Ben Chifley’s Lighthouse

Visitors to Chifley Home are invariably drawn to the model lighthouse tucked away in a corner of the Sitting Room.  It seems quite out of place in the home of a couple with no known maritime connections.  You might expect to find a model of Number 5112, the D50 steam locomotive driven by Ben Chifley, now on permanent display at Bathurst Railway Station. But a lighthouse?

The lighthouse, 43cm in height, is skillfully made from silver electroplated cast metal.  It has a small electric light bulb as a lantern, which still works, but the model was for display and not meant to serve as a reading lamp.  Chifley’s lighthouse is a fine piece of craftsmanship, but who made it and why it is in the house is a mystery.  There is no engraving or any recognizable mark to offer a clue.

 Some say it was made by Ben Chifley during his railway apprenticeship as part of his training.  Apprentices do make “apprentice pieces” to showcase their skills. However, Ben’s apprenticeship was focused on becoming a locomotive driver, not a metalworker.  It is possible he may have received it as a gift from the Eveleigh Railway Workshops apprentices, or it may have been made there as a special order.  We don’t know.

The mystery lighthouse for some visitors has come to serve as a symbol for what is possibly Ben Chifley’s most famous speech, “The Light on the Hill”, delivered to an ALP conference in Sydney on 12 June 1949. This was just days before his death. In that speech, Ben spoke of “a great objective - the light on the hill - which we aim to reach by working for the betterment of mankind not only here but anywhere we may give a helping hand”.

A metallic model lighthouse

Ben Chifley's model lighthouse. 

Photo: Chifley Home/Bathurst Regional Council