Transcript: Frith meeting Chifley

Shirley McKechnie: I think you had some contact with Ben Chifley, did you not, around about this time too, while you were at the Sydney Morning Herald, is that right?

John Frith: Yes, yes, I was sent up to Canberra with the express purpose of drawing the politicians all associated and a lot of the other big officials, all prominent officials. Of course this was the jubilee year, 19531. And so I booked in with a friend of mine, Doctor Alan Westerman. And so on the day itself I mixed in with the politicians and various others, with my sketch pad always at the ready. I gathered many, many, many, many caricatures. And as the day started to come to a close and the bands packed up their instruments and the bunting and stuff was removed and the balloons were pricked, I wandered into King’s Hall in the old Parliament House building and looked around to see if there was anyone that I’d missed, but satisfied that I had all that I wanted, I suddenly saw a tall, slightly stooped figure coming into King’s Hall with his thumbs stretching out the braces through the armholes of his waistcoat. And I knew who it was, though I’d never met him. And I stepped forward and I said Mr. Chifley,’ and he said ‘Yeah?’ I said ‘I’d like to introduce myself. I’m John Frith of the Sydney Morning Herald.’ He said ‘Aah,’ he said, ‘don’t think much of your cartoons,’ which I said was not a very auspicious start for the meeting of the one-time prime minister of this country. And he said ‘What do you want?’ and I said ‘I’d like to draw you; I’ve done cartoons, as you say, you don’t like them; maybe it’ll be better if I draw you from life.’ And he says ‘Oh, come along to the room.’ So he ushered me into the room, which was marked ‘Leader of the Opposition’, invited me to sit down, got his inevitable pipe out, which I never at any time saw a whiff of smoke, but the floor was strewn with dead matches. He then asked what I was doing in Canberra, and I told him, and he said ‘Have you got all the Labor men you want?’, and I said ‘All bar two.’ And that was the occasion when he touched me on the knee and said ‘Who are they?’ and I said ‘Calwell and Ward’, and he gave me his advice and said ‘don’t.’