When you visit Ben Chifley’s home in Busby Street you will be able to see many of the things that he used in his daily life. Some of them will seem rather ordinary and even old fashioned. Others are very special. For example look for the model DC3 airplane. It was given to Prime Minister Chifley on the occasion of the opening of the first commercial flight into Bathurst airport. Ask the guide to open it for you so you can see what is inside. It’s a pipe and tobacco holder.

DC3 Plane

This might seem like a strange present to give Mr Chifley. But he was well known to be a pipe smoker and so it was thought this might be a gift he would like to have. Mr Chifley did appreciate the gift and made good use of it. As well as this airplane pipe holder, a very special present, he was often given pipes and tobacco by his many friends and admirers. When he died, many people asked to have one of his pipes as a memento or keepsake to remember him by.

Ben Chifley’s pipe was very much his personal trademark. You will often see him holding or smoking his pipe in photographs and even in newspaper cartoons. Indeed, people seemed to like it that he was a pipe smoker. To smoke a pipe suggested to them that he was a thoughtful and caring man, a man who would not rush into doing rash and worrying things. As the 1940s was a worrying time with war and economic difficulties, it was good to have a thoughtful and caring man in charge of the country’s affairs.

Drawing of Ben Chifley in Office

But, why did smoking a pipe suggest a thoughtful and caring man? It’s difficult to answer this question. It may be because it was a way of smoking that was more popular with older men, with younger men and women more usually smoking cigarettes. Often times it was grandfathers who smoked pipes. Perhaps Mr Chifley reminded people of a kindly and wise grandfather, someone who was always there to help and advise. What do you think?

Mr Chifley is said to have given up cigarettes for a pipe in the 1930s on the advice of the Abercrombie Shire Clerk, who said it made one look more “trustworthy”. (Ben Chifley was a Councillor on the Abercrombie Shire Council, near Bathurst, at the time.) Mr Chifley also found that having a pipe allowed him an acceptable reason to pause and give thought while pondering a tricky question – filling and tamping the tobacco, lighting and drawing on the pipe – before answering. For the person asking the question, this delay in answering perhaps also suggested a thoughtful man.

Today, smoking is not encouraged. You are unlikely to find a photograph or video clip showing our present Prime Minister, or any important public figure, smoking a cigarette or a pipe. But in Ben Chifley’s time, smoking was socially acceptable and was not known to be the cause of health problems.

For Australians of his time, Chifley’s pipe was a symbol of his character and values, especially his caring attitude towards others. His pipe offered a message that here was a man who we can rely on and trust. His pipe was symbolic of his character; it was his badge or emblem. (A symbol is something representing something else. For example, the kangaroo is often used as a symbol of Australia’s special character, from the flying kangaroo on Qantas airplanes to the boxing kangaroo flag at sporting events.)

But, do people today have the same view of pipes and pipe smokers? What does a pipe mean to you? If a person today smokes a pipe, what might it mean to you?

Cartoon publish on Ben Chifley's DeathCan you see how an object – such as Mr Chifley’s pipe – might have different meanings? Over time? To different people? Why might that happen?

When you visit Chifley Home, look carefully at the many objects on display and listen to the stories you are told about Ben Chifley. What sort of man do you think he was? Can you find an object in the house that tells you something about Mr Chifley and what was special about him? Why did you pick this object?