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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cameron, Robert George (1886–1960)

by G. C. Bolton and Mike Butcher

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Robert George Cameron (1886-1960), educationist, was born on 26 September 1886 at Macdonaldtown, Sydney, eldest child of Scottish-born parents George Cameron, bootmaker, and his wife Jessie Peter, née Forbes. Robert was admitted to Teachers' College in 1906 and, after four years as a pupil-teacher and three in public secondary schools, joined the staff of Teachers' College in 1912 under Alexander Mackie. On 10 April that year at St Stephen's Anglican Church, Newtown, Cameron married Stella Howe, a milliner.

In 1908 Cameron had matriculated to the University of Sydney (B.A. 1912; M.A. 1917) where he was an evening student and from 1917 an evening lecturer. His understanding of modern educational theory was fortified by a visit to Europe in 1923. He specialized in rural education and was an early advocate of psychological testing of intelligence.

When the University of Western Australia sought an appointee to the joint position of foundation professor of education and principal of the established Teachers' Training College at Claremont in 1927, Cameron applied. Vice-chancellor Hubert Whitfeld telegraphed Professor G. A. Wood: 'Can you inform whether applicant is a scholar and a man of university spirit?' In reply, Wood described a 'man of enthusiasm energy excellent administrator organiser speaker', but added, 'his scholarship and culture seem rather limited and specialised'. Cameron was appointed, in the process separating from his wife, who was later confined to an asylum and whom he subsequently divorced.

To many, Cameron seemed 'a breath of fresh air in Western Australian education', who 'opened up the awareness . . . that there was a world of educational thought beyond Rottnest Island'. His pugnaciously modern-minded zeal found critics, including his deputy T. J. Milligan, a union stalwart. The old guard fought unavailingly Cameron's creation of a graduate diploma of education at the University of Western Australia in 1929. His future clouded when the State government closed the Teachers' College as an economy measure in 1931, but skilful lobbying ensured State funding to permit his retention as professor on a reduced salary. In 1933 the Carnegie Corporation invited him to visit the United States of America. The college reopened in 1934. When it was taken over by the armed forces in 1942-45, its operations moved to the university campus. Here Cameron remained as full-time professor of education, although in 1945 another principal was appointed when the college moved back to Claremont.

Square-jawed and personable, and in later life rubicund, Cameron became well known in Perth as a freemason and Rotarian, and in 1934 founded the Twenty Club, a dining and discussion group linking town and gown, still active in 2005. In demand as a public speaker and broadcaster, he was disappointed not to become Western Australia's first representative on the Australian Broadcasting Commission. After 1945 he concentrated on administration, serving as dean of arts in 1945-47 and foundation dean of the education faculty established in 1950. He oversaw the introduction of physical education in 1952 and after extended tenure retired in June 1954. On 30 April 1947 in Perth he had married with Methodist forms Catherine Wallace Miller Small, principal of St Hilda's Anglican School for Girls. Cameron died on 4 September 1960 in hospital in Perth and was cremated. His wife survived him. The faculty of education at the university holds a portrait of Cameron by Ella Fry.

Select Bibliography

  • F. Alexander, Campus at Crawley (Melb, 1963)
  • G. Bolton and G. Byrne, The Campus that Never Stood Still (Perth, 2002)
  • West Australian, 5 Sept 1960, p 12
  • Cameron personal file (University of Western Australia Archives)
  • personal information.

Citation details

G. C. Bolton and Mike Butcher, 'Cameron, Robert George (1886–1960)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 20 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

View the front pages for the Supplementary Volume

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