Ben Chifley’s Pipe
The tobacco pipe shown here is one of many pipes belonging to Ben Chifley in the Chifley Home collection. Some of the finer pipes were presented as official gifts to Ben Chifley as Prime Minister; others may have come as personal gifts from friends and admirers.
This particular pipe, very ordinary in appearance, sits in an ashtray nearby the fireplace in the Dining Room. The teeth marks on the stem suggest it was a favourite pipe, very likely one Ben enjoyed smoking when pottering around the house. Elizabeth Chifley, in an interview for the Women’s Weekly in 1945, said that Ben liked to relax when home in front of the fire with his pipe and newspaper.
Ben Chifley’s pipe was very much his personal trademark. You will often see him shown in photographs and newspaper cartoons holding or smoking his pipe. He is said to have given up cigarettes for a pipe in the 1930s on the suggestion of Frank Oliver, the Abercrombie Shire Clerk. Frank advised Ben, who was then a shire councillor, that smoking a pipe made one look more trustworthy. It proved to be sound advice. Puffing away on his pipe, Ben Chifley became not only instantly recognisable to the public but also presented an image one might readily associate with a favourite uncle, someone familiar and dependable. For many Australians, Ben Chifley’s pipe became a symbol of his character and values.
Chifley also found that his pipe offered an acceptable reason to pause and give thought while pondering a tricky question or request. He would take out his pipe, fill and tamp down the tobacco, light the bowl, draw on the pipe – and then offer his undivided attention to the matter raised. If it was an especially difficult matter, the striking of an extra match or two allowed for a little more time.