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Campbell, Alison Anne (Alimac) (1903–1995)

by Philip Bentley

This article was published online in 2019

Alison Anne McArthur Campbell (1903–1995), physiotherapist, was born on 25 September 1903 at Geelong, Victoria, third child and elder of twin daughters of locally born Neil Campbell, auctioneer, and his Tasmanian-born wife Elizabeth Margaret, née Simson. Later that year her father was elected mayor of Geelong. Alison began her schooling at the local Church of England Girls’ Grammar School (the Hermitage). In June 1914 she travelled with her mother and two sisters to Europe. Stranded by the outbreak of World War I, they resided in Switzerland before relocating to Britain, where Alison attended Bedford High School. Returning to Australia in November 1919, she resumed at CEGGS. She then studied (1923–24) at the school of massage, affiliated with the University of Melbourne.

After graduation Campbell became an honorary masseuse at the Melbourne and Children’s hospitals. In 1926 she travelled to London where she studied at the Swedish Institute (a physical therapy school) and, on passing its exams, was accepted as a member of the Chartered Society of Massage and Medical Gymnastics (CSMMG). She worked with the renowned orthopaedic surgeon Dr James Mennell, before returning to Australia in 1927. In Melbourne she established a private practice in Spring Street and lectured in remedial gymnastics at the school of massage (1928–39).

On 23 October 1940 Campbell was appointed as a staff masseuse in the Australian Imperial Force (lieutenant, Australian Army Medical Corps, from April 1942). She served in military general hospitals in Egypt, Libya, and Palestine from February 1941 to January 1943, before returning to Australia. The physiotherapists were transferred to the Australian Army Medical Women’s Service in June 1943, the resulting reduction in pay and status causing controversy. After lobbying by the Australian Physiotherapy Association for the appointment of a chief physiotherapist, Campbell was posted to the Directorate of Medical Services, Melbourne, in February 1944; her position was formalised as senior physiotherapist the next month and she was promoted to captain in April. She reorganised the physiotherapy service, compiling a seniority list and implementing a more effective distribution of staff. In September she and her colleagues were returned to the AAMC. On 18 January 1946 she transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Back in private practice, Campbell specialised in the treatment of juvenile scoliosis. She began writing a thesis on the subject while travelling to England by freighter in late 1948. Two years later her thesis was accepted for a fellowship of the Chartered Society of Physiotherapy (formerly CSMMG). Her theory, innovative for the time, was that scoliosis was containable through the application of a rigid exercise regime. While abroad she lectured on the subject in the United Kingdom and United States of America. Her principles became standard practice.

Campbell’s interests had led to her involvement in a number of organisations for children with disabilities. She was a member of the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and Adults (from 1936), chairing its production division that oversaw the creation of a work centre. In 1927 she founded an extension branch for members with disabilities of the Girl Guides’ Association of Victoria, of which she was commissioner (1927–40). She was also a supporter of Riding for the Disabled. An active member of the Australian Massage (later Physiotherapy) Association, she served on the Victorian branch executive committee (1930–35 and 1949–51) and as vice-president (1967–69). In 1970 she was made a life member. She also lectured in kinesiology at the Occupational Therapy School of Victoria (1958–62, 1964–66), and was a member of its board (1954–55, 1957–67).

Variously described as ‘jolly, optimistic’ and ‘a great raconteur’ (Bone 1994), Campbell was also known for her determination and forthright opinions, and for having ‘a tremendous empathy for her fellows, particularly those physically disadvantaged’ (Herald Sun 1995, 69). For much of her life she used the surname McArthur Campbell, but among her friends, colleagues, and patients she was known as ‘Alimac.’ She identified strongly with her Scottish heritage. In 1938 she had helped to found the Victorian branch of the Clan Campbell and she was a long-time member of the Presbyterian Scots Church in Collins Street, Melbourne. Having suffered from Alzheimer’s in the last decade of her life, she died on 7 August 1995 at Malvern, Victoria, and was cremated.

Research edited by Nicole McLennan

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Physiotherapy Association. Citation for Life Membership: Miss Alison Anne McArthur Campbell. Minutes of the Australian Physiotherapy Association National Executive, 7 May 1970. Copy held on ADB file
  • Australian War Memorial. PR90/022, McArthur-Campbell, Alison (Captain)
  • Bentley, Philip, with David Dunstan. The Path to Professionalism: Physiotherapy in Australia to the 1980s. Melbourne: Australian Physiotherapy Association, 2006
  • Bone, Betty M. Miss Alison Macarthur Campbell, Physiotherapist, Oral History File, 20 December 1994. Australian Physiotherapy Association National Executive Archives. Copy held on ADB file
  • Herald Sun (Melbourne). ‘A Champion for Children.’ 25 September 1995, 69
  • National Archives of Australia. B883, VX17193
  • Spratling, Doris. Extension Echoes: The Story of Girl Guiding for the Disabled in Victoria- 1927–1987. Melbourne: Girl Guides’ Association of Victoria, 1987
  • Walker, Allan S. The Medical Services of the R.A.N. and R.A.A.F. with a Section on Women in the Army Medical Services. Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1961

Additional Resources

Citation details

Philip Bentley, 'Campbell, Alison Anne (Alimac) (1903–1995)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/campbell-alison-anne-alimac-23221/text32419, published online 2019, accessed online 19 October 2019.

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