A prime place to lodge
Stay at John Curtin’s old home in Perth
It is not difficult to imagine Labor prime minister John Curtin at this modest Cottesloe home, walking the wraparound verandas, smoking a cigarette and reading aloud a speech he is preparing to broadcast to an anxious nation at war.
John and Elsie Curtin moved into the California bungalow-style home in Cottesloe, a Perth beachside suburb, with their two children and Elsie’s mother, Annie Needham, in 1923. It served as a residence and office during Curtin’s time as the Member for Fremantle (1928-31; 1934-45) and prime minister (1941-45). The home was a hive of activity. The Curtins were in the local phone book — “Curtin, J. 24 Jarrad” — so the phone frequently rang. Visitors would turn the doorbell asking to see the PM, and no security guards monitored who came and went.
It is one of the few Australian prime ministerial homes that have been preserved, along with Ben Chifley’s railway cottage at Bathurst in the NSW central west and Joe Lyons’s two residences in Tasmania. But the Curtin home is the only one that can be booked for holidays.
The pathway from the front fence snakes around the side to the front door. There is a hat rack in the entrance hallway on the right and the main bedroom on the left. There were no chairs near the phone as Curtin thought it would encourage his wife and daughter to indulge in long conversations.
A loungeroom at the end of the hallway is where the family sat by the open fire, listened to the radio and sang around the piano; Curtin enjoyed the comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan. One end of the room was lined with books and had a desk where Curtin worked. The verandas were progressively closed in to provide more rooms. Down the corridor is the kitchen, later made into a bedroom, and a dining room opposite. Towards the backdoor is the bathroom. The kitchen was later moved to the back of the house and a breakfast room added. Dinner was cooked on the wood stove in the kitchen.
The Curtins did not own a refrigerator at first, so a Coolgardie safe or icebox had to do. In the backyard, there is an outhouse and washhouse. Elsie and her moth- er would do the weekly wash with a wood-fired copper. By navigating the single wire washing line and vine that grew table grapes, the children could play cricket. You can still hear the echo of trains nearby and the beach is only a short walk away.
After Curtin’s death in 1945, Elsie lived in the home with her daughter and son-in-law, Elsie and Stan Macleod, and granddaughter Beverley. Her son John F. Curtin, his wife Catherine and their children, Barbara and John, lived across the road. When Elsie died in 1975, the Macleods continued living in the house until 1998. The following year it was sold to the state government for $550,000. Today it is managed by the National Trust of Australia (WA) and Cottesloe Beach House Stays. It was added to the State Heritage Register in 2000. An annual open day draws the crowds and a program of events furnishes its historical memory. The funding from holiday rentals pays for conservation and maintenance.
While the original furniture has been archived and replaced with modern accoutrements, information panels connect visitors to Curtin’s time. His presence can still be felt by walking the corridors, sitting in the loungeroom or on the veranda, and relaxing in the backyard. It is a thrill for anyone interested in Australia’s political history.
Troy Bramston was a guest of the National Trust of Australia (WA) and Cottesloe Beach House Stays.
John Curtin at home with his family in 1941 at 24 Jarrad Street, Cottesloe, left; the house today, above