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John Curtin’s legacy: Leading Australia from war to peace

This major JCPML exhibition was officially opened by Mrs Pat Barblett on 26 September 2002 and was open to the public until December 2004 in the Wesfarmers Gallery, Building 200A, Curtin University of Technology.

The exhibition also formed part of the Old Parliament House, Canberra, exhibition My Melancholy Duty: Menzies and Curtin in the Second World War, which was open to the public from 2 August 2005 to 29 January 2006.

View the online version of John Curtin’s Legacy.

About the exhibition:

‘War is a powerful agent of social change, yet few seem to have understood at the time the great social, economic, and political changes that would come of Australia’s participation in the Second World War.’
(Geoffrey Bolton, 1974)

In some senses John Curtin, Australia’s wartime prime minister, stands as the first of the modern leaders. His focus on a more independent Australia and his ideas for social welfare in the postwar economy have become the foundation for contemporary Australian politics. It was John Curtin’s government which put in place the mechanisms for federal control and instigated policies which allowed Australia to participate in the global economy.

How did Australians react to war on their doorstep? How did John Curtin and his Labor Government lead Australia through this crisis? What powers did the Government assume to guide Australia into peacetime policies? How did John Curtin’s Government achieve Federal control and pave the way for modern global strategies?

This exhibition follows Australia’s progress from 1942, the most critical year of the war and arguably of Australian history, when Curtin ‘looked to America’ for help, until 1951 when the ANZUS Treaty was signed, officially ratifying this shift in Australian foreign policy. This exhibition looks at the seeds planted by John Curtin during his prime ministership (1941 to 1945) in such areas as the economy, immigration and foreign policy and follows their growth through the early postwar years under Ben Chifley (1945 to 1949) to become the foundation fabric of modern Australia.

John Curtin’s Legacy brings together a range of materials from the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library and other organisations – including photographs and moving film footage, letters and cablegrams, radio broadcasts and oral histories, and a diverse array of objects – to enable visitors to relive or discover an important era in the history of Australia.


The John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library acknowledges the generous assistance of Curtin University of Technology’s Library & Information Service in the development of this exhibition.

Exhibition team

Lesley Carman-Brown, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library
James Cooper, Creative Spaces
Project Management:

Kandy-Jane Henderson, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library
Curatorial advisors:
Professor David Black, JCPML Historical Consultant
Michal Bosworth, historian
Curatorial and research assistance:

Kathryn Barton, Lesley Wallace and David Wylie, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library
Heather Campbell, researcher
Graphic design:

Brown Cow Design
Exhibition fabrication:

Professional Innovators
Graphics installation:
The Factory
Digital graphics:

Digital production:

John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library and Continuum Resources
Video production:

Learning Support Network, Curtin University of Technology