Becoming John Curtin and James Scullin: The making of the modern Labor Party
by Liam Byrne
Melbourne University Press, $34.99 pb, 194 pp
John Curtin and James Scullin occupy very different places in whatever collective memory Australians have of their prime ministers. On the occasions that rankings of prime ministers have been published, Curtin invariably appears at or near the top. When researchers at Monash University in 2010 produced such a ranking based on a survey of historians and political scientists, Curtin led the pack, with Scullin rated above only Joseph Cook, Arthur Fadden, and Billy McMahon. Admittedly, this ranking was produced before anyone had ever thought of awarding an Australian knighthood to Prince Philip, but the point is clear enough: Curtin rates and Scullin does not.
Liam Byrne’s pairing of the two men in this book is therefore in some ways a peculiar one. Scullin and Curtin are not usually considered in the same frame. The touching Peter Corlett statue in Canberra is of Curtin and Ben Chifley, a truly famous wartime partnership, rivalled in Australian politics only by the more fractious one of Bob Hawke and Paul Keating four decades later. But Byrne reminds us that in Parliament House during the war, Scullin occupied the office between those of Curtin and Chifley.