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Ernest William (Ernie) Campbell (1909–1985)

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Campbell, Ernest William (Ernie) (1909-1985) roof tiler, journalist, author and Communist Party functionary 

Birth: 18 August 1909 at Erskineville, Sydney, and registered as William Ernest Joseph, son of native-born parents William Campbell (1876-1941), labourer, and Violet May, née Hall (1886-1955). Marriage: never married, may have had a de facto wife, ‘Mabs’. Death: 24 August 1985 at Western Suburbs Hospital, Croydon, Sydney, usual residence was 28 Grantham Street, Burwood. No Religion

  • Worked in youth as apprentice tiler in Sydney; sacked after completing apprenticeship.
  • Joined Communist Party of Australia in 1929 or 1930, possibly also member of Australian Labor Party from which he resigned in 1931 — ‘Disgusted with Lang’, denouncing Lang Labor government as ‘social fascist’. Active in radical circles in Canterbury district of south-western Sydney
  • Trained at Lenin School, Moscow 1934 and became member of Central Committee, CPA, mid 1930s. 1935 with L. H. Gould placed in charge of party education and training, preparing ‘communist doctrine as a set of syllogisms, finished and complete which allowed no uncertainty and were able to encompass every eventuality’
  • Appointed editor of Communist Review, based in Sydney, then editor of North Queensland Guardian, late 1930s. Worked closely with Militant Minority Movement faction within miners.
  • Prominent in Left Book Club, 1939, activities closely watched by war-time censor and security service who described him as a ‘little fellow, about 5 ft, 5 ins high (cm), of slight build, and with a cast in one eye' (not referred to in 1933 passport application).
  • Called up for military service on 2 February 1942. Attached to Ordnance Stores, Victoria Barracks, Sydney. Discharged medically unfit in July 1943. Prominent in CPA group, Arts Club, designed to assist CPA members in armed forces keeping in touch.
  • After WW II became director of Marx School, Sydney and replaced Harry Gould from 1945 as editor of Tribune, holding position for some years, as well as long term CPA secretary,
  • Subject to ongoing and extensive ASIO surveillance.
  • Prepared stolid and ‘almost innumerable’ pamphlets and booklets including The 60 Rich Families Who Own Australia (1963), said to be the ‘fastest selling book of this type, published by Current Book Distributors’ and derivative History of the Australian Labor Movement. A Marxist Interpretation (1945).
  • Given to ‘occasional bohemian style outbreaks’; security service reports refer to him sometimes over imbibing in alcoholic refreshment.
  • Cause of death: cerebro-vascular accident, gastro intestinal bleeding and pneumonia.

Sources
Workers Weekly (Sydney)
, 18 September 1931, p 2; Tribune (Sydney), 25 September 1963, p 5 (has photo), 4 September 1985, p 13 (photo and obituary); John Playford, Doctrinal and strategic problems of the Communist Party of Australia, 1945-1962, PhD thesis, ANU, 1962; Stuart Macintyre, The Reds: The Communist Party of Australia from origins to illegality (Sydney, 1998), and The Party. The Communist Party from heyday to reckoning (Sydney, 2022).

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Citation details

'Campbell, Ernest William (Ernie) (1909–1985)', People Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, https://peopleaustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/campbell-ernest-william-ernie-33564/text41954, accessed 25 May 2024.

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