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Video clip synopsis – James Scullin inspired the people when he offered to rent out The Lodge during the Depression, but his fierce nationalism is best revealed in his campaign to install an Australian-born Governor General.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 20sec
Tags - Australian History, family life, Great Depression, national identity, politics, Prime Ministers, work, see all tags


James Scullin And The GCMG

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About the Video Clip


James Scullin And The GCMG is an episode from the series The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures, produced in 2007.

The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures
Award winning cartoonist and yarn spinner, Warren Brown, reveals the emotional lives of Australian Prime Ministers through 10 objects they used every day or even adored – from Robert Menzies’ home movie camera, to Joseph Lyons’ love letters, Harold Holt’s briefcase and Ben Chifley’s pipe. These treasures reveal the nation’s leaders, as you have never seen them before.

The Prime Ministers’ National Treasures is a Film Australia National Interest Program produced in association with Old Parliament House and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

Curriculum Focus


Key history outcomes:

  • Citizenship: Preparing young Australians to be active and informed citizens
  • Identity: The diverse and multiple identities of a multicultural nation
  • Perspectives: The continent, the region and the world
  • Thinking and Linking: Connecting the past, present and future
  • Historical literacy: Essential and specific skills

This is an extract only. Go to The National Curriculum Statements for English
Teachers and students should consult their State’s curriculum and learning programs.

Background Information


James Scullin was the manager of a small grocery store who continued to educate himself, and then became a union organiser.

He was elected to Commonwealth Parliament in 1910, lost his seat in 1913, and was re-elected in 1923. He became Australian Labor Party leader in 1928.

Labor won the 1929 election and Scullin became Prime Minister — the first Catholic to do so. Unfortunately, this was also the start of the Depression. One week after Scullin’s electoral victory, the Wall Street stock market crashed, and investors raced to withdraw their investments. Australia depended on foreign loans to support much of its economic activity, so the loss of loan money, together with the need to repay existing debts, and falls in the price of our major agricultural exports, led to huge unemployment as employers had to cut back on their activities.

The new Prime Minister, James Scullin, refused to take up residence in The Lodge. Instead, he offered to rent it out to defray the costs of the Prime Ministership—an act which would be unthinkable today. Scullin had backbone, and even when his mission to appoint an Australian-born Governor-General met with furious opposition from the British Government and Australian public disapproval, he insisted on forwarding the name of only one candidate—Sir Isaac Isaacs. King George V was not amused, but the precedent had been set—in effect the Governor-General was being appointed not by the King but by the Prime Minister— and Isaacs was anointed to the Order of St Michael and St George as Knight Grand Cross (GCMG) and presented with the insignia chain.

James Scullin (1876 -1953) was Prime Minister of Australia from October 1929 to January 1932. The GCMG is held at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

Classroom Activities


1. Interrogating objects

History sometimes involves the study of artifacts — often in a museum, as part of a site study. Objects and artifacts can tell you about a person or a time — but only if you can ‘interrogate’ them to find out what their story is.

Here are questions that you can use on museum objects, such as this one about the Prime Minister, to help reveal the meaning and significance of objects.

  • Describe the object. (Size, shape, materials, function etc.)
  • What does it show? — People? Symbols? Words? If so, who or what are they?
  • What is its context? (Time, place, social group etc.)
  • Who produced it?
  • For what possible purpose/s?
  • Who was it meant for? (Just one person, or a whole audience?)
  • What might it tell us about attitudes and values — that is, those things that people believe are the right way to behave?
  • What does it tell us about how people behaved at the time?

Now write a summary sentence beginning:

‘This object helps me understand or realise that . . . ‘

2. Investigating the Depression experience

During the 1930s Australia was hit by The Depression. What impact did the Depression have on the country and the people?

  1. Ask a range of people what “The Depression” means.
  2. Historian David Potts has recently argued that the ‘myth’ of The Depression — the popular image of terrible suffering that you have probably discovered in your own survey — is not true. It was true for some people for some of the time, but is very much a minority experience.
    If Potts is correct, how was The Depression experienced by Australians? Research this topic looking specifically at whether differences in Australians — whether they lived in cities or the country, whether they were men or women, young or old, working or unemployed, single or family, with support or without, skilled or unskilled — made any difference to The Depression experience.

Potts’ book The Myth of the Great Depression has not been uncritically accepted. Look at the following contrasting reviews

  1. Review by Meighen Katz
  2. Transcript on Perspective ABC Radio National
  3. Review in The Age by Jeff Sparrow

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers
Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography