Authors: Samuel Malloy
This analysis looks at the role and importance that home-life and community have had on three significant Australian Prime Ministers: Joseph Lyons [1932 - 1939], John Curtin [1941 - 1945] and Ben Chifley [1945 - 1949] - and how these factors have been presented through forms of contemporary public and popular history.
Lyons, Curtin and Chifley served as Prime Ministers of Australia through times of immense social and political upheaval and national change, beginning in the 1930s, during economic depression and recovery, followed immediately by the Second World War and the challenges of the post-war era. The three Prime Ministers’ characters and political styles displayed a particular sense of ‘home-grown’ genuineness and integrity that spanned two decades, epitomising Australian politics of the day, and in doing so, all three men remained ‘grounded’ in their respective communities – with an underlining sense that the three men’s fundamental ideals and policies were forged, sustained and energised by a deep-rooted connection with community and life at home. The three Prime Ministers did little to alter or disguise such influences to suit the will of political contemporaries, the media, or the Australian public as a whole.
The values of home life and community are no more strongly displayed than in the former homes, now house museums, of Lyons, Curtin and Chifley. This paper offers an analysis of how the above values have been interpreted through public history as represented by the house museums, whilst examining the impact that these house museums have on modern-day visitors and how the houses shape the public view and understanding of the three Prime Ministers or, in some cases, deny or mislead visitors in forming a genuine assessment of their characters.
This investigation of the three Prime Ministers homes will, in due course, lead to an additional analysis devoted to a comparative study of these house museums to several overseas homes of former political leaders who served in public office at the same time as Curtin, Lyons and Chifley. These sites will include, Chartwell, the country home of British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill; Laurier House, the Ottawa home of the Canadian Prime Minister, William Mackenzie King; and the family homes of American Presidents, Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Springwood, in New York State, and the home of President Harry Truman in Missouri. A comparative study of the overseas and Australian political homes will develop an understanding of the importance that house museums play in furthering and shaping public understanding of political leaders in the contexts of home-life and community.
Keywords: House Museums; Public History; Australian Prime Ministers; Joseph Lyons; John Curtin; Ben Chifley