Joseph Benedict Chifley, known to friends and public alike as Ben or Chif, was born on 22 September 1885. Elizabeth Gibson McKenzie, Lizzie to friends, was born on 1 August 1886. Both were Bathurst-born, Elizabeth only metres from No.10 Busby Street.
Following childhood on his grandfather’s farm, Ben joined the railways at 17 and by 24 was its youngest first-class locomotive driver. A family tradition of Labor politics soon saw young Ben active in the Locomotive Enginemen’s Association.
There was time though to court and then marry on 6 June 1914 Elizabeth McKenzie. His marriage to a Presbyterian presented Ben, a Catholic, with lifelong difficulties with his Church. Elizabeth’s illness early in the marriage meant there were to be no children. Fond of children, the couple gave special attention to nephews and nieces.
Demoted to engine cleaner for his part in the 1917 railway strike, Ben became ever more involved with politics. He began a study of economics, which would result in a philosophy tempered with an understanding of the needs of ordinary people. His decision to enter parliamentary politics was a natural step. While always supportive, Elizabeth preferred to keep apart from the political hurly-burly.
Ben Chifley was elected in 1928 as the Labor candidate for Macquarie (which included Bathurst). The 1930s unleashed a bitter Labor faction war, the cost of which for Chifley was the loss of his seat and a decade of political frustration. One achievement was his election in 1933 to Abercrombie Shire Council, in which shire his home was located.
Chifley regained his parliamentary seat in the 1940 election and held it continuously thereafter. Chifley gained wide respect for his capable handling of Australia’s wartime economy as treasurer in Curtin’s government (1941-45).
Following Curtin’s death in July 1945, Chifley became party leader and Prime Minister. Returned in the 1946 election, Chifley embarked on an ambitious program that shaped postwar Australia with increased immigration and improved social welfare as well as promotion of industrial and scientific development. Accomplishments included the Snowy Mountains Scheme and the Holden motorcar. Some policies, however, stirred controversy, for example the use of troops to break the coal miners’ strike. Labor was defeated by Menzies’ Liberal-Country Party coalition in 1949. Chifley became leader of the Opposition.
The house on Busby Street remained his quiet retreat during Ben Chifley’s years in Parliament. He tried to make it home for the weekend at least once every fortnight. An evening phone call home was a daily ritual when Ben was in Canberra.
Ben Chifley suffered a fatal heart attack in his Canberra hotel room on 13 June 1951. He was given a State Funeral in Bathurst. Elizabeth continued to live in their home until her death there on 9 September 1962. Ben and Elizabeth are buried separately in Bathurst Cemetery in the Catholic and Presbyterian sections.