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The Chifleys Of Busby Street

Australia 2008
Directed by
Andrew Pike
74 minutes
Rated G

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars

The Chifleys Of Busby Street

Synopsis: A portrait of Ben Chifley, Prime Minister of Australia from 1945 to 1949.

There is nothing flash about Andrew Pike’s documentary but that is probably why it works so well, its homespun values perfectly fitting to its subject. Chifley, whose working life started at the age of 5 on his grandfather's farm,  joined the railways as a teenager and became an active unionist. First elected to a Labor seat in Parliament in 1928 he eventually became Treasurer in the Curtin Labor government in 1941 and was elected leader of the Labor Party after Curtin died in July 1945, thus becoming Australia’s 16th Prime Minister.

Chifley’s generation have long since passed on and it is its children, who are now silver-haired senior citizens whose reminiscences form the substantial part of this documentary. A man of the people and, by all accounts, a true working class hero, today Ben Chifley may figure small in Australia’s political mythology but in his hometown, Bathurst  in Central New South Wales, he remains a much-loved figure. And this is very much the tone of Andrew Pike’s portrait of him. The director has assembled a variety of people who either knew him directly when they were children or are, in one way or another, keepers of his legacy. There are only a few minutes of archival footage on Chifley in existence and this is reserved until the end of the film

The result, a largely anecdotal account of Chifley, mercifully unencumbered by professional pundits and celebrity opiners, is a heartfelt and quite moving account of a humble man committed to social justice and the amelioration of the lot of the working class. Over and above that, it also works as a portrait of an Australia long gone - rooted in working-class Anglo-Celtic stock, community values and a simple, God-fearin6g life.

Ben Chifley died on the 13 June 1951, a date which in many ways symbolizes the end of the old and the beginning of the modern era in Australian politics and society. The Chifleys Of Busby Street is a lovingly sincere testament to those bygone days and the roots of the Australian character.




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