Mrs McKenzie’s Silver Entrée Dish
George and Isabella McKenzie were Ben Chifley’s parents-in-law. Their only surviving child was Elizabeth, known to friends and family as Lizzie or Liz. When Lizzie and Ben married in 1914, they came to live in Chifley Home, directly across the lane from her parents’ house. There was a close relationship between Ben and Lizzie’s parents, especially with George McKenzie, a respected locomotive engine driver.
In Chifley’s time, Australia, and Bathurst in particular, was divided along religious lines. For Catholic Ben to marry Presbyterian Elizabeth would have been seen by many as simply unacceptable. Confronting this bigotry, the McKenzies unreservedly embraced Ben like a son and Ben’s family equally welcomed “Auntie Liz”, as she became known, into the Chifley clan.
For Ben, George McKenzie was important in opening the way to a successful political career, as politics also ran along sectarian lines. George was a Freemason, a Presbyterian Church Elder and otherwise very active in the community. His public endorsement of his Catholic son-in-law undoubtedly aided Ben in finding acceptance with the Protestant community. In 1924, Ben was welcomed as George McKenzie’s replacement on the Bathurst Hospital Board. This appointment would prove to be an important stepping-stone to Parliament.
George McKenzie was also a union man. The silver entrée dish sitting on the sideboard in the Dining Room offers an acknowledgement of George’s union activity. The occasion for its presentation in July 1915 was his retirement from the railways. Old comrades in the Engine-drivers, Firemen and Cleaners’ Association gathered at Natty Wood’s tea rooms to present George with a “smoker’s outfit” and, for the missus, this engraved silver entrée dish. The gifts were in tribute to George for being one of the union’s Bathurst branch founders and for having been “one of the best fighters for the cause they ever had”. His son-in-law would in turn become one of his union’s best fighters for the cause they would ever have.