Mr. Menzies referred to Mr. Chifley as a “fine Australian,” and added, “He served this country
magnificently for many years. The sorrow of his own people is shared equally by myself and members of the Government.”
Many women wept as they listened to Mr. Menzies’s announcement and couples left for their homes instead of going to supper.
Mr. Chifley, who was 65, will be given a State funeral.
Jubilee Ball hushed
Mr. Chifley had gone to bed at the Hotel Kurrajong, where he had lived for years while in Canberra, and was reading when the attack occurred.
He retired to bed early, explaining to friends that he had felt the strain of attending the State banquet last night, when he spoke, and did not feel equal to attending the Jubilee Ball tonight.
One of his typists, Miss Phyllis Donnelly, who had taken in some newspapers, was with Mr. Chifley when the seizure took place.
At first Mr. Chifley made light of the attack. He asked Miss Donnelly not to call a doctor, but she’ insisted.
Dr. J. Holt, who was the late Mr. John Curtin’s doctor, was called, and he ordered Mr. Chifley to be admitted immediately to Canberra Hospital.
A Roman Catholic priest was also called to administer the last rites. Mr. Chifley had almost collapsed into a coma by the time the doctor arrived, but according to friends still refused to give in.
Mr. Chifley was in a full coma as he was taken away in the ambulance, accompanied by the Labour member for Martin, Mr. W.O’Connor. Oxygen was administered on the journey to the hospital but it is believed that Mr. Chifley was dead on admission.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Dr. H. V. Evatt, and the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator N. E. McKenna, were called from the Jubilee Ball to Mr. Chifley’s side.
The Prime Minister was informed of Mr. Chifley’s illness soon after his collapse.
He told Mr. Chifley’s medical advisers that every facility at the Commonwealth’s disposal was to be utilised to try to save Mr. Chifley’s life.
When news of Mr. Chifley’s collapse spread among the dancers at the King’s Hall a hush descended. Then, when reports of his death circulated, the floor rapidly cleared.
Just before midnight Mr.Menzies announced: “It is my sorrowful duty to tell you that tonight, during this celebration, Mr. Chifley, former Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, has died.
“I do not want to try even to talk about him, because, although we were political opponents, he was a great friend of mine and yours, and a fine Australian.”
“You will agree that it is appropriate on this sorrowful occasion, that the festivities of tonight should end, and, therefore, in the circumstances there will be no more music.
“I do suggest that you have supper and that we then leave quietly, having in our minds very great sorrow for the passing of a fine Australian.
“It does not matter about party politics in a case like this: Oddly, enough, in Parliament we get to know each other very well, and we sometimes find we have a warmest friendship among people whose politics are not our own.”
“”Mr. Chifley served this country magnificently for many years.
“Sorrow of his own people is shared equally by myself and members of the Government.
“I hope this cruel blow for Mrs. Chifley will be softened by the knowledge that there is no Australian who hears this sad news tonight will not have a tear to shed for a man who has served his country.
“Indeed, he has served his country and undoubtedly he has hastened his own passing by his devotion to his own land, and, indeed, to the people of the world.”
Women weep at the ball
Many women and members of the Labour Party were weeping as they left the King’s Hall. There was an intense hush as the guests adjourned to the supper room. Some guests did not go to supper but left for their homes immediately.
The Opposition Whip, Mr. F. Daly, and Senator Dorothy Tangney, had tears streaming down their faces as they moved towards their party rooms.
The Deputy Leader of the Opposition, Dr. H. V. Evatt, was overcome with grief and was assisted from Parliament House by Mr. Daly. Friends of Dr. Evatt said he had sat sobbing in his office for almost half an hour and was completely overcome.
Later, Dr. Evatt said: “Mr. Chifley’s death is a great blow not only to the Australian Labour movement but to Australia.
“We are all deeply distressed tonight and we cannot say more than that.”
“He has devoted his life to the welfare of Australia and, indeed, all humanity.
“Our thoughts go out especially to Mrs. Chifley in her great personal loss.
“Members of the Federal Labour Parliamentary Party are stricken at the loss of our beloved leader.”
Earlier today friends said that Mr Chifley had not been in good health for some days and his decision not to attend the ball tonight sprang from his desire to conserve his health for the strenuous Parliamentary days ahead.
When he left Parliament House tonight for the Hotel Kurrajong after the House adjourned he appeared to be in good health, although he looked tired. He chatted with members in his usual cheery style, and gave no indication that any serious deterioration in his health was imminent.
Many members said his sudden death was the culmination of his strenuous election campaign.
On the night of the elections, April 28, in his room in Bathurst he was cheerful despite the defeat of his party.
The Speaker, Mr. A. G.Cameron, and the President of the Senate, Senator E. W. Mattner, announced that Parliament would meet tomorrow.
Its only business would be appropriate references to the work of Mr. Chifley, and then the Senate and the House of Representatives would adjourn for 24 hours as a mark of respect.
The Speaker’s and President’s reception, which was to have been held at Parliament House tomorrow, has been cancelled. Later it was announced that all Jubilee receptions for the remainder of the week would be cancelled.
Mrs. Chifley told
Mrs. Chifley, who was at Bathurst, was warned at10.30pm that her husband was seriously ill. She collapsed when told later of his death. Dr. F. G. Steele was called and she was put to bed.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Chifley is survived by two nieces, Mrs. J. Manuel, and Mrs. J. White, and two nephews, Mr. John Chifley and Mr. Joseph Chifley, all of Bathurst.
Mr. Chifley’s body may lie in State tomorrow in Canberra, but this has not yet been finally decided.
The Prime Minister’s Department has taken charge of the funeral arrangements.
The Federal Parliamentary Labour Party will not meet until after the funeral to elect its new leader. Meanwhile, Dr. Evatt will act as leader.