Bookcases made by Abraham Needham

In 1917, when they arrived in Perth to live with John and Elsie Curtin, Abraham and Annie Needham’s large collection of books was merged with that of the Curtins. Abraham made the book cases. In the Jarrad Street house they were set up in the newly converted lounge room after the Curtins enclosed the back verandah to make a new kitchen. Elsie, her mother Annie, and young Elsie were also keen readers. Elsie, however, was busy most evenings reading the local newspapers and collecting relevant items for the cutting books that would keep John up to date with Western Australian news.

A black and white image of John Curtin reading in an armchair with bookcases behind hiim.

Photo: JCPML, Curtin University

The family’s joint library was wide-ranging, but it included many books on economics, a subject on which Curtin read often. He belonged to several libraries as well. John Francis Curtin later recalled that  ‘when he was in parliament he had access to the parliamentary library and he’d bring a suitcase of books, for the break-up of parliament, to do him for a couple of months.’

Such lengthy stays in Perth were curtailed after the onset of World War II in 1939, and further reduced when Curtin became prime minister in October 1941.