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Chifley the Butcher – “Inside the Canberra Press Gallery: Life in the Wedding Cake of Old Parliament House” – Rob Chalmers

June 7th, 2012 · No Comments · Australian Labor Party, Australiana, History, Politics

Like all prime ministers, Chifley had a private phone on his desk—the number known only to his wife, senior colleagues and advisers. It was, of course, a silent number, but apparently was only one digit removed from the number for the butcher shop in the nearby suburb of Manuka. Occasionally, the phone would ring and when the Prime Minister of Australia answered, he would find a housewife calling, wanting to leave her meat order for the weekend. And what would Chifley do? Of course, he would simply take the order for the chops, the leg of lamb, or whatever, saying nothing to the caller except, ‘Yes, madam’, then when she had rung off, he would phone the butcher himself and say ‘It’s happened again’ and repeat the order. These days, it is impossible to imagine anyone getting through, by accident or not, to the Prime Minister unless first vetted.

David Day records that Ben Chifley, even as Prime Minister, drove himself between his home in Bathurst, NSW, and Canberra in his own Buick—his pride and joy. It was not even considered necessary that a bodyguard should accompany him on this journey. Jim Snow, former Labor MP for the southern NSW federal seat of Eden-Monaro, told the author that on Chifley’s drives between Canberra and Bathurst he sometimes changed his route and went through the small town of Crookwell, lunching at a café. On one occasion, he asked for steak and onions, but the waitress told him, ‘I’m sorry, Mr Chifley, we have no onions’. ‘Well’, said Chifley, thrusting his hand into his coat pocket, ‘here’s one’, and he produced an onion.

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