Ben Chifley, Australia's Prime Minister from 1945 - 1949, has been called Australia's best-loved prime minister. Rising from a humble background to the office of Prime Minister, he never forgot his origins and remained committed to the public good throughout his life. When Ben died suddenly of a heart attack on 13 June, 1951, there was an outpouring of grief across the country and tributes quickly flowed in.
The Prime Minister, Mr Robert Menzies, announcing Mr Chifley's death at the Jubilee State Ball in King's Hall, Parliament House, gave the first of many tributes:
It is my very, very sorrowful duty to tell you tonight during these celebrations, that Mr Chifley, former Prime Minister, and Leader of the Opposition, is dead. I do not want to try even to talk about him, because although we were political opponents, he was a great friend of mine, and of yours, and a fine Australian.
It does not matter about Party politics on an occasion like this. Oddly enough, in Parliament we get to known each other very well and sometimes find that we have the warmest friendship among the people whose politics are not ours.
Mr Chifley served this country magnificently for years, and the sorrow that all of his own people feel is completely shared by myself and by the members of parliament.
I would just like to say that this cruel blow I hope will be softened for Mrs Chifley by the knowledge that there is no Australian who hears this sad news tonight who won't have a tear to shed for the man.
He served his country and undoubtedly accelerated the date of his own passing by the devotion he has shown to the people of his own land and indeed to the peoples of the world. (Source: Daily Mirror, Thursday 14 June, 1951. P.11)
Another item in the same paper:
Home Town Now City of Mourning
Bathurst is a city of mourning, with the residents stunned by the shock death of Mr Chifley who was Member for Macquarie.
All classes were shocked, from the humblest to the highest, and practically no work is being done throughout the city today.
Mrs Chifley, who received the news last night, has not recovered from the shock and is in bed and unavailable to all visitors.
In a tribute to Mr Chifley, the Mayor of Bathurst (Ald. Morse) said that the residents of Bathurst were shocked at the news of Mr Chifley's tragic death.
"Australia has lost a great statesman and Bathurst herself her greatest friend," said the Mayor.
Ald. Morse said it would be difficult to assess the real value of all the things that Mr Chifley had done for Bathurst over a long period.
Mr Chifley took a great interest in Local Government activities, and had always proved of great assistance to Bathurst Council. Nothing was too much trouble for him in this respect.
Mr Chifley had richly deserved the honor bestowed on him when he was given the freedom of his native city at a civic function in 1950.
"Bathurst has lost one of its most illustrious sons and I offer my deepest personal sympathy to his bereaved widow," said Ald. Morse.
Mr M. Raffin, president of the Bathurst Chamber of Commerce, said Mr Chifley's passing had been one of the greatest blows that residents of his home city had ever experienced. No one ever doubted the sincerity of Mr Chifley who was a great Australian and a loyal Bathurstian. During his term as local Member nothing was too big or too small to command his attention.
Mr Clarrie Williams, president of the Bathurst Branch of the A.L.P., said all would be deeply stunned by the death of Mr Chifley.
"Mr Chifley was a great Australian and was yet another man who gave his life to his country," he said. "All true Labor people would regret to learn of the passing of a great Statesman, and one of the best friends that Bathurst has ever had. He was always a champion of the working class and always prepared to help them."