Ben Chifley was born at Bathurst, New
South Wales, Australia.
Succeeding John Curtin, Chifley
was Australia's prime minister from 1945 to 1949. His deputy PM was
Francis Michael Forde.
On June 12, 1949, at the annual meeting
of the Labor Party, Chifley delivered his speech
The Light on the Hill.
On September 19, 2009, Wayne Swan, then
Treasurer, commented on Chifley's speech as follows:
Because the man we remember tonight,
Ben Chifley, wasn't just a titan of the Australian Labor Party.
He was in his time the most respected person in the country.
Perhaps the most respected in our history. His entire life
embodies something about our nation: the ability of someone from
the humblest of backgrounds to rise through talent and sheer
hard work to the very top - and then, once there, to pull others
up behind him.
Americans have a saying about their greatest leader, Abraham
Lincoln - that he rose from a log cabin to the White House. We
could almost say the same thing about Chifley. I say almost,
because while like Lincoln he spent his youth in a
wattle-and-daub hut, as Prime Minister he would accept nothing
more luxurious than a simple room at the Hotel Kurrajong…
sharing a bathroom with other guests. He was living at the Hotel
Kurrajong in June 1949 when he wrote those famous words about
our party's objective: "the light on the hill".
Sometimes politics is criticized for lacking poetry. Every
single one of us has a duty to dispute this. Because a simple
piece of poetry lies at the very heart of everything we do. "The
light on the hill."
Doesn't sound much. Even Chifley's biographer David Day
dismissed it as a "rather vague reformist objective" that "would
be seized upon by Labor supporters as best expressing the aims
of the movement."
It's certainly simple. Just five words. All of just one
syllable. No "isms" - like socialism or liberalism or
capitalism. No corporate jargon. A plain speaking man like Ben
Chifley today might say "and no bullshit either". But you and I
know this simplicity is its strength.
No one would accuse Martin Luther King of lacking poetry, but
his most famous quote - the one that summed up the hopes for
justice of millions of Americans in the 1960s - had just four
one-syllable words: "I have a dream". And nobody would say
President Obama's famous three words "Yes We Can" do not carry a
poetic ring. No biographer has ever dismissed these as vague
(From The Light on the Hill in
the Fog of Global Recession, 25th Ben Chifley Light on the
Hill Oration, Bathurst, September 19, 2009)
Ben Chifley died at Canberra from his
second heart attack.