Good for the Soul launched by National Trust of WA

Good for the Soul John Curtin Kim Beazley National Trust Toby Davidson

On April 13 2022 Good for the Soul: John Curtin's Life with Poetry was launched by Dr Toby Davidson and Governor of Western Australia The Hon Kim Beazley AC with the National Trust of WA. 

In his first days as Prime Minister, John Curtin presented himself to the press as a self-styled intellectual who loved sport and relaxing, when he could, with a book, beach walk, game of cards or fossick in the garden. He also revealed that he enjoyed poetry so much that he held to a Sunday night poetry ritual.

Curtin was Australia’s fourth wartime Prime Minister, Labor's fifth Prime Minister, and the first Prime Minister from a Western Australian electorate. The author, an esteemed scholar and poet, is also his great-grandson.

Photography supplied by the National Trust of Western Australia. From left to right: Julian Donaldson, Josh Wilson MP, Dr Toby Davidson, Governor of Western Australia Hon Kim Beazley AC, and Hon Robert Kucera APM.


Dr Toby Davidson: 'It’s wonderful to finally share this with you all. As Curtin’s great-grandson and a poet myself, writing this book has been a pursuit of both intellectual and personal curiosity.

It’s sometimes said, more often believed, that poetry has no pragmatic value, that poems are word-puzzles simply devised as a result of an excess of cleverness, sentiment or self-indulgence. 

Innocent teenagers are tormented at school with impractical verses which they have to survive to beat the test, before they’re finally freed from poetry forever and can graduate into real life. Poetry doesn’t sell in Australia like it does overseas. Poetry is neither economic, nor rational, nor practical, it won’t secure you a car or a house or a job, and thus – so the conventional wisdom runs – it's absolutely useless in a crisis.  

How then did Australia’s most highly-rated Prime Minister end up quoting British, Australian and American poetry to the public to call them forth during the nation’s greatest-ever military crisis, and how did he end up using poetry to soothe his mind to better deliver his famous wartime leadership? Further, how is it possible that the same Prime Minister recommended that ‘every man should read poetry for the good of his soul?’ and gave speeches expounding the importance of the arts right in the thick of the war?  

The truth is that poetry was integral to Curtin the communicator as well as Curtin the man. Good for the Soul is a rare thing in Australian publishing, a literary biography of a national leader. It exhaustively tracks John Curtin’s life with poetry, from his childhood performance of Sir Walter Scott’s swashbuckling romance ‘Marmion’ in the small Victorian goldfields town of his childhood, to verses composed to honour him after his death in office in July 1945.'

Click here for the full transcript or you can watch it on YouTube.

Good for the Soul by Dr Toby Davidson is available to purchase.

Dr Toby Davidson is an Australian poetry scholar, creator, facilitator and editor. His research interests include Australian, British, Irish and American poetry, the public commemoration of writers and interactions between poetry and Australian politics. Toby is a member of ASAL (Association for the Study of Australian Literature), AAALS (American Association of Australasian Literary Studies) and the North Shore Poetry Project. His archival work as the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library Visiting Scholar led to groundbreaking new research on WWII Prime Minister John Curtin's lifelong engagement with Australian, British, European, Irish and American poetry. This research is the subject of his second critical monograph, Good for the Soul: John Curtin’s Life with Poetry (University of Western Australia Publishing, 2021).

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