John Curtain

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.

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In one of the more matter-of-fact paragraphs of that rare and sentient book, Celebration of the Senses, Eric Rolls reflects on how ‘until the nineteen-fifties eating was seldom an adventure in Australia’. The Greek community had taken over the country town cafes and ‘by serving food that was a parody of the worst Australian food they prospered astoundingly. Slabs of steak fried ten minutes too long came to the table with one or two eggs on top, and surrounded by potato chips, mashed potato, mashed pumpkin, sliced lettuce, tomato, canned carrots, pickled beetroot …

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