Photograph - John Curtin
John Curtin aged 34 years, December 1919,
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library,
Records of the Curtin Family,
Used with permissionCopyright
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library
John Curtin would become the most famous of the labour activists from Brunswick and Coburg. This opponent of conscription in World War One would go on to become Prime Minister of Australia during World War Two.
John Curtin’s early life was one of hardship. His father’s ill health affected his ability to work. That and the 1890s depression reduced the family to poverty. By the time they settled in Brunswick in 1899, Curtin’s mother’s sewing provided the only income. Curtin left school at age 13 to help support the family.
Curtin nonetheless continued his education at the public library, and through participating in study circles in both the Australian Labor Party and the Victorian Socialist Party. He soon became involved in political and union organising, serving as Secretary of the VSP, and in 1911 becoming Secretary of the Victorian Timber Workers Union.
It was as a trade unionist that Curtin first spoke out against the possibility of conscription being introduced. The increasing importance of this campaign, and the increasing difficulties that Curtin was facing within the Timber Workers’ Union led to Curtin stepping down from his position in September 1915. Shortly afterwards he was appointed National Secretary for the Trades Union Anti-Conscription Campaign.
Throughout 1916 Curtin campaigned tirelessly against conscription in this role. He was particularly effective as a writer and producer of campaign material. This effort took a toll on Curtin personally; throughout 1916 he struggled with both depression and alcoholism.
After the first conscription referendum was defeated in November 1916, and in recognition of his journalistic talents, Curtin was offered the editorship of the Westralian Worker paper. He moved out of Brunswick to Western Australia, which would remain his home for the rest of his life. This photograph was taken around the time of his move.
John Curtin would go on to represent Fremantle in federal parliament and eventually became Prime Minister during World War Two. In this role he introduced conscription for overseas service for Australians. Although this service was limited to a defined area – and so Curtin was able to argue that he was simply redefining what ‘Australian territory’ meant – it was nonetheless a significant personal and political decision. Unlike Hughes in World War One, Curtin was personally trusted by the union movement, and he proposed this policy respectfully, and as a consequence was able to persuade the unions and the Labor party to support him. John Curtin died in 1945 before the end of the war.
Australia and World War One
Photograph - Send-off to the Brunswick Soldiers
Photograph - Brunswick Town Hall Honour Board
Memorial Plaque - Leonard William Telford
Poster - 'Australia has Promised Britain 50,000 More Men'
Labour Activists of Brunswick and Coburg
Photograph - Frank Anstey
Photograph - John Curtin
Photograph - Frank Hyett
Photograph - Maurice Blackburn
The Trade Unions' Anti-conscription Campaign
Handbill - 'The Blood Vote'
Cartoon - 'The Charge of the Would to God Brigade'
Handbill - Slave Conspiracy
The Women's Movement During the War
Photograph - Vida Goldstein
Photograph - Adela Pankhurst
Handbill - Conscription and Woman's Loyalty
Photograph - 'Women's No Conscription Demonstration'
Bella Lavender - Brunswick Campaigner
Photograph - Bella Lavender
Cartoon - Bella Lavender
Letter - Bella Lavender to Education Department
Photograph - Labor Women's Anti-conscription Committee
Religious Perspectives on Conscription
Handbill - Conscription and Christianity
Handbill - Conscription Questions for Voters
Handbill - How Would Christ Vote?
The Catholic Church and Conscription
Photograph - Daniel Mannix
Article - Cause of the War
Article - Revolt Victims
Cartoon - Australian Workman's Burden
Brunswick and Coburg During the Campaigns
Article - No Anti-conscription Meetings in Brunswick
Handbill - Public Meeting Against Conscription
Advertisement - Recruitment Meeting
Article - Remarkably Quiet Day
The Two Referendums
Handbill - Vote Thus Against Conscription
Article - Military Service Referendum Poll
Article - Conscription. Mr Hughes in Queensland
Article - 'Bourke'
The Soldiers' Votes
Diary - Claude Ewart
Photograph - Jack and Bert Grinton
Handbill - Returned Soldiers' No Conscription League Manifesto
Photograph - Soldiers Voting
Consequences for the Campaigners
Inscription - Police Just Raided
Article - 'Failure to Enrol'
Letter - Adela Pankhurst to Sallie Walsh
Article - 'Serenading Miss Pankhurst'
Story education resources
Education Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Education Resource
The Against The Odds Education Resource provides a stimulating range of activities for students undertaking the compulsory Victorian History Curriculum Level 9/10 unit Australia at war (1914 – 1945). It helps students reflect on the complexities of the conscription debate through a range of analytical, creative and research tasks.
Education Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Walking Map
The Against the Odds: The Victory over Conscription in WW1 Walking Map is a map of some of the sites described in the digital story or related to individuals therein. Download the map to use it for a self-guided tour in the area.