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Whitlam's dismissal:

The private thoughts of a Governor General

Sir Paul Hasluck revealed that Prime Minister Gough Whitlam never would have been sacked by him if he had remained as Governor General, as Bob Wurth discovered in the archives of the National Library of Australia.

Click on Essays by Bob Wurth, above.

___  __________________________

Discovering a long lost Sydney surf club & a Gallipoli hero


Between military histories, an author can sometimes take a sudden literary diversion, as Bob Wurth explains: 

As junior captain of South Maroubra Surf Club in Sydney in 1963 (below), I stumbled on reference to a South Maroubra Surf Club of 1907-1908. Strange I thought, given that our club at South Maroubra was founded and built in 1959.

Youthful research juices kicked in and as a lad I found enough information to convince me that I was on to something, but when I presented the club committee with the research in 1963, the response was “Why should we recognise them? They were probable just a bunch of drunks.”

But research in 2014 showed that 'they' were or became some of the most distinguished gents ever to form a surf life saving club in Australia. Some would call them the cream of Sydney society.

More than 50 years after that first effort, I rekindled the research at the Mitchell library in Sydney and 'pay dirt!'. I found the minutes of South Maroubra Surf Club 1907-1908 in the E.S. Marks sporting collection of archives, proving beyond doubt that South Maroubra was up there with Australia’s oldest surf clubs.' It’s now the subject of a small illustrated book of 54 pages, Origins of a Surf Club', available from Randwick libraries.

The research also showed that Sgt. Bert Tuck, of Randwick, (pictured) one of the founders of the surf club, a committee man and a competitor, was killed on the second day of the landings at Gallipoli on 26 April 1915.

Read more by clicking on Essays by Bob Wurth, above right.


'Battle for Australia' details UK & US abandonment of

Australia early in WW2

Introduction to Bob Wurth's lecture to the Royal United Services Club of NSW in Sydney:

"I want to address today the first few months of the war with Japan. There are two key issues raised in the book The Battle for Australia which I suggest, some seven decades or so later, take the debate about the Japanese wartime threat to Australia further than we might have previously appreciated.

"Firstly, the evidence indicates that for some months in late 1941 and early 1942 Australia was truly abandoned; primarily by the Mother Country of Great Britain but also, initially, by the United States of America, the nation that in time would come to Australia’s rescue later in 1942.

"This early abandonment was all the more insidious considering Australia’s significant assistance rendered to Britain in the fight against Nazi Germany before and after Japan entered the war in early December 1941.The policy had deeper ramifications than the mere rhetoric of the era emanating from Prime Minister John Curtin and British leader Winston Churchill as they jousted about reinforcements for the Far East and the question of British assistance to Australia; disagreements about which much already has been written. There is evidence not just of disagreement about the extent of the Japanese threat.

Downplaying Japan's threat to Australia

"What I have now discovered is documented confirmation of a more conscious decision by Churchill to significantly downplay the Japanese threat to the people and Government of Australia; this at a time when the British Prime Minister actually believed quite the reverse.

Churchill privately believed that parts of northern Australia would be invaded by Japan in early 1942 and northern bases established. He wasn’t predicting a wholesale invasion of the Australian continent in force. He was, though, expecting invasion of the vulnerable north of Australia. The pretence had potentially perilous implications in 1942 for the security of Australia.

"The second key point in this book The Battle for Australia as I see it is that John Curtin as Australia’s Prime Minister at the start of 1942 was a man on the brink of collapse and that his deeply depressed state surfaced continually during the war years and not just rarely.

Additional material on Curtin’s poor health has come to light. The reality was that Curtin’s depression was so severe that he verged on the edge of a mental and physical collapse, capable at any time of putting a sudden end to his wartime prime ministership."

-  Address to Institute of Oct. 2013.

Bob Wurth gave a similar address in June 2014 to the United Services Institute of Queensland in Brisbane.


A weak nation & a

struggling leader

   In early 1942, Australia lay weak and unprepared as an unprecedented succession of Japanese victories in an arc to the north saw the rampant Imperial Japanese Army and Navy sweep southwards. The Battle for Australia had begun. 

   It was a battle that would be fought in Malaya, Singapore, Sumatra, Java, Borneo, Timor and Ambon and across New Guinea and Papua at places like Rabaul, Port Moresby, Kokoda, Milne Bay and Lae. It quickly spread southward to the skies over northern Australia and to the seas around and near Australia, including the Coral Sea.

 A young Digger on the Kokoda track

   John Curtin was the new leader at this moment of greatest peril. As Curtin rallied the country to a stance of total war, his desperate calls for aid from both Britain - against the obstructiveness of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and the United States, produced consequences that would forever change the balance Australia’s strategic relationships.

   Yet Curtin was also a man mentally and physically on the brink of breakdown at the most crucial times.

   This is Bob Wurth's fifth book on the Asia-Pacific region. His last book with Pan Macmillan was 1942, Australia's greatest peril, which told the story of threat to Australia, often told from the Japanese side, including those who wanted to invade Australia.

   The Battle for Australia, researched in Australia, Singapore, Britain and Japan, is a compelling and revealing history of dangerous days. Out early October.


WA Governor's intense history analysis

His Excellency Malcolm McCusker AC CVO QC Governor of Western Australia

 The Governor of Western Australia, Malcolm McCusker, (pictured) nationally launched The Battle for Australia at the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library, Curtin University, Perth, on 7 November.

In his speech, His Excellency (above) analysed the book from a variety of aspects. At the launch he wholeheartedly commended the book and referred to0 it as 'an insightful political biopgraphy' into Prime Minister John Curtin.

For the Governor's full speech please click on 'News, Views and Reviews' on the tab at the top of this page.


'Well researched' war history revealed

 Janine Hill in the Sunshine Coast Daily, 19 January, 2014, and Northern Star, Lismore..

WELL RESEARCHED: Author Bob Wurth with his fifth book, The Battle for Australia, A Nation And Its Leader At Siege.

Author Bob Wurth with his fifth book, The Battle for Australia. Photo: Brett Wortman

BOB Wurth knew when he wrote his first book about the threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia in 1942 that there was more of a story to tell.

Five years later, he has told it. The Battery Hill author has recently released his fifth book, The Battle for Australia: A nation and its leader under siege.

The book reveals how Britain and briefly the US were prepared to abandon Australia to a Japanese invasion.

At the same time, it explores the pressures on Australian prime minister John Curtin and his struggles with depression.

Mr Wurth said he was encouraged to write the book by David Day, the author of the biography, John Curtin: A Life.

"He said there's still a lot more to be found," Mr Wurth said.

The ex-journalist and former ABC Queensland general manager spent four years researching and writing the book.

His research took him to Japan, Singapore, Cambridge and London to pore over articles, government documents and records that had not seen the light of day for 70 years.

Mr Wurth said a couple of paragraphs in a West Australian newspaper article from the 1940s revealed British prime minister Winston Churchill's real views about a Japanese invasion of Australia.

Churchill's secret admissions

He said Churchill, in closed sessions, admitted Japan was likely to invade parts of Australia, but was publicly saying the opposite, and Curtin knew it but was unable to prove it.

"There was this continuing fight he was having with Churchill, and very good reason for it. He was being snowed, as we call it today," Mr Wurth said.

"He saw Australia as being sacrificed and Churchill was saying it wasn't."

Governor-General Quentin Bryce, in a foreword to Mr Wurth's book, has described it as "a significant addition to the annals of Australian history".

Mr Wurth - whose other books are Justice in the Philippines; Saving Australia; 1942, Australia's Greatest Peril; and Capturing Asia - has another book to write and an idea for another. In his words: "There's still more to be told."


'There's nothing like a good read.'

The Australian, 23 December 2013.

"...Opposition spokesman for the environment Mark Butler liked Bob Wurth's The Battle for Australia about John Curtin's physical and mental struggle during World War II..." 

  - Troy Bramston.


'This is an excellent read'

"The book's wonderful... anyone who wants to get a real grounding in World War history and how our country has been shaped and fought for; this is an exccllent read."- David Wood, Ultra 106.5.

Steve Austin

ABC 612 Brisbane:

""The book  not only focuses on the battles but examines the man who was prime minister at the time, John Curtin, his struggle with his own psychological demons, as well as the enormous pressure of heading the country in wartime."

Exhaustive study of Curtin & war - Books on War review

Australian Author Bob Wurth further investigates the 1942 Battle of Australia with an enlarged study including the Leader of the Australian Nation, John Curtin.

John Curtin was a new PM when Australia was thrust into its 'darkest hour' fighting the Japanese. By early 1942, the Japanese Army and Navy had laid waste to all the fortresses to our north. The Battle of Australia was underway with the Darwin air attacks sounding the alarm bells through the corridors of Canberra.

Apart from the Battles, Wurth looks at the impact of PM Curtin's failing health. It would be a long hard Battle fought in the countries to our north Malaya, Singapore, what is now Indonesia, Borneo, Timor and Ambon, and New Guinea. A large exhaustive study by the author following on from his previous book, 1942: Australia's Greatest Peril.

  • Capturing Asia The Battle for Australia,
    a nation and its leader under siege

    Bob Wurth's latest book has won first prize for non-fiction in the National Literary Awards with a searching study of the stresses of John Curtin and the wartime leader's efforts to protect a militarily weak Australia temporarily abandoned by her allies.

    >> read more

  • Capturing Asia Capturing Asia

    An ABC cameraman's journey through momentous events and turbulent history. 
     The amazing story of Willie Phua of Singapore.   

    >> read more

  • 1942 Australia’s greatest peril 1942 Australia’s greatest peril

    The imminent threat of a Japanese invasion of Australia in the first months of 1942. "This is a story that all Australians should read" - historian David Day.
    read more

  • Saving Australia Saving Australia

    The story of the relationship between Prime Minister John Curtin and Japan’s wartime envoy to Australia, Tatsuo Kawai, and their secret peace efforts in 1941.
    read more

  • Justice in the Phillipines Justice in the Philippines

    The saga of Father Brian Gore and his colleagues charged with mass murder during the Marcos era.
    read more

'No ordinary history book'

  Historian Major General Gordon Maitland (rtd.), who served in World War Two, writes:

   "This is no ordinary Australian history book and every Australian owes to himself or herself to read it.

   "Only now, 70 years after the momentous events of the Second World War that the book describes¸ is the full balanced story able to be read.  It is quite a different story from that foisted on the Australians for all those 70 years... after reading the book you will never again regard Curtin as Australia’s perfect war time leader."

  National literary award (below):

" important contribution to Australian historiography..." 


Battle for Australia’ wins first prize in national literary award

 The Battle for Australia published by Pan Macmillan has won Bob Wurth first prize for Excellence in Non-Fiction in the National Literary Awards of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Melbourne.

The judges said in part: “The Battle for Australia makes an important contribution to Australian historiography. Well researched and beautifully written this outstanding book adds much to our understanding of Prime Minister John Curtin and Australia's role in World War Two. It is a very worthy winner.”

The award and the $1,000 prize were presented at a FAW function in Melbourne in April 2014.

The judges highly commended Malcolm Knox for his book ‘Boom: The underground history of Australia from gold rush to GFC, published by Viking (Penguin Books). Commended was Iain McCalman’s book, The Reef: A passionate history, also by Viking.


Bob Wurth receives his award from Gail Blundell of the Fellowship of Australian Writers in Melbourne.



Foreword to The Battle for Australia

by the then Governor General:


In his fifth book, Bob Wurth has turned his attention to the history of Australia and its political leadership in the dark days of World War Two.

Here we find the compelling story of a leader fraught with anxiety and a nation in peril. John Curtin is depicted with all his human frailties – a man weighed down by physical and emotional illness, while being only too aware of the immensity of the military threat faced by Australia in 1942.

Few men would have been so tested as Curtin was during that time. Yet for all the heartache he endured, what shone through were his courage and vision. His foresight in appreciating that we could no longer depend on the United Kingdom for our national security led to his announcement of “an outstanding departure from Australia’s international relations that would ring through future decades” – the alliance with the United States of America that remains the cornerstone of Australia’s strategic and defence policy settings to this day.

The carefully researched content of this book fills an important gap in our knowledge of this critical period of Australian history. For, seventy years after the bombing of Darwin and the invasion of New Guinea, we are still learning about what happened and just how beleaguered we were.

The Battle for Australia is also an outstanding political biography. The portrait of Curtin is evoked with drama and sympathy, and there is a fascinating counterpoint with Churchill that gives us new perspectives on the leadership of the time.

This is a significant addition to the annals of Australian history. I congratulate Bob Wurth on a scholarly but eminently readable book.

   - Quentin Bryce, AC CVO, Governor General of the Commonwealth of Australia, 2013.


Churchill thought Japan would make bases in north Australia

 Winston Churchill thought Japan would attempt to establish bases in northern Australia, according to evidence produced in The Battle for Australia.

Churchill said there was no doubt that the Japanese would do its utmost to threaten and alarm Australia and “to establish lodgements and bases on the northern part of Australia” in order to lock up Allied forces on the continent.

 According to The Battle for Australia, the British prime minister was speaking on 23 April 1942 to a closed and secret session of the House of Commons in London.  Churchill’s secret comments came months after the British leader had repeatedly disparaged and ridiculed fears of a Japanese invasion being expressed by Australian Prime Minister John Curtin

 Bob Wurth also discovered, from Royal records kept at Windsor Castle, that Churchill had told King George VI (below) at Buckingham Palace of his own fears of an invasion of Australia, when he earlier said on 24 February 1942:  “Burma, Ceylon, Calcutta and Madras in India, and part of Australia, may fall in to enemy hands.” 

Click on the first small book cover at top of the page for more information on

The Battle for Australia.



 John Curtin's depression:

Planning for when the music stops


  - Jeff  Kennett  writing  for  the  Herald Sun,  Melb.,  Feb.  5,  2014.

John Curtin Curtin died in office from absolute exhaustion and the inability to take sufficient time off from work to recover...

Herald Sun: John Curtin died in office from absolute

exhaustion and the inability to take sufficient time off

from work to recover his good health. 

Photo source: News Limited.

 "I FINISHED reading last week a wonderful book by Australian author

Bob Wurth titled The Battle for Australia.

It is a highly researched book about how prime minister John Curtin handled the leadership of Australia at what was perhaps its most critical time, the Second World War. At times Curtin was, through his oratory, magnificent, but at times the job simply overwhelmed him. As a result of a life hard lived, and many recurring illnesses, including bouts of depression, he had to hand over the leadership of the country to his deputy, Frank Ford.

Interestingly, the cause of much of Curtin's mental anguish was the way Winston Churchill, prime minister of the United Kingdom, with whom Curtin corresponded almost on a daily basis, treated Curtin's requests for military assistance and the return of Australian servicemen fighting in the Middle East to defend our coastline with almost disdain.

Churchill, perhaps more so than Curtin, was tortured by serious depressive illness throughout his life, including when directing the conduct of the war.

Curtin, sadly, died in office on July 5, 1945, from absolute exhaustion and the inability to take sufficient time off from work to recover his good health. The Japanese, the source of so much of his pain and anxiety, surrendered two months later.

Photo: Jeff Kennett.

Depressive illnesses can affect anyone at any time. Some, with help, can manage their illness, but many who do not seek professional help often only compound their problems until in many cases they simply break down.

This week we were confronted with the news that Ian Thorpe has been admitted to hospital. Sadly, he is just the latest in a long line of sportsmen and women who suffer depressive illnesses.

Be assured for every Ian Thorpe, Grant Hackett and any other sports person you have heard of experiencing a depressive illness, there are dozens, maybe hundreds, who suffer in silence, many not seeking help, or not getting public attention because they never reached the heights of success of an Ian Thorpe.

Many factors contribute to a sports person's depressive condition. Expectations from an early age from family, coaches and themselves. Then expectations from a club and the public.

But there is another factor that I think has seriously added to the number of athletes suffering anxiety and depression while involved in their sports and when they hit the brick wall when their sporting careers end.

Sport today has become so professional, the monetary rewards so tempting, that once a junior athlete is identified with talent, they are increasingly placed in an artificial cocoon; where their sporting code or club increasingly looks after their every need.

Sporting analogies


Not long ago, athletes held down a normal day job. They stayed in touch with their friends and progressively learnt skills that would carry them through life when their sporting days were completed. Today, for most, all of that is lost when an athlete boards the treadmill of success.

We can't turn the clock back and lessen the professionalism of sport but we can insist academic or trade training be a compulsory part of any sporting contract.

This will help athletes have a better balance in their lives, help prepare them for life after sport and give them a better understanding of their worth to society when the merry-go-round of sport stops, often so abruptly.

This will not help every individual but it will certainly help.

Sadly, for many when the music stops, their generally inflated salaries stop, they have no qualification, or time-earnt experience, and they simply cannot handle the transition.

In AFL football, and at Hawthorn where I can speak with some authority and knowledge, we have a welfare officer employed to help young men deal with stress and expectation. We insist all players involve themselves in some serious educational training.

This certainly does not apply in all sports, and it should. The leadership of all sports and clubs must see that young athlete as a member of their family. It is part of the duty of care that boards and officials should accept as a serious part of their responsibilities.

Beyondblue has many sporting partnerships. We try and educate athletes and their administrations about stress, expectations, anxiety and depression. We try to leave the message that it is all right to seek help if an individual has issues with stress or worse. We try to spread the message that we should not discriminate against people who do have issues, but encourage them to seek help to return to good health as quickly as possible.

But it is also about addressing a culture we have allowed to develop where professionalism and success have often become more important than an individual's welfare, where many administrators think their sole purpose is to deliver success.

Not so. Their responsibility extends to the welfare of all and does not start when a person's career is about to finish but when a child is ushered into their cocoon.

Churchill or Curtin, Thorpe or Hackett, all are entitled to have their lives respected, and be educated and assisted to lead fulfilling lives."

Jeff Kennett is a former premier of Victoria.


  John Curtin, a flawed & stressed war leader

Photo: Curtin at a loan rally at Martin Place Sydney. Fairfax, The Sydney Morning Herald of 18 February 1942.

 A prime minister stranded on the

Nullarbor as Japan moves southwards


Bob Wurth on Curtin's depression and Churchill on the Japanese threat...

            Research into The Battle for Australia has revealed new information on Prime Minister John Curtin, specifically Prime Minister Winston's Churchill's real thoughts about the importance of the war in the Pacific and also on the chances of a Japanese invasion of northern Australia. The book also closely examines Curtin's ongoing depression during the war.

    The persona of Prime Minister John Curtin as the resolute Australian war leader thundering in demand of a greater war effort and guiding the nation to victory over Japan is imperfect. Curtin did successfully rally Australians. But the picture of the leader in control is flawed and so was the man.

   There are other images of Curtin in the book which are equally accurate; visions of Curtin wrapped in a rug, nerves on edge, energy sapped, deeply brooding in the dark of his temperance hotel room. Or of the national leader in January 1942 fleeing from the centre of the nation’s defence operations in Melbourne at one of the most critical times of his prime ministership in January 1942 to take a slow train home to Western Australia to rest, in what one wartime army officer called ‘sheer desertion’.

[Curtin, left, pictured with a secretary in one of the luxury carriages he used when crossing the Nullarbor by train (right). Curtin photo: JCPML.]


   And the spectre of the nation’s war leader on his way home stranded by floodwaters in the barren wilderness of the Nullarbor connected to the world only by the dots and dashes of a railway Morse code, while the Australian territory of Rabaul in New Guinea fell that day to a massive Japanese invasion and as the defence of Malaya crumbled.

   Or Curtin, on 17 February 1942, two days after the fall of Singapore, addressing a huge rally in Sydney’s Martin Place, (pictured at top), virtually shouting at the throng, warning ‘our fighting forces stand between us and the invasion of our country’. The masked image is that the Prime Minister is in acute pain, close to collapse and within the hour will be in St Vincent’s hospital with nervous strain, a Perth newspaper accurately reporting Curtin ‘overcome temporarily by the weight of war responsibility’.

   How accurate that report turns out to be. Behind the façade of the war leader is the black dog of depression, afflicting Curtin since his younger years as a campaigner against military conscription in the First World War. Yet ironically the image of Curtin as the formidable war leader is also at the same time uncannily accurate. 

The imagery of Curtin rarely changes: the man tensely monitoring the great battles to keep Japan from Australia’s
door. Even when the tide turned, and his party won re-election in 1943, his anxiety was unrelieved. He was burdened by a difficult Cabinet team with only a few good men around him whom he could count on. Basically, Curtin's depression and anxiety during the war was constant and ongoing.


Terry Sweetman in The Sunday Mail, Brisbane:


 'Churchill’s duplicity' & 'new insights on invasion threat'

"...Bob Wurth has given us new insights into the gap between the fears and the facts when it came to a Japanese invasion, the quality of our national leadership, the fragility of some of our military assumptions, and the duplicitous differences between the loyal assurance of Winston Churchill gave us and his private denigration of the Pacific conflict as the 'lesser war'". – The Sunday Mail, 10 Nov. 2013.


'Page turner' & one for history buffs


"Page turner. History fans will devour this story about Australia's fight for survival in the darkest days of the Second World War…” – Sunshine Coast Daily & The Gympie Times, Qld.

 Insight into our leader in dark days - The Senior

"FORMER ABC foreign correspondent Bob Wurth tells the story of Australia’s fight for survival in World War II and gives an insight into the man who led us through those dark days in The Battle for Australia: A nation and its leader under siege.

"The book is also the story of Prime Minister John Curtin who Wurth describes as “far from the perfect leader” who “nevertheless successfully did the job that Australia needed...

“He was ‘for Australia’ when it mattered and when some other Australians, influenced by thoughts of Empire or of self-indulgence, frankly weren’t,” he writes. - The Senior.

Hear Bob Wurth interviewed by David Wood, Ultyra 106.5 FM. Click below:

Hear Bob Wurth interviewed by Steve Austin on 612 Brisbane:

Hear Bob Wurth interviewed on ABC CoastFM by Jasmin Midgley:

Bob Wurth addressed the Royal United Services Institute of NSW in Sydney with a lecture on the Battle for Australia on October 29, 2013.

John and Elsie Curtin at the Lodge. This is the last photo of Prime Minister John Curtin before his death in 1945.