Visit #60,000… and Curtin tonight

22 Apr

Visitor #50,000 to this blog arrived on 15 March 2007, and at this moment WordPress tells me visitor #59,994 is reading. It isn’t me, by the way, because WordPress does not count my visits (unlike Sitemeter). Hmmm. How long will it take for another six to arrive?


Did you watch Curtin tonight on ABC-TV (Australia)?

In a new ABC period drama heavy with pipes, spectacles and fob chains, William McInnes plays Prime Minister John Curtin. “Someone asked how it’s going,” McInnes says during filming. “I said, ‘Oh, all right.’ To which they said, ‘He’s the one that drowned, isn’t he?’ I said, ‘Yeah, he’s the one that drowned. He got hit by a submarine crossing the street.”‘

In fact, Curtin was the one who saw Australia through World War II. The family man from Perth, the rousing orator who battled alcoholism, ill health and self-doubt to face up to both Winston Churchill and the threat of a Japanese invasion…

…it’s a shame to stop Curtin’s story in 1942, when there was so much still to come. Moreover, the constraints of a 90-minute script mean that important details are ignored. The White Australia Policy, for instance, which McInnes describes as one of the great contradictions of the Labor Party. It’s a shame Curtin isn’t a series.

“We don’t claim to be telling everything about this man’s life,” Wiseman says. “And our goal from the outset has been to be as authentic as possible. If we diverted from the literal truth at any point, we hope it’s at points where it in no way upsets the history. But hopefully we will awaken in people an interest in that period of history.”

It did have cohesion as drama, as distinct from history, by being limited to 1941-1942, and they do seem to have been careful about details…

But I can quibble. I doubt 3801 would have been chuffing along quite as much as it appeared to in the movie to and from so many destinations — especially from Perth, and even less likely as the 38 class loco didn’t enter service until 1943! Royal Prince Alfred Hospital in Sydney was made unaccountably Catholic; of course they may have been thinking of St Vincents, but they did name the hospital and then placed a crucifix over the Prime Ministerial bed…


They should have used a 36 class!

But so many details did chime with my memory.

grow-veges.jpgYes, I was two years old* when Curtin died, but had started school when his successor Chifley (the first PM I actually remember) gave way to the years of Menzies. 1949, in case you wondered. So Curtin and the War were on the edges of my life, you might say. 1949, or 1950, was the first Anzac Day Parade I can recall as well, still very much in the shadow of the War. Not many details of daily life had changed between 1942 and 1949 — except there was no longer a war on. People were however still wearing much the same clothes, living with the same furnishings, and the rationing of many basics continued at least until 1948. We ate much produce from our own Sutherland garden and chook yard… The radio we had was the same one that served the family through the War. So I kind of remember, and the reconstruction in Curtin was very faithful, mostly.

People in my family and in neighbours’ families had malaria and nightmares; some cracked up, a phenomenon lurking in the background but of course we children were shielded. (“He had a bad war, you know; an open boat from Timor…”) The guy next door drank himself to death, I remember, or it may have been worse than that… (“Bad war…”) A gas mask was still there in Fred Vallance’s cowshed; yes, Auburn Street Sutherland even had a cow. Dad’s Air Force greatcoat hung still in the wardrobe. Shell casings, hand grenades, and samurai swords were not entirely uncommon objects in “show and tell”, and posters for spotting enemy aircraft were still on some walls. And so on.

In short, I enjoyed Curtin as a drama, and as a pretty intelligent (if incomplete) bit of history. Fascinated by the friendship between him and the Japanese ambassador Kawai, subject of much controversy in 2005, apparently, especially when Alexander Downer exploited it so shamelessly and unfairly in his “fatuous lecture”. (Australian Story on Monday night has an airbrushing of Downer, who is a fine chap until he gets into attack mode, when he becomes especially bitchy and, well, fatuous.) That’s one bit of the history war that passed me by, I’m afraid, but Bob Wurth’s public lecture on the subject is interesting. See also his site Saving Australia. I thought the film did a good job in contextualising that friendship, and it may in fact take some of the sting out of the angst about it.

I do know Curtin was greatly admired. Rightly so.


Visitor #60,000 has now arrived. He/she comes from the University of Michigan. [See comments.]

* I find Curtin died four days before my 2nd birthday…

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Posted by on April 22, 2007 in Aussie interest, Films, DVDs, TV, Marcel, my sites


5 responses to “Visit #60,000… and Curtin tonight

  1. marcelproust

    April 23, 2007 at 2:42 am

    I think they liked the crucifix (along with the religious sister) because it made for more colourful costumes and settings.

    Did you notice that after Curtin gave a speech at Sydney Town Hall and they were backstage, the steps to the dressing room also directed him to the [orchestra] pit? Since when did the Town Hall have a pit?

    I thought they went a little overboard with the wildlife noises (at all hours, including the night) in Canberra (actually, it reminded me of the background noises in the Monty Python philosophers’ sketch) though I guess that was to make an artistic point about the bush capital. The soliloquies to camera jarred for me – was this the only way they could get the info across?

    Still, it was better than I expected. Weren’t you tempted by all the smoking?

    As for Noni Hazelhurst – she seems to be turning into the nation’s mum these days – all those years at Playschool coming home to roost in the collective subconscious, I suspect. What will that make Simon Burke in a few years?

  2. David Smith

    April 23, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Neil, this is David Smith, SBHS 1998, year 10 English 1996. I must have been visitor #60 000, I’m in the third year of my political science PhD at Michigan. I have very fond memories of that class – war poetry, Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, Cry The Beloved Country, Royal Hunt of the Sun, and some very creative interpretations of As You Like It on the flat behind the portable. I always enjoy visiting here – I discovered it a couple of weeks ago.

    At the moment I’m procrastinating marking undergraduate papers. We have some of the very brightest undergrads in the US here (Michigan is the number 2 public university in the country) but I am convinced that Australian high schools do a better job of teaching writing skills (I was also a tutor at Sydney for a year). I am itching for an opportunity to send one of my students to your English site.

    Speaking of which – do you think the word “tragedy” is appropriate to describe what happened at Virginia Tech? Or should it be reserved for events that have the tragic structure whereby actors, without knowing it, are powerless to prevent something very bad from happening?

  3. ninglun

    April 23, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    Not to mention Cry Freedom and The Glass Menagerie. I still have a copy of “I saw Whitfield with the Order of Lenin”. 🙂

    Couldn’t have asked for a nicer Visitor #60,000. Were you surprised to see me transformed into a blogger? When you knew me I was still an almost total techophobe.

    Guess you’ll have noted my recent friendship with Dorothy McRae-McMahon as well.

    “Tragedy” — in the popular rather than the literary sense.

  4. David Smith

    April 23, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    I was a little suprised by your blogging transformation, but the format obviously suits you very well. I wonder how many other former students visit? Back in those days, I seem to remember the internet was the preserve of the hard-core computer enthusiasts, like my friend Nick. I never really imagined I’d have any use for it.

    I did notice that you mention Dorothy, who was my minister at Pitt Street in the early nineties, and an excellent minister she was. How do you know her?

  5. ninglun

    April 23, 2007 at 3:41 pm

    Through South Sydney Uniting Church — see my memory hole 😉 for details.

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