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Campbell, John William Wallace (Wal) (1906–1979)

by Mark Hutchinson

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

John William Wallace (Wal) Campbell (1906-1979), refrigeration mechanic and anti-Catholic journalist, was born on 27 November 1906 at Johannesburg, South Africa, son of John William Wallace Campbell, an Australian labourer who had served in the South African War, and his wife Antonette Cholette, née Bleckmann. 'Wal' came to Australia with his mother and siblings as an infant, and was christened in the Presbyterian Church. He was a telegram delivery boy, drover and shearer before becoming a refrigeration mechanic. When he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 31 May 1940 he was 5ft 10½ins (179 cm) tall, with blue eyes, fair complexion and fair hair. After serving in the Middle East and Papua with the 2nd/4th Field Company, Royal Australian Engineers, he was invalided home in August 1943 with malaria. Sergeant Campbell was discharged on 23 October 1945.

Meanwhile, he had been set on his life's mission when he observed a man signalling from a monastery window in Syria, which he took to be Syrian Catholic priests betraying the Allied forces. Unable to convince the army of Catholic 'fifth column' activities, Campbell collected a portfolio of material, including observations in New Guinea, which he thought to have his brother William, a printer, publish. Instead, absorbing the more spectacular approach of American wartime papers, he cashed in his deferred pay and in January 1945 turned the book project into a 'brash eight page tabloid', the Rock.

The weekly publication appealed to the Protestant political lobby after the war. Recognizing 'no censor but the truth', Campbell mixed traditional anti-Catholic polemics with sensationalist stories of corruption, convent sex-scandals and political intrigue in the Catholic hierarchy. After his relationship with his brother dissolved in 1948 in a bitter libel case, Campbell lifted circulation to some 30,000 in the 1950s, although the number of effective subscribers was much less—perhaps 1000. Running little advertising and supported by an ageing donor base, the paper was always marginal. He blamed later declining circulation on apathy and indifference among Protestants. He also ran a printery that specialized in anti-Catholic tracts, posters, handbills and books.

The Rock had its last hurrah during the debates over public funding of private schools and 'the Split' in the Australian Labor Party. When Pope John Paul I died in 1978, Campbell was not alone in assuming a conspiracy. In later years there was talk of his declining mental state (evidenced by his arrest in 1978 after a fracas at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital, Sydney). It is a matter of opinion, however, as to how much of this was mere ascription, due to his old-fashioned polemics seeming increasingly paranoid in a world which was redefining what was reasonable. Evicted from his rented, shopfront printery at Glebe in 1976, by the end of the 1970s he had moved to Calvert, Queensland, where he was provided with free accommodation and use of a press; the weekly became a monthly.

Campbell was easy to dismiss as a mere crank or as the essence of intolerance. Those close to him described him as a 'tender hearted and compassionate man . . . motivated by a burning hatred of injustice, [and] cruelty and [by] a love for the liberty and freedom of the Gospel of Christ'. A lifelong smoker, he died on 4 July 1979 at Grandchester, Queensland, and was cremated with the forms of the Reformed Presbyterian Church. He was unmarried; a sister survived him. The Rock was left to slow extinction, in 1995.

Select Bibliography

  • M. C. Hogan, The Catholic Campaign for State Aid (Syd, 1978)
  • D. C. Shelton (ed), The Campbell File (Syd, 1981)
  • M. C. Hogan, The Sectarian Strand (Melb, 1987)
  • People (Sydney), 21 Nov 1951, p 36
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 12 July 1979, p 8, 27 Aug 1982, p 7.

Citation details

Mark Hutchinson, 'Campbell, John William Wallace (Wal) (1906–1979)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/campbell-john-william-wallace-wal-12837/text23173, published first in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 18 November 2018.

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

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