John Curtin: A Life
"John Curtin has been lauded by many Australians, regardless of political affiliation, as the most significant Australian political leader of the twentieth century. In this remarkable biography, David Day traces the journey of Curtin from his peripatetic childhood in small-town Victoria to his courageous and dramatic leadership of the nation in the darkest hours of the Second World War.
"For the first time, the full breadth of Curtin's life, with its myriad twists and turns, tragedies and triumphs, is revealed: the tortured and ruinous decline of his father; the untimely deaths of his first sweetheart and of his best friend; his rejection of Catholicism for socialism, trade unionism and, later, the Labor Party; the romantic disappointments and troubled relationship with his wife and family; the battles with depression, psoriasis and alcoholism; and the mental and physical exhaustion that finally destroyed him six weeks before the Japanese surrender in 1945.
"Day also sheds light on the inherent contradictions of Curtin's personality: his sense of personal destiny, but lack of faith in himself; his commitment to the betterment of the nation, but inabaility to create peace and happiness in his own life; his early condemnation of parliament as an 'upholstered gas-works', but ambition to get to Canberra; and his denunciation of war and gaoling for anti-conssciption activities in the First World War, but inspirational war leadership in the Second World War. What emerges is a diptych-like portrait of a complex, brilliant man wounded by his personal failures and disappointments, but energised by his political and social achievements.
"John Curtin: A Life is a timely reassessment of a man who did so much to shape Australia's destiny and whose impact on Australian politics, and the Australian character, is still felt today."
"Splendid and admirable...this at times gripping and at times deeply affecting study is a fine biography of a complex, flawed, self-sacrificing but ultimately triumphant personality - one of the great figures of Australian history." - Greg Sheridan, The Weekend Australian
"David Day's magisterial biography...ranks with Geoffrey Serle's Monash" and David Marr's Patrick White as one of the greatest Australian biographies." - Barry Jones
"The most important characteristic that this biography shares with its subject can be summarised in one word: unflinching...[Day is] an excellent biographer and a first-rate historian...he deserves every reader's commendation for staying the honest course." - Kim Beazley, The Age
"Far from hagiography, but rather the stuff of a legend." - John Cain, The Eye
"John Curtin was a hero. It takes real courage and character, when in a position of political leadership, to publicly take a stand in the national interest on vital issues opposed to those held previously ... David Day's biography of Curtin provides a graphic account of our political history in the first fifty years of Federation and is a worthy read." - Richard Court, Premier of Western Australia.
About the Author:
David Day has written widely on Australian history and the history of the Second World War. Among his many books are Menzies and Churchill at War and a two volume study of Anglo-Australian relations during the Second World War. His prize-winning history of Australia, Claiming a Continent, won the prestigious non-fiction prize in the 1988 South Australian Festival Awards for Literature. An earlier book, Smugglers and Sailors, was shortlisted by the Fellowship of Australian Writers for its Book of the Year Award. John Curtin: A Life was shortlisted for the 2000 NSW Premier's Literary Awards' Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction.
Day graduated with first-class Honours in History and Poltical Science from the University of Melbourne and was awarded a PhD from the University of Cambridge. He has been a Junior Research Fellow at Cambridge, founding head of History and Political Science at Bond University, official historian of the Australian Customs Service, Keith Cameron Professor of Australian History at University College, Dublin, and Professor of Australian Studies at the University of Tokyo. He is currently an ARC Senior Research Fellow at LaTrobe University in Melbourne, and is working on a biography of Ben Chifley, to be released in 2001 by HarperCollins.
First Paragraph from the Preface:
My first 'encounter' with the life of John Curtin came when I was an undergraduate student studying under Dr Lloyd Robson at the University of Melbourne in the late 1970s. I was exploring the reaction of working-class organisations in Victoria to the outbreak of the First World War. My aim was to explain why their pre-1914 expressions of opposition to the war failed to produce a stong anti-war movement. However, there was one notable exception. While many in the labour movement succumbed to war hysteria and got caught up in the patriotism of empire, the young socialist John Curtin held true to his anti-war principles before, during and after the conflict.
In the midst of the scattered suburbs of the Australian bush capital of Canberra, the soft light of the winter's morning revealed the blacked-out windows of the modest Prime Minister's Lodge, which stood on a rise above the temporary Parliament House. The lights were already burning as family and staff came to terms with the death during the night of its weary occupant, John Curtin. On 5 July 1945, as a storm swept across the surrounding sheep paddocks, the socialist revolutionary and passionate anti-war activist turned Labor Party reformist and inspirational war leader passed away. Now, with the slow coming of the dawn, the nation would share in the grief, and in some cases relief, that Curtin's long illness was finally over.
From the HarperCollins paperback edition, 2000.
This page and its contents are copyright © 2001 by Perry Middlemiss, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.Return to Larrikin Literature Page.
Last modified: September 24, 2001.