Wired for Power

Evidence of a 1930s Ministerial Privilege?

Discarded by a tradesman, this small cardboard electrical installation tag lay silent and forgotten for decades in the darkness of the roof of the Chifley family house in Bathurst. In the rooms below, the residents lived out their lives as the Great Depression and World War II unfolded.

In 1914, Bathurst-born Ben Chifley (1885-1951) and his wife Elizabeth (1886-1962) moved into their new home at 10 Busby Street, South Bathurst. The house had no electricity, so lamps and candles lit the house while Elizabeth did her cooking in a wood or coal fire oven. However, the tag’s date stamp might provide a clue about when electricity was first installed. Nearly illegible, ghostly numbers seem to say 1928. Is that when the house was first wired for power?

The tag was once attached to electrical wires that had travelled the seas from Scotland, where they had been manufactured by the Craigpark Electrical Company Co., which supplied wires and cables to the Australian General Electric Co. Ltd. until they were manufactured in Australia in 1940-1.

Although Bathurst had a powerhouse and electricity lines from 1924, anecdotes suggest that it was not until the late 1930s that electricity came to the Chifley’s side of Busby Street. Is it possible that in about 1930, this home was wired for power before his neighbours?

Chifley first worked as a locomotive driver, but after being demoted to Fireman due to his actions in the 1917 railway strike, he became involved with politics and studied economics. In 1928, Chifley was elected as the Labor candidate for Macquarie (including Bathurst). As the region’s most important politician, it seems quite possible he was afforded the privilege of electricity sooner.

Throughout Chifley’s wartime political career as the nation’s Treasurer (1941-1945) and then Prime Minister (1945-1949), the Chifleys enjoyed the comfort of electric lights and appliances. Meanwhile, the tag in the roof continued to collect dust and turn brown with age. There it remained until it was discovered in 2022 – a reminder of times when electricity was a new and comforting convenience.