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Campbell, Donald (1866–1945)

by R. M. Gibbs

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Donald Campbell (1866-1945), engineer, newspaper proprietor and politician, was born on 16 September 1866 at Robe, South Australia, son of Alexander Campbell, farmer and storekeeper, and his wife Jane, née Draper, immigrants from Glasgow, Scotland, in 1851. Campbell was educated at public schools and at the Collegiate School of St Peter, Adelaide, where he was sent by a neighbouring family as schoolmate for their son. After apprenticeship as an engineer, he 'drifted round the Riverina with a swag, rabbiting, tank-sinking, scrub-cutting'. He worked on Murray River steamers and in the Broken Hill mines, where he was in the 1892 strike. His satirical caricatures of the Broken Hill Proprietary Co. bosses published in Sydney newspapers allegedly led to his dismissal.

His brother Roland had begun the weekly Millicent Times in July 1891 and, after his return to South Australia, Donald took it over in 1894. He contributed to the Sydney Bulletin, helped run the Millicent flour-mill, built a substantial house, and married on 23 December 1901 Florence May Carne, a schoolteacher. In his editorship of the Millicent Times he proved an able journalist, concerned with local issues though not afraid to write strongly on wider questions. His pro-Boer sympathies and attacks on local landed proprietors brought him disfavour. Faced with competition, he sold his printing business in December 1905 to a group which set up the South Eastern Times.

Campbell had also been clerk to the shire district council of Kennion and secretary of the Millicent Caledonian Society. In 1906 he stood as a Labor candidate for Victoria and Albert in the House of Assembly. Though platform-shy, he was elected after a campaign in which reform of the Legislative Council franchise was a dominant issue. In parliament he refused to join commissions and committees, concentrating on local affairs but retaining his concern for the powers of the Lower House against the Upper.

Campbell also matriculated and studied law (LL.B., 1912) while a member of parliament. On losing his seat in 1912, he became Australian representative on the Dominions royal commission on Empire trade, an appointment which took him overseas. His private travels in Africa and Egypt were recorded in his book Wayfarings Among the Pharaohs (Adelaide, 1923).

Returning to Adelaide in 1915, Campbell practised law. Hampered by deafness and recovering from a stroke, he moved to Bordertown in 1919, editing the Border Chronicle and continuing legal practice. His editorials and political opinions had a force and authority rare among provincial newspapers. He retired from the paper in December 1931, doing some legal work in his last years in Bordertown, Gawler and Adelaide. He died at North Walkerville on 21 October 1945, survived by his wife, three sons and three daughters.

There was nothing superficial about Campbell. He was a man of industry, scholarship and humour, who thought deeply, read widely and expressed himself fluently. A kindly man, fond of gardening and devoted to his family, he made his mark in several spheres, but above all as a forthright and gifted journalist.

Select Bibliography

  • Freelance, The Birth of a Country Newspaper (Mt Gambier, nd)
  • G. C. Newman, From Student's Lamp to Lawyer's Gown (Adel, 1912)
  • J. Melano, Walking Tall (Adel, 1973)
  • Worker (Sydney), 6 May 1905
  • Border Chronicle, 25 Dec 1931
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 23 Oct 1945
  • South Eastern Times, 26 Oct 1945
  • private information.

Citation details

R. M. Gibbs, 'Campbell, Donald (1866–1945)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/campbell-donald-5484/text9325, accessed 24 November 2017.

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