This is a printer friendly page
Free for educational use
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, politics, Prime Ministers, World War 2, see all tags


Ben Chifley’s Pipe

How to Download the Video Clip

To download a free copy of this Video Clip choose from the options below. These require the free Quicktime Player.

download clip icon Premium MP4 chifley_pr.mp4 (40.2MB).

ipod icon Broadband MP4 chifley_bb.mp4 (19.0MB), suitable for iPods and computer downloads.

Additional help.

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


Students learn about:

Visions for post-war Australia

  • the Labor Party and its vision for post-war Australia
  • creation of the Liberal Party and its vision for post-war Australia
  • reasons for the defeat of the Labor government in 1949
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


The 1949 election

Why did Chifley lose the 1949 election?

To answer this you need to research to discover:

  1. What were the Labor Party’s main policies?
  2. What were the Liberal Party’s main policies?
  3. How the issues, the parties and the leaders were represented in the press and by cartoonists
  4. The nature of Australian society at that time.

Chifley said that he was defeated because the Australian people did not trust him. Would you agree with that assessment, or would you suggest some alternative explanation of his defeat?

Further Resources


Go to National Archives of Australia – Australian Prime Ministers

Go to John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library

Go to the Australian Dictionary of Biography