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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 - art, artistic manipulation, Australian History, biography, DIY Doco, economy, icons, identity, immigration, media, national identity, politics, Prime Ministers, representations, 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


Principal focus
Through the study of Joseph Benedict Chifley, students gain an understanding of the role of this personality in a period of national or international history.

Students learn about:

  1. Historical context
    – the Labor movement in Australia in the first half of the twentieth century
    – the struggle for social equity: from the Great War to post–World War II
  2. Background
    – family background and education
    – engine driver and trade union official
  3. Rise to prominence
    – from Member of Federal Parliament to Treasurer
    – role as Prime Minister
    – role as Opposition leader
  4. Significance and evaluation
    – Chifley’s vision for a post–World War II Australia
    – the Snowy Mountains Scheme, post-war immigration, Trans Australian Airlines (TAA), and proposed bank nationalisation
    – evaluation: for example politician, true believer?
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


1. Visual representations

Chifley’s pipe was a characteristic feature of him. Look at almost any cartoon, and many photographs, and you will probably see Chifley holding or smoking a pipe.

The images we see are visual representations of a person. These can be made to be realistic/neutral, positive or negative.

Look at the way cartoonist Warren Brown has caricatured this Prime Minister. Is it neutral, positive or negative?

Compare this with other representations and decide whether they are neutral, positive or negative:

Then see if you can create a representation — neutral, positive or negative — of some aspect of the Prime Minister that you have discovered.

2. Researching national programs

Prime Minister Chifley was associated with several important national achievements, and some failed ones.

You could research as a small group and make a class presentation on one of:

  • The Snowy Mountains scheme
  • The mass migration program after World War 2
  • The nationalization of the banks

For each you should report on:

  • What it was
  • Why it was significant
  • Who supported/opposed it
  • How the PM made it happen/failed to make it happen
  • The consequences
  • Whether each would be able to be done today

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