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Carr’s Column – Chifley House

September 3, 2010

At a 1940s radio in the new interpretative centre at the Chifley Home, Bathurst.

After addressing planners in Bathurst I made the pilgrimage to the Chifley home in Busby street of which I am patron. Bathurst Council has turned the attached next-door-residence, identical to the Chifley home, into an interpretive centre. This is terrific news. It means Bathurst has a quality house museum; one of only three house museums of Australian Prime Ministers (the others are those of Lyons and Curtin). And the Chifley home is now a teaching resource invaluable for what it says about Australia in the 1940s and about the former Prime Minister and Labor leader.  

Thinking of Chifley: he is remembered for his “Light on the Hill” speech but deserves to be commemorated for more than Party Conference rhetoric. He was an economic moderniser. He committed the federal government for the first time to policies that would deliver full employment. He believed in balanced budgets and restraint in spending – Fin Crisp’s biography is full of examples that confirm this truth – and he was prepared to stand firm against a politically-motivated, strategically-disastrous miner’s strike largely because he believe in controlling costs. He wanted a low inflation economy to give effect to his dreams of industrialisation. Chifley and his predecessor John Curtin fit within a strong Labor tradition of sound fiscal and economic management. It’s as much a part of the ALP ethos as anything else.  

Chifley once said he’d rather have Mr. Menzies education than a million pounds. That to me sums up the yearning of gifted sons of the working class for equality of opportunity, an equality that the old Australia never conferred on them. His self education, of course, was a remarkable achievement for a boy denied schooling while he was made to work on a farm, and a man who slaved away as a shift worker on steam trains.  

His hero status stands intact.

One Comment
  1. Matt Burke permalink
    September 5, 2010 1:17 pm

    Great blog here.

    Chifley was the most thouroughly decent Prime Minister we have ever had. I love the humanity he brought into office. You can see the weight his conscience played on the difficult decisions he made. For Chifley, the human impacts of his decisions were never abstract.

    His legacy is one of the reasons I’m a member of the Labor Party, and his story and legacy continues to inspire.

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