Ben Chifley sculpture

Ben Chifley sculpture, Chifley Square, public art

Public Art : Ben Chifley sculpture

Sculptor: © Simeon Nelson

Sculptor's Website:

Description: An enormous 9m tall cartoon like drawing of the former Labor Prime Minister of Australia from 1945 - 1949, Ben Chifley. The sculpture was cut from two flat sheets of stainless steel and separated by a truss to give it a two dimensional look. The sculpture is bolted to a concrete block buried 30 cm underneath the square. The image was inspired by a grainy photo of Chifley taken during a photo op with of British Prime Minister Atlee’s cabinet in 1947 and includes his signature hand in pocket and smoking pipe .

Date Unveiled: 1997

Commissioned By: The Sydney City Council in association with Hassell architects.

Location: The Chifley sculpture is located in Chifley Square next to Chifley Tower, Sydney, Australia.

So Who Was Ben Chifley? : Chifley was an Australian politician and the 16th Prime Minister of Australia.

Joseph Benedict "Ben" Chifley was born in Bathurst, New South Wales on the 22nd September, 1885. His father was a blacksmith of Irish Roman Catholic descent.

At the age of 15 he joined the New South Wales Railways and became an engine driver.

He was one of the founders of the AFULE (the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen) and became an active member of the Labor Party.

In 1914 he married Elizabeth Mackenzie, a staunch Presbyterian despite Chifley remaining a practising Catholic. This non-Catholic union ignited criticism amongst certain Roman Catholic circles.

In 1928 Chifley won the seat of Macquarie in the House of Representatives and in 1931 he became Minister for Defence in the Scullin Government.

At the 1931 general election, the Scullin government was defeated in a landslide and Chifley lost his seat. I would take another 9 years to win it back and become Treasurer (finance minister) in John Curtin's Labor government.  This role, during a war time, made him very unpopular.

On 5 July 1945 Curtin died, becoming the only Prime Minister to die at The Lodge and the second while in office. Frank Forde became temporary Prime Minister for 8 days before Chifley defeated him in a leadership ballot.

With the war ended Chifley had to face Robert Menzies and his new Liberal Party in the 1946 elections. Despite his upopular wartime economic controls, Chifley was re-elected and continued these controls.

Under Chifley, the Labor government began implementing greater intervention and planning in economic and social affairs. These policies included better conditions in the workplace, full employment, and an improvement in the equalisation of wealth, income and opportunity. Basically they were pushing for democratic socialism. The government also introduced a number of social welfare initiatives including fairer pensions and unemployment, sickness benefits and the construction of new universities and technical colleges.

Due to Chifley's radical reforming nature between 1946 and 1949, the Australian Parliament passed 299 Acts.

In 1949, a bitter coal strike and Cold War hysteria were contributing factors to the fall of the Chifley government and the rise of Robert Menzie and the Liberal Party.

On the 19th of December 1949 Chifley died from a heart attack in his room at the Kurrajong Hotel in Canberra. Chifley had chosen to live in the hotel having refused to reside at The Lodge whilst he was Prime Minister.

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