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Chambers, Cyril (1897–1975)

by Clyde Cameron

This entry is from the Australian Dictionary of Biography

Cyril Chambers (1897-1975), by W. H. Freeman, 1946

Cyril Chambers (1897-1975), by W. H. Freeman, 1946

Australian War Memorial, 132347

Cyril Chambers (1897-1975), politician, was born on 28 February 1897 at New Thebarton, Adelaide, son of South Australian-born Francis Bernard Chambers, railway porter, and his wife Mary Ann, née Whelan. Educated at St John the Baptist's School, Thebarton, and Hayward's Academy, Adelaide, Cyril worked as a dental-assistant for three years; in 1919 he qualified to practise dentistry. He was mayor of Henley and Grange in 1932-34 and president (1936) of the South Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party.

In March 1940 Chambers was commissioned honorary captain in the Reserve of Officers, Australian Army Medical Corps (Dental Service). Called up for full-time duty on 22 August, he served in Australia and briefly with the 3rd Field Ambulance in Port Moresby, Papua, before being invalided to Adelaide where he reverted to the reserve on 18 May 1942. At the 1943 election he won the seat of Adelaide in the House of Representatives; he was appointed minister for the army on 1 November 1946. It was partly due to his prompting that in 1947 the A.L.P. reaffirmed its 1937 decision prohibiting State branches from directing how members of Federal parliament were to vote in caucus. Supporting Prime Minister Chifley's stand against the communist-led Australasian Coal and Shale Employees' Federation, in July 1949 Chambers ordered troops to work the strike-bound New South Wales coalmines.

When H. V. Evatt became leader of the parliamentary Labor Party in June 1951, Chambers allied himself with the Victorian right-wingers. He refused to participate in his party's campaign to urge electors to vote 'No' in the referendum—initiated by (Sir) Robert Menzies—to amend the Constitution to give the Commonwealth powers to deal with communists and communism. Evatt had to intervene to prevent Chambers from being expelled from the A.L.P. However, for publicly attacking Evatt's leadership on 8 August 1957, Chambers was expelled from the A.L.P. on 19 September. Although readmitted in June 1958, he had been unable to contest his party's pre-selection for the seat of Adelaide in the forthcoming election and decided to retire from politics. That year the Labor Opposition nominated him as an Australian delegate to the 13th session of the United Nations General Assembly; having previously attended the 10th session in 1955, he again accepted.

Chambers tempered his austere outlook and strict Catholicism with a liberal attitude to such social issues as divorce, and was a friend and admirer of E. J. Ward. A good debater, with an almost demagogic style of oratory, Chambers was handsome, neatly dressed and well groomed; though kind hearted and generous, he lacked a sense of humour. His recreations included boxing, golf and racing. In 1959-62 he successively served as an immigration selection officer in Belfast, Rome and Scotland; returning to South Australia, he worked as a welfare consultant with Commonwealth Hostels Ltd. Chambers was appointed C.B.E. in 1968.

He had been married three times: on 4 May 1938 at St Ignatius's Church, Norwood, to Hilda Dorothy Mummery (d.1943); on 23 December 1949 at St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne, to a divorcee Salamas, née Koodak, late Rickman (d.1954); and on 31 October 1956 at St Columba's Church, Elwood, Melbourne, to Janet Sanderson Pullen. Survived by his wife, Chambers died on 2 October 1975 at Hawthorn, Adelaide, and was buried in Centennial Park cemetery. He had no children.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Murray, The Split (Syd, 1984)
  • T. Sheridan, Division of Labour (Melb, 1989)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 8 Aug 1957
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 20 Sept 1957
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 June, 21 Aug 1958
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 4 Oct 1975
  • Chambers papers (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Clyde Cameron, 'Chambers, Cyril (1897–1975)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://labouraustralia.anu.edu.au/biography/chambers-cyril-9721/text17165, accessed 23 November 2017.

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