The revelations of a Prime Minister’s home

| February 24, 2021

The recent purchase of former prime minister Gough Whitlam’s home in Cabramatta, south-west Sydney, with the intention of it being developed as a heritage site, will prove most beneficial for Australians who are passionate about politics, leadership and social history.

Compared to America and Britain, where there are numerous residences of presidents and prime ministers opened to the public, here in Australia such ‘house museums’ are extremely rare. In Bathurst, NSW, there is ‘Chifley Home’, the home and collection of post-World War Two prime minister, Ben Chifley.

There is also ‘Home Hill’ in Devonport in Tasmania, the home of 1930s’ prime minister Joseph Lyons; and in Perth in WA, there is the family residence of Australia’s wartime prime minister John Curtin. All these homes capture a life of a prime minister in their domestic setting along with what society was like at that moment in history.

Through my various roles associated with the home of Ben Chifley and his wife Elizabeth, I have been fascinated in how a residence of a prime minister can reveal exciting and engaging stories.

Such histories can include family conversations and community contacts that inspired political thoughts and actions – for instance, Chifley would regularly talk to and assist his neighbours when home as prime minister which no doubt inspired ideas for his parliamentary work and speeches.


Chifley Home, 10 Busby Street, Bathurst. The only marital home of Ben and Elizabeth Chifley.

The home of a former prime minister is also where political work was undertaken, often in a ‘home office’ and on the telephone, as well as where campaign workers and the media would gather on important political occasions. Furthermore, the rooms’ décor and furnishings showcase the taste and times of a prime minister and family members, an aspect that really interests contemporary audiences.

At Chifley Home, the role of Elizabeth, Ben’s wife, has aroused greater awareness, so family stories and recollections are particularly important in evoking a political leader at home. A prime minister’s house can also tell of celebrations, hobbies and past-times, and clues to former times and careers before entering politics.

The house at Cabramatta that Gough Whitlam, his wife Margaret and their family called home from 1956 to 1978, included Whitlam’s period as the nation’s leader from 1972 to 1975.

As with the Chifley Home, oral histories from family members and former neighbours will prove highly valuable to the Whitlam domestic story. In Bathurst, a neighbour recalled the character reference that Chifley wrote on government letterhead back when she was a teenager looking for work – a letter she kept always.


Gough Whitlam relaxes in the garden of his Cabramatta home in October 1969.

The home of the Whitlam family will prove exciting for younger Australians, as it will document leadership and political events of the Whitlam era as well as a period in Australia that was impacted by the 60s’ counter-generation, new fads of popular culture, and the dramatic happenings surrounding the Vietnam war – occasions all relayed by one’s black and white television in the corner of the living-room.

Similar to the Chifley Home, the opportunities for the Whitlam residence to engage audiences will prove endless, so Australians are fortunate that there was passion and a vision by those who led the recent campaign to purchase Gough and Margaret Whitlam’s family home.

Chifley Home, 10 Busby Street, Bathurst, is owned and managed by Bathurst Regional Council. The house is closed temporarily for conservation works, but further stories about the home and Ben and Elizabeth Chifley can be found on its website.

Title image – The Cabramatta home of former prime minister Gough Whitlam and his family



  1. kbrowne

    February 24, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    Well done Sam on your article focusing on the homes of former Australian prime ministers. I agree with your sentiments about the opportunities for the Whitlam family home. The ideas that you have proposed from your work at Chifley Home are certainly worthy ones to consider.

  2. Chintola

    February 28, 2021 at 7:37 am

    Sam Malloy offers a thoughtful essay on the importance of house museums in telling the personal story of past prime ministers. Having visited the Chifley Home many times I commend the excellent work he has overseen there in preserving and presenting the story of Ben and Elizabeth Chifley. I hope those involved with the proposed Whitlam house museum will draw on Bathurst’s experience of almost fifty years in developing and managing the Chifley Home Museum.