Ben Chifley (1885 – 1951) was a railway engine-driver who became Australia’s best-loved Prime Minister in 1945. He was a politician who lived by principles of compassion and concern for his fellow Australians. His philosophy and example have never been more relevant than in the political arena of today. As Prime Minister and Treasurer, he had a profound effect on the path of Australian history following World War Two, and many advantages enjoyed in our society that we take for granted today are the product of his vision.
This film is an exercise in “People’s History”: an attempt to find and share the communal memory of Ben and his wife, Elizabeth, that lives on in their hometown of Bathurst, New South Wales. Chifley’s extraordinary compassion and idealism are still treasured 50 years after his death. In Bathurst, stories about the Chifleys are treasured memories, valued almost as family heirlooms to be passed on from generation to generation. Simple, everyday artefacts - a tea cosy or an old pipe - can carry a special meaning. Similarly, places which seem “ordinary” but are associated with the Chifleys, such as their simple terrace home on Busby Street or the railway community meeting hall where Ben studied and taught, have strong meaning. In this film, the stories and memories of over 50 friends, neighbours and colleagues contribute to an emotional and eloquent portrait of a remarkable community and a national leader.
"This film is a celebration of the life of perhaps our best-loved prime minister, told through the reflections of his friends and acquaintances (mainly those from his home town, Bathurst, where he lived in modest circumstances even during his leadership), as well as his relatives and staff. They reveal him to be a man of rare humility for one who reached the pinnacle of political power, an especially moving disclosure in this age of media-driven hubris. Director Andrew Pike dedicates his film to his father, 'my Chifley'. He does not attempt an in-depth analysis of Chifley's place in politics or his successes and failures, the complexities of which are best left to political biographies (of which there are now two on Chifley) preferring to provide only a necessary outline of his career. What it does convey is something of the man, and the relationships, behind the public image. That the two merge seamlessly, in what is almost 'another country', is the measure of a very different era. Included are excerpts from A Local Man, the play based on Chifley's life; the film's genesis was in the realisation that only a few minutes exist of Chifley on film, the case with all prime ministers prior to Robert Menzies, whose time in power straddled television's first decade. The Chifleys of Busby Street is a fitting redressing of the balance."
- Program notes, 2008 Brisbane International Film Festival.