17 June 2022

Chifley set to regain trademark pipe after sculpture vandalism

| James Coleman
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statue of two men

He’s still Ben Chifley, but something’s missing. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

After 12 years, it seems Ben Chifley has gone cold turkey.

Vandals took to the sculpture of the 16th prime minister of Australia in April 2022 and sawed off the pipe in his mouth.

The sculpture, on the corner of Walpole Cresent in Barton, was commissioned by the ACT Government in 2010. It recreates an iconic photograph of Joseph Benedict (Ben) Chifley walking with Australia’s 14th prime minister John Curtin.

Curtin and Chifley routinely walked this route to Parliament House from the nearby Kurrajong Hotel, where Labor members generally stayed while Parliament was sitting.

John Curtin and Ben Chifley.

John Curtin and Ben Chifley. Photo: National Archives of Australia.

At the time, Chifley was treasurer for Curtin’s government but became prime minister from 1945 to 1949. Both were strong supporters of the development of Canberra as the nation’s capital.

The pair was captured on camera by photographer Don Stephens in 1945. The photo was then immortalised in a $200,000 sculpture by leading Australian artist Peter Corlett, also responsible for Simpson and his Donkey at the Australian War Memorial and the Father of Canberra, John Gale outside Queanbeyan Court House.

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Corlett describes his style as “expressive psychological realism”.

“I attempt to make probing, perceptive, yet ennobling expressions, representations of people,” his website reads. “Works of dignity that speak to others with, and of, compassion, strength and generosity.”

When the sculpture was announced, Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said it captured an important moment from Canberra’s past.

The Chifley-Curtin sculpture.

The sculpture cost $200,000 when it was installed in 2010. Photo: Arts ACT.

“It reflects an important era in Canberra’s social history when politicians would stay at the Kurrajong Hotel and walk to work at Parliament House.”

Mr Stanhope said Mr Curtin and Mr Chifley were regarded as two of Australia’s most respected prime ministers.

“John Curtin, of course, is the prime minister who steered us through the Second World War,” he said.

“Ben Chifley was a much-loved prime minister with a significant record in government, with legacies including the Snowy Mountains Scheme.”

The sculpture was unveiled by then prime minister Julia Gillard on 16 September, 2011. The ACT Government also commissioned a bust of former prime minister Alfred Deakin to be installed at the Deakin shopping centre at the same time.

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The Chifley and Curtin sculpture falls within the jurisdiction of the National Capital Authority (NCA). The vandalism incident was reported to police.

The ACT Government has made contact with the artist to arrange for a new pipe to be sculpted and cast in bronze.

“This will be installed in the coming days,” an ACT Government spokesperson said.

“Any kind of vandalism of public art is callous and shows a disrespect to the artist.”

So much for quitting, Ben!

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