Australia’s sixteenth prime minister, Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley, was born on this day, 22 September 1885.
Chifley was born in Bathurst, the son of a blacksmith. An engine driver by trade, he was one of the founders of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen. He became the member for Macquarie in the House of Representatives in 1928. Following the death of John Curtin, Chifley became Prime Minister after a party ballot and was in power from 1945 to 1949. During this time he was considered a radical social reformer and a supporter of scientific and technical research and advancements.
Chifley’s noted achivements include the passing of legislation to enable Australia’s universal public health system, the establishment of Australian citizenship, a number social benefits programmes and the instigation of the Snowy Mountains Scheme.
Ben Chifley died of a heart attack on 13 June 1951 in Canberra. He has been memorialised many times including the naming of the suburbs of Chifley in Sydney and Canberra, Chifley Library at the Australian National University and Chifley Tower and Chifley Square in Sydney. In Chifley Square, there is a large statue of him which Sydneysiders have dubbed ‘Big Ben’.
The photograph above was taken by noted Australian press photographer and photojournalist Sam Hood. The Library acquired many of the negatives of the Hood collection from his family in 1973. Sam Hood’s son Ted assisted the Library in identifying many of the unnamed people in places in the images in the 1990s. The full image (digital order no. hood_11855) above features two Labor politicians, and Ted’s caption is simply ‘I think one on left is Ben Chifley’.