March 13

The real John Curtin

Julia Gillard, then deputy prime minister, addressed a gathering of the Australian-American Leadership Dialogue in Washington, DC in June 2008.

According to James Curran in The Australian Literary Review of March 2011, she spoke of the closeness of Australian ties to the US intiated under Prime Minister Curtin ,and then recalled that during an evening broadcast on December 8, 1941, the prime minister had explained to the people of Australia the imperative to defend the continent "as a place where civilisation will persist".

Pointing out that few of the journalists present were aware of the full text, Dr. Curran reveals what John Curtin actually said:

 "We Australians have imperishable traditions. We shall maintain them. We shall vindicate them. We shall hold this country, and keep it as a citadel for the British-speaking race, and as a place where civilisation will persist."

….Curtin’s Empire…


Dr. Curran’s essay, "Curtin, Champion of Empire," draws on his  latest book, Curtin’s Empire, just published by Cambridge University Press.

He says:

 Gillard's stress on civilisation was no doubt carefully pitched to an American ear, one that would be more receptive to the language of universalism and the struggle against a totalitarian foe. But when Curtin referred to civilisation, as he often did in his wartime speeches, he was depicting Australia as a trustee and guardian for British civilisation in the Pacific. In the face of an external enemy he like many of his contemporaries had no hesitation in defining his country in these terms.

…a tradition of invoking Curtin to support positions…. he did not hold…

[Continued below ] 


Dr. Curran adds:

Gillard joins a long list of Labor leaders who have invoked Curtin as a means of channelling powerful party and national myths. Gough Whitlam, Bob Hawke, Paul Keating and Kevin Rudd all summoned the memory of the wartime leader at various points in their prime ministerships.

In addition he points out that republicanism was a late addition trLabor's political troubles on these international questions never developed into a full-blown platform of anti-Britishness, and separation from the mother country via the inauguration of an Australian republic was never placed on the party platform.

It is testament to the deep currents of British race patriotism in Australia's political culture at this time that no leader or senior figure in the federal parliamentary Labor party could hope to be elected adopting such a stance. It also helps to explain why Curtin, when setting out his policy for the Empire's future, could give it a history of its own.He told the federal Labor conference in late 1943 that his new Empire council would come to occupy an important chapter in the "the history of the British race" and that it would be seen as a vital stage in the "British race's great experiment in a British Commonwealth".

I have often said that all of the great leaders of the Australian Labor Party were constitutional monarchists. All of them. I remain of that view. 



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