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Shaping the nation: John Curtin and Australia

This major JCPML exhibition was opened on John Curtin Day, 6 October 2000, by Mr Kim Wilkie MP and was open until August 2002.

An online version of the exhibition is now available. You can also find out more about Federation and John Curtin as a nation builder by delving into the comprehensive essay by Dr Bobbie Oliver that formed the basis for this exhibition.

About the exhibition

“The ideals that reached their climax at the end of the century in the federation of the Commonwealth were interpreted by each according to his needs and experiences. To Curtin, they were an almost fanatical belief in the future of a new Australia for the people, the importance of mateship, comradeship, solidarity; hopes of a world of peace, prosperity, equality and security; the federation of Australia and of the world.” (Lloyd Ross, 1977, p.6)
When Australia became a nation in January 1901, John Curtin was just sixteen years old. Both Curtin and the new nation were filled with youthful enthusiasm and hope for the future. And yet, both of them also carried the traces of social, political and economic inequality. For John Curtin came from a family which had experienced the problems of the 1890s depression.What then, were the dreams and fears of young Australia, an Australia here represented by John Curtin? What was the young nation like at the turn of the century? What issues motivated the nation and its citizens? How was that youthful enthusiasm tempered and shaped by experience as the years went by?In following the development of John Curtin’s political thinking and career, this exhibition traces the development of Australia into full adulthood – to the moment when it had to stand apart from Britain and defend its own soil. This exhibition is an exploration, through the eyes of one of Australia’s most prominent early citizens, of what it means to be a nation.


The John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library federation exhibition is supported by the Commonwealth and the Library & Information Service, Curtin University of Technology.

Exhibition team

Project management:
Kandy-Jane Henderson, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Curtin University of Technology
Dr Andrea Witcomb with the assistance of Dr Bobbie Oliver, Research Institute for Cultural Heritage, Curtin University of Technology
Curatorial support:

Lesley Carman-Brown with the assistance of Lesley Wallace and David Wylie, John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Curtin University of Technology
Exhibition designer:

Alan Muller Design

With thanks to

  • John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library Donors
  • National Archives of Australia
  • National Library of Australia
  • University of Western Australia Library
  • Victorian State Library
  • Museum of Childhood, Edith Cowan University
  • Art Gallery of Western Australia
  • Battye Library of WA History
  • Mitchell Library
  • State Library of South Australia
  • Australiana Fund
  • Australian War Memorial
  • Claremont Museum