The Chifleys of Busby Street

Australian Workers Film Guide


An eloquent and moving tribute to Ben Chifley, the humble engine driver who would become Australian Prime Minister from 1945 to 1949. Having a profound influence on the nation’s postwar period and famous for his “Light on the Hill” parliamentary speech, Chifley was admired by many as a working class hero and a man of the people – especially by the people of Bathurst, his hometown in country New South Wales.

While the film briefly covers some of Chifley’s celebrated political and policy achievements, the central focus is on Chifley the man, his humanistic values and his relationships with those around him and in the community.

The story is subtly conveyed by reflections, memories and anecdotes from a wide range of friends, relatives, colleagues, staff and numerous members of the public. Chifley’s humanity is exemplified by one Bathurst anecdote, in which a local petitioner visits the Chifley residence only to be told that the Prime Minister was in the bath – where Chifley was happy to hear his complaint. His revered status is expressed through ordinary places and objects made sacred, such as a gifted smoking pipe, or the modest home he lived in with his wife in Bathurst.

The film covers Chifley’s childhood years, his work as an engine driver and role in the 1917 Great Strike, his mixed religion marriage, his political and public community service, his lonely years away from Bathurst as Prime Minister, as well as his passing. The film concludes with the ongoing saga to have Chifley’s locomotive engine restored and returned to Bathurst. There is also a cursory look at some of Chifley’s political failures, such as bank nationalisation and the 1949 Coal Strike, which saw the Prime Minister betray miners by sending troops into the mines.

Due to a shortage of historical footage of Chifley, the film is interspersed with excerpts from the play The Local Man, in which Chifley is played by Tony Barry. The filmmakers also sought to reduce mediation as far as possible by avoiding the use of experts and excessive use of archive, since “People’s History” is best told as personal and community memories as understood and remembered. [1] According to the filmmakers, the film is not ‘a partisan political film’, but rather a film about a man whose values should have relevance for any politician. The kind of values that are above politics and winning elections, small town ‘altruistic values of looking after one’s neighbours and caring for those who are “less fortunate” in the community.’ As articulated by the filmmakers, the film is permeated by a nostalgia for a time when these values were considered  important. [2]

[1] Pike A. & McLachlan R. (n.d.) The Making of the Chifleys of Busby Street, Ronin Films [website], viewed Jan 23, 2023 <>

[2] ibid.

Special Notes/Achievements

The Local Man, play written by Bob Ellis and Robin McLachlan.

  • Official selection – Dungog Film Festival (Aust), 2009
  • Official selection – Brisbane International Film Festival (Aust), 2008
  • Official selection – Hall’s Gap Film Festival (Aust), 2008
  • Canberra Critics’ Circle Award for Film (Aust), 2009

Author: J Bird, 2023

Duration: 72 mins

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Film Producer: Andrew Pike, Harriet Pike, Robin McLachlan,

Film Writer: Andrew Pike, Robin McLachlan,

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