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Campbell, Alexander William (Alec) (1899–2002)

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Alec Campbell, 1915

Alec Campbell, 1915

Alexander William (Alec) Campbell,  (1899-2002) clerk, jackeroo, soldier, carpenter, public servant, socialist and trade union leader 

Birth: 26 February 1899 at Launceston, Tasmania, son of Tasmanian-born parents Samuel Alexander Campbell (1870-1959), commercial traveller, and Marian Isobel, née Thrower (1872-1955, and grandson of Donald Campbell (1834-1907), a storekeeper who had migrated from Argyllshire, Scotland. Marriages: (1) 24 May 1924 at Launceston, to Kathleen Matilda Connolly (1902-1986). They had five daughters and two sons. (2) Kathleen Corvan. They had one son and one daughter. Death: 16 May 2002 in Hobart, Tasmania. Religion: Anglican. 

  • Attended Scotch College, Launceston.
  • Worked as insurance clerk, jackaroo, carpenter, railway carriage builder, public servant, research officer in South Australia, New South Wales and Tasmania. Amateur boat builder and boxer.
  • During World War I he lied about his age, enlisted in the 15th Battalion, Australian Imperial Force, and served at Gallipoli in 1915 primarily as ammunition and water carrier rather than fighter. Repatriated as medically unfit and discharged on 22 August 1916. His military record included two charges of breaking military regulations.
  • As a carpenter worked on building the first Parliament House, Canberra, in 1927.
  • During 1930s was a militant, quick-tempered unionist in railway workshops in Hobart and Launceston.
  • Active in Workers' Educational Association in Launceston and considered fighting with International Brigade in Spain in 1936. Closely allied with left-wing senator Bill Morrow and peace activist with Jessie Street.
  • President of Tasmanian Branch of the Australian Railway Union from 1939 to 1941 and of Launceston Trades Hall Council from 1939 to 1942.
  • Afterwards active in local government in Launceston, THC advocate in Fair Rents Court, campaigning for slum clearance and low rental public housing.
  • Also staged workers’ theatre.
  • Research officer in Department of Labour and National Service.
  • Graduated from Hobart University with economics degree in 1955.
  • Contributed two articles to the Australian Dictionary of Biography.
  • Sailed in six Sydney-Hobart yacht races.
  • In 2000, with Roy Longmore and Walter Parker, he was one of the ‘Australian legends’ featured upon series of postage stamps.
  • In declining years became feted as ‘The Last Anzac’ by mainstream media and conservative prime minister who, upon Alec’s death, downplayed his labour, militant connections. As a result of his war service, he was diagnosed with palsy and right facial paralysis and would eventually lose his right eye.

Sources
Rowan Cahill, ‘Lest we Forget’ in Workers Online, 137, May 2002: http://workers.labor.net.au/137/b_tradeunion_campbell.html; Audrey Johnson, Fly a Rebel Flag (Ringwood, 1986); Sabretache, Vol XVIII, December 2002; Sydney Morning Herald, 25 April 2002 and 25-26 May 2002; Weekend Australian Magazine, 19-20 April 2003 pp 18-21.

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Citation details

'Campbell, Alexander William (Alec) (1899–2002)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/campbell-alexander-william-alec-32957/text41064, accessed 30 November 2022.

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