A prime place to lodge

Stay at John Curtin’s old home in Perth

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AUSTRALIA - TROY BRAMSTON

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

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