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John Curtin’s great grandson a guest scholar at Curtin University

Media release

Four generations of a famous Australian family will be connected through poetry later this month, when Dr Toby Davidson delivers the John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library (JCPML) Visiting Scholar Lecture at Curtin University.

Dr Toby Davidson

Dr Davidson, 37, an award-winning poet and Australian literature lecturer from Macquarie University in Sydney, shares a love of poetry with his great-grandfather John Curtin.

And although there is no evidence that Australia’s wartime Prime Minister fancied himself as a poet, Dr Davidson says it is clear that poetry influenced some of his most important speeches.

Dr Davidson’s lecture will be entitled “Good For The Soul: John Curtin’s Life With Poetry”.

“I wouldn’t say that poetry made up the majority of his book collection but the amount of poetry is still significant,” Dr Davidson said.

“It’s been fascinating to go through the collection. His copy of Dante’s Inferno, for example, has a lot of notations but isn’t directly referenced in his speeches.

“Other books in the collection haven’t been as marked up but you can definitely see where they have influenced speeches.

“It’s also clear that people knew he liked poetry. In 1944 and 1945, when he was ailing, people sent him anthologies of poetry, I think in the hope that it would soothe him a bit.”

Dr Davidson, who arrived at Curtin University on 15 April and will be a guest scholar at the JCPML until 30 April, says he is accustomed to seeing his great-grandfather’s name and likeness around the Bentley Campus.

But speaking about his life – and studying within the library named in his honour – is a new experience.

“I started coming to the JCMPL lectures as a teenager – I remember seeing Gough Whitlam, Paul Keating, Natasha Stott Despoja and Hazel Hawke speak,” Dr Davidson said.

“I do often get asked if that’s a bit surreal but really it’s just part of our family’s life.

“To actually be giving a lecture of my own though, as part of the JCPML – that’s completely different.”

The JCMPL Visiting Scholar Lecture will take place on 30 April.