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Ben Chifley’s Pipe

Video clip synopsis – Possibly our best loved Prime Minister, and a former train driver, Ben Chifley was rarely seen without his pipe, as he guided the country through the austere post-war years.
Year of production - 2007
Duration - 5min 27sec
Tags - Australian History, biography, DIY Doco, economy, icons, identity, immigration, national identity, Prime Ministers, World War 2, see all tags


Ben Chifley’s Pipe

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About the Video Clip


Ben Chifley’s Pipe 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


Outcome 7

A student thinks critically and interpretively using information, ideas and increasingly complex arguments to respond to and compose texts in a range of contexts.

This material is an extract. Teachers and students should consult the Board of Studies website for more information.

Background Information


One of the most highly regarded of Australia’s Prime Ministers, Ben Chifley was a former train driver with a voice like worn out boot leather. He was well aware that his image as the typical bloke next door—he was rarely seen without his tobacco pipe—helped to sell an ambitious raft of post-war reconstruction projects to the Australian public. He was also a gifted treasurer, prone to personal and professional thrift, which allowed him to set the stage for Australia’s economic boom in the 1950s.

Chifley became Prime Minister after the death of John Curtin. The war ended soon after, and the great challenge was now changing to a peacetime economy that would create jobs for the returning troops, house the new families they would start, stimulate trade and development, and increase social welfare.

The economy was so active that not only were houses built and jobs found for the 10,000 men who were returning each week, but a massive immigration program was started. Many of the migrants worked on the new Snowy Mountains Hydro-Electricity scheme, with its promise of opening up new areas to irrigated agriculture.

One of the Chifley Government’s main challenges was the threat that inflation would soar in such an economic boom time, as demand outstripped supply. Chifley countered this by maintaining some of the price controls and rationing that had been imposed during the war. He also wanted to give the Commonwealth more power to control the economy, and proposed to do this by taking over the banking system. His attempt to change the Constitution to allow this was defeated in a referendum.

Mistrust over Chifley’s economic policies, plus resentment at continued rationing and controls, led to his defeat in the 1949 election.

Ben Chifley (1885-1951) was Prime Minister of Australia from July 1945 to December 1949. Ben Chifley’s pipe is held at the Ben Chifley Home in Bathurst NSW.

Classroom Activities


Writing a biography

One form of communication about a Prime Minister can be through a biography.

A biography of a Prime Minister should tell us about:

  • The person’s background
  • His life before politics — and how that shaped his later life
  • Why the person entered politics
  • How the person became Prime Minister
  • What the person achieved, and failed to achieve, as Prime Minister
  • The influence of others on him in the role
  • His life after the Prime Ministership
  • An assessment or evaluation of the impact of the role on him, and his impact on the nation.

You should research these aspects, and then use the object as a way of focusing on or introducing your biographical story to your readers.

Your presentation can be as:

  • A journalistic article
  • An imaginary memoir
  • A formal biographical article
  • A PowerPoint-supported oral presentation
  • A debate (e.g. that Prime Minister X contributed more to Australia than Prime Minister Y)
  • Or some other format.

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers

Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography