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Your columnist has been collaborating with Garry Reynolds who has been writing an online book about the Railway to Bathurst. Garry has suffered some major health setbacks, but I can report things are looking up, and he has now completed chapter 15, which includes a substantial section on train driver and prime minister Ben Chiffley.

So Garry is our guest columnist this week, and here is a sample…..

Ben Chifley becomes a railwayman

Bathurst had become such an important railway hub by Federation in 1901, almost a third of its workforce was employed on the railway. However, after leaving school, Ben Chifley’s first job was as a cashier’s assistant at a local department store before he moved on to work at a tannery. However, the thriving railway beckoned. In 1903, at age 17, Ben Chifley joined the New South Wales Government Railways (NSWGR) at Bathurst. This was a big busy depot with 70 steam locomotives in its allocation with hundreds of people working in the sprawling workshops.

His first job in the lively grimy atmosphere was as a shop boy. This meant young Ben had to keep the locomotive depot and its facilities clean and in order. While employment in the railways was attractive, Ben soon learned that it came with a mountain of rules and regulations. He applied himself assiduously in wrestling with their detail in his studies and daily practical interpretation on the job in the noisy bustling buildings.

Showing both responsibility and promise, Ben was promoted to the position of labourer at the beginning of 1907. This period was also significant as Ben now became involved in the strong union movement in his workplace and city. The railway depot and workshops were a crucible for union and political careers underpinned by the establishment in 1909 of a railway institute that served as a venue for meetings, training and union education among a working-class community, including Ben Chifley.”

Would you like further instalments?

Thought of the week “email us at heritagebathurst@gmail for a copy”

by a humble heritage advocate – October 2021

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