We look for a solid and impregnable barrier of the Democracies against the three Axis powers, and we refuse to accept the dictum that the Pacific struggle must be treated as a subordinate segment of the general conflict. By that it is not meant that any one of the other theatres of war is of less importance than the Pacific, but that Australia asks for a concerted plan evoking the greatest strength at the Democracies' disposal, determined upon hurling Japan back. The Australian Government, therefore regards the Pacific struggle as primarily one in which the United States and Australia must have the fullest say in the direction of the Democracies' fighting plan. Without any inhibitions of any kind, I make it clear that Australia looks to America, free of any pangs as to our traditional links or kinship with the United Kingdom. We know the problems that the United Kingdom faces. We know the dangers of dispersal of strength, but we know too, that Australia can go and Britain can still hold on. We are, therefore, determined that Australia shall not go, and we shall exert all our energies towards the shaping of a plan, with the United States as its keystone, which will give to our country some confidence of being able to hold out until the tide of battle swings against the enemy.
Curtin was born in Creswick, Victoria in 1885. His father was a police officer of Irish descent, and Curtin was initially raised a Roman Catholic. Curtin attended school until the age of 13, when he left to start working for a newspaper in Creswick. He soon became active in both the Australian Labor Party and the Victorian Socialist Party, which was a Marxist organisation. He wrote for radical and socialist newspapers. It is believed that Curtin's first bid for elected office came at this time, when he stood for the position of secretary of the Brunswick Football Club and was defeated. He had earlier played for Brunswick between 1903 and 1907.
From 1911 until 1915, Curtin was employed as Secretary of the Timberworkers' Union, and during World War I he was a militant anti-conscriptionist; he was briefly imprisoned for refusing to attend a compulsory medical examination, even though he knew he would fail the exam due to his very poor eyesight. He also at this time stood as the Labor candidate for Balaclava in 1914. The strain of this period led him to drink heavily and regularly, a vice which blighted his career for many years. In 1917, he married Elsie Needham, the sister of Labor Senator Ted Needham.
Curtin moved to Cottesloe near Perth in 1917 to become an Editor for the Westralian Worker, the official trade union newspaper. He enjoyed the less pressured life of Western Australia and his political views gradually moderated. He joined the Australian Journalists' Association in 1917 and was elected Western Australian President in 1920. He wore his AJA badge (WA membership #56) every day he was prime minister. In addition to his stance on labour rights, Curtin was also a strong advocate for the rights of women and children. In 1927, the Federal Government convened a Royal Commission on Child Endowment. Curtin was appointed as a member of that commission.
Curtin stood for Parliament a second time in 1925, this time for Fremantle, although he lost heavily to the incumbent william Watson. Watson retired in 1928, and Curtin ran again, this time winning on the second count. Re-elected in Labor's sweeping election victory the following year, he expected to be named as a member of Prime Minister James Scullin's Cabinet, but disapproval of his heavy drinking habit meant that he remained on the backbench. william Watson chose to briefly come out of retirement in 1931, and easily defeated Curtin in an election that saw Labor collapse to just 14 seats in Parliament. After the loss, Curtin became the advocate for the Western Australian Government with the Commonwealth Grants Commission. He stood for his old seat in 1934 after Watson announced his retirement for the second time, and was able to win it back.
When Scullin resigned as Labor Leader in 1935, Curtin stood in the election to replace him, although he was not expected to win. His opponent was Frank Forde, a well known MP who had been closely associated with the economic policies of the Scullin Government. This led left wing factions and trade unions to support Curtin, in an attempt to block Forde from getting the leadership. With their support, Curtin was able to defeat Forde by just one vote to become Leader of the Labor Party and Leader of the Opposition. The groups that had supported Curtin did so on the basis that he promise to give up alcohol, which he subsequently did. Although Labor made little progress at the 1937 election, by 1939 Labor's position had vastly improved. Curtin led Labor to a five-seat swing in the 1940 election, which resulted in a hung parliament. In that election, Curtin's own seat of Fremantle had been in doubt. United Australia Party challenger Frederick Lee appeared to have won the seat on the second count after most of independent Guildford Clarke's preferences flowed to him, and it was not until the final counting of preferential votes that Curtin knew he had won the seat.
Concurrently, the Curtin government enacted the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, under which Australia accepted the dominion status which Britain had conferred in 1930, but which the Australian federal government had not accepted until then. The Adoption Act took effect retroactively as of 3 September 1939, the outbreak of World War II. Although politically a product of the government's policy of re-orientation towards the United States, constitutionally, this marked the moment that Australia became an independent nation with a separate Crown, no longer subject to the supremacy of British law and the British Crown.
In 1941, all "Asiatics" who were British subjects became eligible for a pension, and in 1942, pension eligibility was extended to Pacific Islanders known as "Kanakas", and from that July that year "Aboriginal natives" of Australia became eligible for pensions if they were not subject to a state law "relating to the control of Aboriginal natives" or if they lived in a state where they could not be exempt from such laws but were of eligible for pension on the grounds of "character, standard of intelligence and development". That same year, pension became exempt from income tax. In 1943, funeral benefits were introduced, together with a Wife's Allowance for wives of incapacitated age pensioners "where she lived with him, was his legal wife and did not receive a pension in her own right." From June 1942, Widows' Pension Class B was paid to widows without dependent children who were aged 50 and over. The term "widow" included de facto widows who had lived with the deceased spouse for at least three years prior to his death and had been maintained by him. Eligibility was also extended to deserted de jure wives who had been deserted for at least six months, divorced women who had not remarried and women whose husbands were in hospitals for those considered to be insane. From July that year, Widows' Pension Class B (WPb) was exempted from income tax.
The Curtin government's enactment of the Statute of Westminster Adoption Act 1942, reversing the stance of four previous governments, marked the moment of Australia's legal independence. This law, along with the Constitution of Australia and the Australia Act 1986, is one of the key components of Australia's modern constitutional framework.
Curtin is credited with leading the Australian Labor Party to its best federal election success in history, with a record 55.1 percent of the primary half-senate vote, winning all seats, and a two party preferred lower house estimate of 58.2 percent at the 1943 election, winning two-thirds of seats.
By 1944, a time when he was regularly travelling to and from London and Washington for meetings with Churchill, Roosevelt and other Allied Leaders, Curtin had already developed heart disease. In early 1945, with the end of the war in sight, his health began to seriously deteriorate at a more rapid pace.
On 5 July 1945, Curtin died at The Lodge at the age of 60. He was the second Australian prime minister to die in office within six years. A Catholic priest called at The Lodge as Curtin lay dying, but he was turned away. Curtin had refused to so much as set foot inside a Catholic church throughout his adult life, not even to attend the weddings of friends. His body was returned to Perth on a RAAF Dakota escorted by a FLIGHT of nine fighter aircraft. After lying in state, he was buried at Karrakatta Cemetery in Perth; the Service was attended by over 30,000 at the cemetery with many more Li Ning the streets. MacArthur said of Curtin that "the preservation of Australia from invasion will be his immemorial monument".
In 1975 Curtin was honoured on a postage stamp bearing his portrait issued by Australia Post.
On 14 August 2005, the 60th anniversary of V-P Day, a bronze statue of Curtin in front of Fremantle Town Hall was unveiled by Premier of Western Australia Geoff Gallop.