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Born and raised in Bathurst, Ben Chifley was one of Australia's most respected prime ministers, highly regarded by people from all political viewpoints. Chifley held the office from July 1945 to December 1949.

Ben Chifley spent much of his childhood living with his paternal grandfather on a farm outside Bathurst where he was exposed to the world of bush politics as well as witnessing the devastation of the Depression which swept Australia in the late 1890s.

At 17 Chifley joined the NSW Railways. He climbed the ranks to become a locomotive driver at 26 - the youngest man to do so.

In 1914 Chifley married Elizabeth McKenzie the daughter of a fellow engine driver. Unfortunately they had no children and although Elizabeth suffered ill health she survived her husband. She was renowned in her own right for her work in the community.

The bitter experience of the Great Railway Strike of 1917 and Chifley's involvement with his union led him to federal politics. He won the seat of Macquarie in 1928 and in 1929 joined the Scullin Government.  He was appointed Minister for Defence in 1931 but lost his seat when the Government was defeated in December that year.

During his time out of parliament he continued to serve on the Bathurst District Hospital Board and was a director of the local newspaper 'The National Advocate'.  

In 1940 Chifley won back his seat and became Treasurer in John Curtin's government. When Curtin died in July 1945, one month before the end of World War II, he was initially succeeded by Frank Forde but in a leadership ballot Chifley replaced him as leader of the party becoming Australia's 16th Prime Minister.  While in this position he retained his position as Treasurer and continued to serve as a councillor on Abercrombie Shire Council.

As prime minister Chifley played a leading role in Australia's post war reconstruction during a time of great social change. In June 1949 he addressed the Annual NSW Labor Conference in an inspirational speech which has become known as the 'Light on the Hill'. Hear his speech recreated by well known Australian actor Tony Barry who played the part of Ben Chifley in the production 'A Local Man'.

His government was responsible for founding the Snowy Mountain Hydro Electric Scheme, Qantas and TAA airlines, the Joint Coal Board, the Stevedoring Commission, the Australian National Shipping Line, reorganising and enlarging the CSIRO, the Australian National University and many programmes providing opportunities for returning servicemen.

Chifley's government lost the 1949 election after a prolonged and bitter coal strike and an attempt to nationalise the banks. Ben Chifley made his final address on 10 June 1951:

"I can no longer be called a young radical, but if I think a thing is worth fighting for, no matter what the penalty is, I will fight for the right, and truth and justice will prevail."

In late 1950 Ben Chifley suffered a severe heart attack but despite his ill health he refused to retire from politics.  On the night of 13 June 1951, while working in his modest room at the Hotel Kurrajong in Canberra, he had a second massive and fatal heart attack.

Ben Chifley is remembered as a warm and humorous man relishing a good joke or story. He was unpretentious, at ease with people from all walks of life and remains one of Bathurst's favourite sons.  The Bathurst branch of the Australian Labor Party commemorates this great man at its annual 'Light on the Hill' dinner inviting prominent Party members as guest speakers.

Find out more about one of the country's most highly regarded prime ministers.