights, and in 1917 was arrested on a sedition charge. He spent a night in a Melbourne gaol, but popular outcry forced the Hughes Government to release him and drop the charge.

In 1918, intervention against the Russian workers’ revolution provided a sharp test for all Labor men. To his eternal credit, John Curtin saw the light of Petrograd through the murk of newspaper-made confusion, and on the Esplanade in Perth and at many other meetings, defended the right of the Soviet Union to live. As an AWU editor, he needed moral courage to campaign for “Hands Off Russia.”

While, in later years, Mr Curtin lost some of that spice and salt that had seasoned the militant Labor lad of No Conscription and “Hands Off Russia” days, he steadfastly rejected all overtures in 1940 and 1941 to join a “National” Government with Labor’s opponents.

War leader

After the USSR had brought the might and force of progressive Labor into a world conflict against fascism, Mr Curtin took over leadership from those who had failed to proclaim an anti fascist mission. Luckily for Australia, he was already in office when the Japanese fascists struck.

With the nation’s survival at stake and Municheer defeatism rampant, Curtin proved neither stone nor shaken reed, but a firm leader with flexible policy. He honoured Australian Labor traditions when he dropped all imperialist “inhibitions” and turned to the American Republic for brotherly aid – “free of tags as to our traditional links of kinship with the United Kingdom.”

This robust, independent diplomacy was Australia’s salvation. Soon after the Diggers had turned the Japanese near Port Moresby, far beyond the “Brisbane Line” fixed by Labor’s predecessors, and carried Australia’s victorious standards over the Owen Stanleys, powerful American forces joined them in battle. The Coral and Bismarck Sea battles were memorials to Mr Curtin’s courageous policy.

Recognised Soviet

Mr Curtin dropped the isolationist mantle, and made diplomatic history by exchanging Ambassadors with the Socialist Soviets.

When the Japanese could no longer rock Australia with their bombs and harass our coasts and harbours with submarines, Mr Curtin’s Government turned more to post-war planning and social progress.

The Curtin Banking Bills, giving the opportunity for Australia to advance to strength, prosperity and freedom, will stand as one of Mr Curtin’s finest monuments.

He also decided to nationalise airways, in which overseas control was threatened; before he died the Rehabilitation Bill, which planned for work and opportunity for ex-Servicemen, was carried through, and there were hints of a Commonwealth Shipping Line.

The curtin path

It was an Australia free from the shadow of Japanese fascism, an Australia advancing toward Tokyo and total victory, that lowered the lost Labor leader into an honoured grave.

John Curtin’s was a bold spirit in a democratic breast. He will live in fame because, like the Diggers on the Kokoda Trail, he sacrificed his life in Australian democracy’s cause.

But newspaper tributes are not adequate to the late John Curtin. We who sincerely mourn his loss will vow to carry Australia along the progressive path of post-war work, happiness, and unity which Mr Curtin had helped to map out for the Australian people.

This article originally appeared in Tribune July, 1945.

Next article – Thousands in action for a living wage

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