Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Campbell, Eric (1893–1970)

by Keith Amos

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Eric Campbell (1893-1970), solicitor and leader of the New Guard, was born on 11 April 1893 at Young, New South Wales, fourth son of native-born parents Allan Campbell, solicitor, and his wife Florence Mary, née Russell. He was educated privately and was a cadet-member of the Coronation Contingent which visited England in 1911. While an articled clerk in his father's office, he was commissioned in 1914 in the volunteer Australian Field Artillery. In April 1916 he joined the Australian Imperial Force as a lieutenant and was promoted captain in May and major next year. He served first in France with the 27th battery of the 7th A.F.A. From August 1917 until the Armistice he was with the 12th Australian (Army) Field Artillery Brigade, attached to General Headquarters, in Flanders, on the Somme, and in the final advance to the Hindenburg Line. He was gassed in November 1917, twice mentioned in dispatches in 1918, and was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in January 1919.

Campbell returned to Australia in February, resumed his legal studies and was admitted as a solicitor on 29 August 1919. In 1920-26 he was in partnership with S. G. Rowe, then established with his brothers Campbell, Campbell & Campbell, a successful practice with a clientele of pastoralists, merchants, professional men and financial institutions. On 22 October 1924 at Memagong station, near Young, he married Nancy Emma Browne, daughter of a grazier. In 1931 he was a reputable businessman living at Turramurra: a director of Australian Soaps Ltd, Discount and Finance Ltd and other companies, he belonged to the Imperial Service Club, the Union and New South Wales clubs and Royal Sydney and Killara Golf clubs; he was also a Freemason and a member of the Rotary Club of Sydney. He was fond of tennis, gardening, surfing and motoring.

Actively interested in the militia, Campbell commanded the 9th Field Artillery Brigade in 1924 and was promoted lieutenant-colonel next year; he was transferred to the reserve in 1932. He first turned to paramilitary activity in 1925: with Major John Scott he recruited a secret force of 500 ex-officers to try to put down a seamen's strike. In 1930 he became recruitment officer for the committee run by (Sir) Robert Gillespie and (Sir) Philip Goldfinch, a secret vigilante group of businessmen, ex-officers and graziers alarmed by the Depression and the election of J. T. Lang's Labor government; they were later known as the Old Guard. At a meeting at the Imperial Service Club on 18 February 1931 Campbell, disappointed with the Old Guard, was the principal founder of the New Guard, which stressed loyalty to the throne and British Empire, and wanted 'sane and honourable' government and the 'abolition of machine politics'; Campbell saw patriotism as its key virtue. The guard aimed at uniting 'all loyal citizens irrespective of creed, party, social or financial position'. As general officer commanding, Campbell organized it on military lines. He claimed that in an 'emergency' it could maintain essential services including Bunnerong power house; the police attested to the guard's efficiency. With a peak membership of over 50,000, the guard rallied in public, broke up 'Communist' meetings, drilled, vilified the Labor Party and demanded the deportation of Communists.

In January 1932 Campbell asserted that Lang would never open the Harbour Bridge, referred to him as a 'tyrant and scoundrel', and claimed to prefer Ebenezer (Lang's bull) as premier. Fined £2 at Central Police Court for using insulting language, Campbell successfully appealed. In the tense atmosphere of early 1932, rumours were rife that the New Guard was plotting a coup or the kidnapping of Lang; but Captain Francis de Groot's Harbour Bridge ribbon-cutting antics were an anti-climax and the guard's popularity began to wane after eight of its members were charged with assaulting J. S. (Jock) Garden. After raiding its headquarters, the police, according to the Labor Daily (7 June), were about to lay charges of conspiracy against Campbell when Lang was dismissed by the governor.

With the easing of tension, members of the New Guard melted away, and there was dissension among those remaining as Campbell grew more authoritarian and militant. In 1933 he visited Europe and met Fascist leaders; next year he published The New Road, a case for Fascism and Mussolini's 'corporate state'. He tried to take the remnant of the guard into party politics and formed the Centre Movement, but was defeated for Lane Cove at the 1935 State election.

In 1938 Campbell was charged with conspiracy to pevert the course of justice and to cheat and defraud Du Menier Laboratories Ltd, a subsidiary of Australian Soaps Ltd, of which he was chairman. He was acquitted. Next year, arising out of an Equity suit brought by him, Judge (R. H.) Long Innes submitted a report alleging that Campbell had committed perjury; however, the Full Court ruled that the charges were not sustained and that his name should not be struck from the roll of solicitors; but it directed him to pay costs. In 1941 he returned to Billaboola, part of Memagong station. He practised in Young, was president of Burrangong Shire Council in 1949-50, and bought a property near Yass where he settled in 1957. In 1961 he threatened a libel suit against Nation for an article on 11 March on the New Guard: no further articles appeared. He published his own account, The Rallying Point (Melbourne), in 1965. Next year he moved to Canberra where he practised, but his health was increasingly impaired by serious injuries received in an accident in 1959.

Survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters, Campbell died of cancer on 2 September 1970 in Canberra and was cremated after a Presbyterian service. Good-looking, with a neat military moustache, he had a certain panache: in retrospect he had 'thoroughly enjoyed' the experience of the New Guard and 'the association with so many grand loyal Australians'.

Select Bibliography

  • K. Amos, The New Guard Movement 1931-1935 (Melb, 1976)
  • P. Mitchell, ‘Australian patriots: a study of the New Guard’, Australian Economic History Review, Mar 1969
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12, 16 Jan, 3 Feb, 9 Mar 1932, 28 Feb 1934, 9 June 1938, 13, 15, 17, 21-22, 28-29 Sept, 1, 8 Oct 1938, 28 Feb, 1-3, 8 Mar, 6 Apr 1939, 4 Sept 1970
  • Colonial Secretary, file B568 (State Records New South Wales).

Citation details

Keith Amos, 'Campbell, Eric (1893–1970)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/campbell-eric-5487/text9331, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 26 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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