CHIFLEYS OF BUSBY STREET, THE
Ben Chifley (1885 - 1951) was a railway driver who became Australia's best loved Prime Minister in 1945. He lived by the principles of compassion and concern for his fellow Australians. Many advantages we enjoy are the product of his vision. In this 'People's History' approach, the film gathers a communal memory of Chifley and his wife Elisabeth, visiting his home in Bathurst, NSW, a modest suburban bungalow in which continued to live even as PM. Over 50 friends, neighbours and colleagues contribute anecdotes and memories to the film.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As a migrant, I knew very little about Ben Chifley until now; Andrew Pike's doco economically and simply reveals many of the reasons why he has been held in such affection by so many for so long. It's a terrific story but it's also an important insight into the Australian psyche of a past generation - the generation that gave way to modern Australia after the war. Chifley's contribution to that is spectacular in many ways, but Pike avoids grandstanding or overstating or triumphing. It's an intimate, human scale doco that is as kind as it is honest and as genuine as it is wide ranging.
The film gathers together recollections of Ben Chifley from the community at large, inside and outside of his home town of Bathurst. Most of the talking heads are ordinary folk, neighbours or Parliamentary secretaries (as in note takers) and clergy. Yet we learn everything that's relevant about the man - if not everything about his political journey from engine driver to Prime Minister. But enough to make sense of it.
It's sad to think that he and his wife Elizabeth are buried in separate cemeteries - he in a Catholic plot, she in the Presbyterian. It's an eternal separation that reflects on the social stigma that was attached to such cross-church marriages. How oddly intolerant that now seems.
Seeing an extract of a play about Ben Chifley with Tony Barry as Chif telling us his life story made me wonder why there isn't a movie of his life. Perhaps that's risking twisting the man's legacy for the dramatic needs of audiences who are believed incapable of mature thought at the cinema.
Review by Louise Keller:
Unexpectedly, but understandably when you have seen this lovingly made documentary about Australia's most loved Prime Minister, tears rolled down my cheeks when we hear from those who knew him. Tears about a politician who died more than fifty years ago? Hard to believe, I know. But Andrew Pike's film about Ben Chifley is as sincere and as simple as its subject: a humane man who acted on principle rather than to win votes. He was a man from Bathurst whose achievements in politics never outshone his strongly held views to protect the dignity and good of the common man. In these 75 minutes I felt as though I had got to know Ben Chifley: simple man of the land, husband, Bathurst local, community leader and prime minister.
Born in 1885 in Bathurst, Ben Chifley learned about life from working on his grandfather's farm between the age of 5 and 15. Joining the railways at 17, he became an engine driver before his involvement in union politics. The stories are 'like heirlooms' and we hear them from the mouths of interested parties, relations and historians. Chifley was the last PM to live in an era without television and media scrutiny. There is little footage of the man himself, but we do get a great sense of the kind of person he was from the interviews with Bathurst locals. It takes a while to get into the rhythm of the rural no-frills sincerity and we also get a snapshot from scenes of Bob Ellis' play 'A Local Man' in which actor Tony Barry plays Chifley. Chifley was a Catholic man married to Elizabeth, a Protestant woman of delicate health.
Pike's film only touches slightly on Chifley's political achievements during the four years of his tenure as Prime Minister (1945 - 1949), which included the building of the Snowy Mountain Scheme, expanded ABC funding and Australia's own car, the Holden. Instead, it concentrates on the humanity of the man, his sincerity and his simplicity. This is an unpretentious film about a unpretentious man, whose favourite song was 'I'm a Lonely Little Petunia in an Onion Patch' and whose vision was grounded in his community instinct. You do not have to be interested in Australia's history, or in politics. All you need is an interest in humanity to be fascinated by this moving insight into a man who shaped the future - our present Australia.
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CHIFLEYS OF BUSBY STREET, THE (G)
PRODUCER: Andrew Pike, Harriet Pike
DIRECTOR: Andrew Pike
SCRIPT: Andrew Pike
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Scott Wombey
EDITOR: Scott Wombey
MUSIC: Peter Muir
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Not credited
RUNNING TIME: 75 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Ronin
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: May 21, 2009