Number 10 Busby Street, with its rendered brick walls and five rooms within, is a modest late Victorian Italianate semi-detached residence.
The terrace was built sometime in the 1880s as a speculative investment. Close to workplaces and low in rent, Milltown, as this area is known, was popular with a growing railway community. Until 1937, Busby Street formed the boundary between Bathurst and Abercrombie Shire, with the terrace on the less-expensive shire side.
The first occupants may have been the young family of David and Sarah Williams, typical of a succession of railway families who rented the house. During these early years the tiny house would have known the clutter and chaos of children.
In 1891, Thomas Leighton, railway fireman, bought the terrace. The Leightons resided at No.12 and rented out No.10. In 1903, No.10 was purchased as a rental property for £200 by George McKenzie, engine driver and canny investor. The McKenzies lived directly behind No.10, on Logan Street. Neither George or his 17 year old daughter, Elizabeth, could have imagined then that future occupants would include a Prime Minister - and that his wife would be Elizabeth.
In 1914, the McKenzies gave tenancy of the house as a wedding gift to their daughter and her bridegroom, Ben Chifley. In 1920, full title was gifted to Elizabeth, in the words of the deed, 'in consideration of natural love and affection'. Elizabeth, in turn, transferred title to joint ownership with Ben in consideration, not only of love and affection, but also 'of the sum of 10 shillings paid'. From 1914, until Ben’s death in 1951 and that of Elizabeth in 1962, this house would be the only home known to the Chifleys.
The improvements made over the years were both modest and practical. The kitchen, originally a separate building, was joined onto the house, providing a pantry in the gap space. Electricity was installed; water and sewerage were connected. A weatherboard bathroom with asbestos cement lining and a Derwent gas water heater was added at the rear. A gas fireplace was installed in the parlour; a Challenger gas cooker went into the kitchen. Among the few decorative additions were the fibrous cornices in the bedroom and sitting room. There was little about the house to distinguish it from others in the neighbourhood. One difference, because of Ben’s political activities, was that the Chifleys were amongst the first to have a telephone.
The vacant block next door was purchased for £20 in 1939. The only use made of the block was for a garage (now demolished) to house Ben’s American Buick, his one big indulgence. Whether it be locomotive or motorcar, Ben had a love for powerful machines.
The widow of an old railway mate of Ben, Mrs Isabel Clark, provided Elizabeth with companionship during his absences in Canberra. In 1945, Mrs Clark’s presence in the house became a permanent arrangement. On Elizabeth’s death, the property passed as a bequest to St Stephen’s Presbyterian Church. Mrs Clark continued to reside in the house until her death in 1969, in keeping with Mrs Chifley’s wishes.
Following a public appeal for funds, Bathurst City Council purchased the house and its contents in 1972 as a memorial to Prime Minister Chifley. Opened by Prime Minister Whitlam on 24 March 1973, the property has been maintained as a house museum since then.