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Cameron, Keith Addison (1902–1967)

by D. F. Branagan

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

Keith Addison Cameron (1902-1967), mining engineer and company director, was born on 8 September 1902 at Prahran, Melbourne, son of Victorian-born parents David Cameron, draper, and his wife Louise, née Addison. Educated at Wesley College and the University of Melbourne (BME, 1928), Keith was employed as surveyor and assistant mining engineer (1927-28) at Mount Lyell, Tasmania, and in 1928-30 worked in Canada and Alaska before joining Mount Isa Mines Ltd, Queensland. On 14 March 1932 he married an American, Florence Mary Gibbs, at the Presbyterian Church, Malvern, Melbourne. He returned to Tasmania that year as assistant to the mine superintendent and oversaw the smaller Comstock mine for the Mount Lyell Mining & Railway Co. Ltd.

In August 1933 he joined Gold Mines of Australia Ltd, formed by W. S. Robinson to initiate large-scale gold exploration and mining. Next year Cameron was appointed field superintendent of the subsidiary, Bendigo Mines Ltd. He explored ore bodies at Bendigo mainly by shaft sinking and driving, but the low fixed-price of gold and the high cost of the operation caused the project to be abandoned in 1937. Taken on by Western Mining Corporation Ltd as general superintendent, Cameron explored the Mount Charlotte ore body in Western Australia (which ultimately came into production in the 1960s) and devised the costing system which was effectively used by that company for many years. In July 1942 he transferred to North Broken Hill Ltd as assistant-superintendent at its Broken Hill mine, becoming manager in July 1945.

In December 1946 Prime Minister Chifley and Premier (Sir) William McKell appointed Cameron inaugural chairman of the Joint Coal Board: 'other mining men had shied away from a task that was bound to prove thankless, even heartbreaking'. The coal industry was in turmoil with low productivity, antiquated mining methods and constant industrial problems. Although his experience had been essentially in 'hardrock' mining, Cameron aimed to improve the living and working conditions of the miners, and to produce coal 'in such quantity and of such quality as will satisfy national requirements'. He set in train many changes to the industry—particularly the elimination of pneumoconiosis, improved safety and rescue standards, mechanization and open-cut mining—but was involved in battles with the unions and the owners, and the press was often critical of his approach to problems. Thirty years later, however, a former colleague commented that Cameron 'must be given the most credit for the resuscitation of the very sick coal industry, not only in New South Wales but in Australia. He made great progress in the face of often passive and at times active resistance from many coal owners, employers and employees'.

In mid-1950 Cameron resigned to become managing director (until 1955) of Mount Morgan Ltd. He worked with J. M. Newman and Genister Shiel in reorganizing the company and remained a director until his death. In 1955 he was one of a group of mining entrepreneurs and financiers who formed Commonwealth Mining Investments (Australia) Ltd to invest in resource companies listed on the stock exchange and to sponsor new companies in metals, beach sands and oil. The success of this finance house led to its acquisition in 1961 by the London-based Consolidated Gold Fields of South Africa Ltd. Always a strong individualist, Cameron could not see a suitable place for himself in the new international structure, so resigned as managing director and accepted the chairmanship of Mount Morgan Ltd, where his skill in negotiations opened up important contracts with Japan.

Throughout his working life Cameron had contributed to such professional bodies as the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy, Broken Hill Mining Managers' Association, Australian Mining Industry Council, Australian Mineral Industries Research Association Ltd, Gold Producers' Association Ltd and the Queensland Chamber of Mines. His work gave him little time for recreation, but in his earlier years he played golf and he continued to enjoy tennis. Still actively engaged as chairman of Mount Morgan and a director of at least eight mining companies, Cameron died suddenly of a coronary occlusion on 5 August 1967 at his Killara home, Sydney, and was cremated. His wife and two daughters survived him. On his death A. J. Keast wrote that Cameron 'always represented everything that is honest, straightforward, constructive, immensely friendly and very human'. Through the marriage of his daughter Susan to Dr Tony O'Reilly, the family endowed the Keith Cameron chair of Australian history at University College, Dublin.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 Dec 1946, 15 Mar 1947
  • Age (Melbourne), 8 Aug 1967
  • Australian Financial Review, 8 Aug 1967
  • private information.

Citation details

D. F. Branagan, 'Cameron, Keith Addison (1902–1967)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/cameron-keith-addison-9672/text17069, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 12 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (MUP), 1993

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