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John Curtin

John Curtin was the member for Fremantle in the House of Reps 1928-1931, 1934-1945, and leader of the ALP 1935-1945. He was PM 1941-45, dying in office. He was the only PM to represent a WA constituency. There is a large and imho unattractive statue of him on a plinth outside the Town Hall.

References and links

Curtin, John 1919, 'Colebatch, the blood-spiller', Westralian Worker, Friday 9 May: 1.

Knight, Ingle and George Blazevic 2003, Shadow of the Eagle, play, performed by Perth Theatre Company, 2003 and national tour 2004.

Knight, Ingle 2012, The Fremantle Candidate, play, performed by Deckchair Theatre 2012.

Oliver, Bobbie 2019, 'John Curtin at the Worker', in Charlie Fox et al. eds, Radical Perth Militant Fremantle, Interventions, Melbourne: 251-262.

Westralian Worker, Friday 9 May 1919, p. 1

Curtin was editor of the Westralian Worker 1917-1928. At the end of the week of Bloody Sunday, in May 1919, it published this on the top of page one. It was almostly certainly written by John Curtin.

Uses a de facto Military Force at Fremantle

There are voices in the land whispering that the Lumpers at Fremantle are a lawless band of rebels. The accusation is a monstrous lie. It was the Premier himself, in his capacity as the catspaw of the Shipping Ring, who broke the law by organising a brutal force to accomplish by sheer weight of intimidation and armed might the purposes which the Shipping Ring nourish at their bosom. It is a queer sort of law and order, which erects barricades for blacklegs behind a wall of bayonets. The man who armed Civil Police with bayonets is a law-breaker! All that followed was the consequence of what he did. On his head lies the whole burden and the infamy of what happened on the wharves at Fremantle last Sunday.

A Government which in these days knows no way out of an industrial dispute between a Trades Union and the Shipping Ring except that of armed violence is a Government which condemns itself for ever as a danger to democracy.

The essence of law and order in Australia is that it shall operate by the consent of they to whom it is applicable. Australia is not Germany as Germany was prior to the revolution. Neither the fiat of a Kaiser or the decree of a Colebatch can be construed into the generalisation of law and order in a country where all men and women are equals.

The great newspapers that have this week ransacked their dictionaries for words with which to vindicate the atrocious conduct of the Premier last Sunday are herewith told that it was the business of Mr. Colebatch to work for a settlement of the issues as between the Fremantle disputants that would be acceptable to the citizens. His arbitrament could never be successful until it succeeded in meeting the wishes of the men and women of Fremantle in particular and the State in general.

And, let it be said, that for the best part of three weeks the Premier more or less indicated his cognisance of the validity of that reasoning. His public comments and his private declarations gave testimony that whatever was to be the solution he would ultimately attempt he would most certainly not countenance an ending in which armed policemen were to accomplish what reason and argument alone have any justification to attempt.

How came it that Mr. Colebatch suddenly made up his mind that the blacklegs were to be given possession of the wharves under armed escort? In what way did it come to pass that as between the police suggested by consignee Watson and that whispered by Shipping Ring dummy Shallard the Premier should finally embrace the latter? We believe we know the reason, but we prefer that the Premier be obliged to state it to the Parliament which by all the rules of decency should immediately be summoned.

How long has it been the law for policemen to be armed with bayonets? Where did they get them from? Who ordered that bayonets should be given the police ?—These are questions which the leader-writers should ask themselves. They would then perhaps understand the phenomenon why the Lumpers' Union made cognisant of the mobilisation of an illegal de facto military force should have resolved to refuse defeat solely because a lying Premier had finally made up his mind to act as Czars and tyrants have ever acted.

This man Colebatch gave his most solemn and unsolicited assurance to the State Labor Leader (the Hon. P. Collier. M.L.A.) and Mr. W. C. Angwin, M.L.A., that in no circumstances would he attempt to carry on work at Fremantle under armed protection. He further informed both gentlemen that the police quartered at Fremantle were not armed as was rumored. And yet last Sunday the police had all the equipment of a military raiding party. They had rifles and bayonets and ball cartridges. They had revolvers and military entrenching tools. If ever there was an illegal force it was that employed by the Government of Western Australia last Sunday.

Let the advocates of so-called law and order keep that fact well in their minds. This Premier, who distinctly guaranteed that the police were not armed secretly supplied them with bayonets. That was a monstrous and an illegal act. The whole red fury of the assault upon the police arose entirely because the police used their illegal armament in an illegal way.

The organiser of this outrageous corps attended in person to superintend the proceedings. Mr. Colebatch is the first Premier this paper has ever heard of who has personally directed the work of blacklegs. But that was not the reason which took the Premier to Fremantle last Sunday. He did not regard it as necessary to show a few amateur carpenters how to build a few barricades. Mr. Colebatch attended solely and wholly because he knew that conflict was certain and that somebody with great power over the police would need to be present—to urge them on, and when they had done enough, to call them off.

Ordinary citizens will be amazed to know that all that happened last Sunday was not unexpected. The Premier had been told—and by his own officers no less than by others—that if force was to be employed to ensure a continuance of the rule of preference to blacklegs, then force would be met by force. If ever a man was well aware of that it was Mr. H. P. Colebatch. The proof that he knew it is made manifest by his presence when it was being attempted.

We frankly tell him that having decided to subjugate the Lumpers by sheer brutality, and realising what the attempt involved the Premier did the right thing in going to Fremantle. For no matter what the outcome was the entire and absolute responsibility for all that eventuated devolved on him, and on him only.

The smugly complacent way in which the agents of the Shipping Ring led him on to the precipice of tragedy is not, and can not be, any extenuation of the Premier's culpability. The suggestion that the Government would cease to be a Government unless it mastered the Lumpers is the veriest nonsense. If the crux of its authority consists in its ability to enforce its policy, why did not the Government use or attempt to use its coercive authority against the Shipping Ring? How comes it that laboring under the delusion that Australian Governments must ape Kaiserism the Government did not use its power to bring the Dimboola to a berth and there unload her? This job would have become the police far better than did their brutal exercise of force against helpless men and women.

It is easy to perceive the influences which went to screwing the Premier's courage to the sticking point. The whole world knows that his personal attitude towards the dispute was that the interests of the State would best be served by withdrawing the blacklegs. It is further known that Mr. Colebatch believed this could be done by the State Government making a compensatory ; allowance to those who had acted as original volunteers in 1917. Why did not the Premier use force to back his own personal attitude towards the kind of settlement which the circumstances dictated to him as advisable and which he was known to believe in?

The answer is because he allowed himself become the catspaw of the anti-union policy of the Shipping Thugs. It was they and not Mr. Colebatch who wanted blacklegism at any price. The hesitancy of the Premier to execute the wishes of the Shipping Agents arose from his knowledge of what the price involved. He knew that blacklegs could not resume work on the wharves without lives being endangered. And irrespective of what the Shipping Ring wanted the proper thing for the Premier to have done was to have refused to supply police and bayonets so that the Lumpers' Union would be spreadeagled beneath the moneygrasping maw of the gang now monopolising the Australian coastal shipping trade.

That was his clear duty to the State. It was the policy which squared with his own professions to the Lumpers and the public prior to the shame he covered himself with on Sunday.

A Government doing the wise thing and the right thing need not have recourse to the physical cowing of the citizens. Whenever an Australian Premier finds he has to employ a posse of police to actively interpose in support of his project or projects he has definite notice to quit his purpose. This country is governed by representatives, not by rulers. The acts of administrators should be in conformity with the desires of the people and not in brutal defiance of their objections. Either that or democracy is a name. Because the Czar called on law and order to perpetrate a Bloody Sunday is just the reason why Colebatch should have avoided it at all costs. His business is to serve the community, not to set one class called police against another class called lumpers.

Garry Gillard | New: 5 October, 2020 | Now: 26 January, 2024