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Rymill, Sir Arthur Campbell (1907–1989)

by Haydon Manning

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Arthur Rymill, by Brian Dunlop, 1990

Arthur Rymill, by Brian Dunlop, 1990

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an20361890

Sir Arthur Campbell Rymill (1907-1989), lawyer, company director and politician, was born on 8 December 1907 in North Adelaide, younger child of South Australian-born parents Arthur Graham Rymill, gentleman, and his wife Agnes Lucy, née Campbell.  Henry Way Rymill was his cousin.  'Lum' was educated at the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Adelaide, where he obtained the final certificate in law in 1928.  As a student he played in a jazz band, 'Night Watchmen'; he was to retain his love of music for the rest of his life.  He was a member of the Adelaide Polo Club, playing in South Australian teams in interstate tournaments between 1933 and 1951.  A golfer and yachtsman, he was also a speedboat devotee.  He made newspaper headlines when, in February 1934, during an interstate championship race, his boat flipped at 70 miles (113 km) per hour, hurling him and his crew-member into the water.

Admitted to the Bar of the Supreme Court of South Australia on 26 April 1930, Rymill joined the legal practice Browne, Rymill & Stevens.  In 1934 he was appointed to the board of Bennett & Fisher Ltd, the first of many directorships.  His interest in politics blossomed early in the 1930s:  in 1933-38 he was an alderman on the Adelaide City Council; he was a member of the North Adelaide branch of the Liberal Union of South Australia and of other conservative associations, including the South Australian League of Rights and the Emergency Committee of South Australia.  He helped to form the Liberal Municipal League, a body charged with handling urban preselections for the Liberal and Country League.  His distaste for socialism and interest in liberalism saw him befriend, in 1939, the newly elected premier, (Sir) Thomas Playford.  On 27 December 1934 in the St Peter’s College chapel he married with Church of England rites Margaret Earle Cudmore.

With the outbreak of World War II Rymill offered his services to the Royal Australian Navy.  Told that the only vacant position was that of stoker, on 16 June 1940 he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force as a gunner.  On 1 January 1941, while serving with the 2/14th Field Regiment at Holsworthy, New South Wales, he was commissioned as a lieutenant.  Injuring his knee in an accident, he was demobilized in April and he returned to his law practice.  In 1944 he campaigned against the Curtin government’s referendum on constitutional powers and later in the decade against the Chifley government’s attempts to nationalise the trading banks.  He supported (1951) the Menzies government’s referendum on the banning of the Communist Party of Australia.  Re-elected to the city council in December 1945, he was lord mayor of Adelaide in 1950-54.  He played a major role in extending and improving Adelaide’s unique parklands, ably assisted by his friend, the town clerk William Veale.  Knighted in 1954, he remained on the council until 1964.

President of the LCL in 1953-55, Rymill was elected unopposed in 1956 to the Legislative Council as a member for Central District No.2.  He was conservative in relation to economic matters.  In his maiden speech he argued against his party’s support for price control and stressed that lower taxes ensured maintenance of 'the effective spending power of income'.  He alluded to 'natural laws' that socialists failed to see, namely the virtues of 'accumulated wisdom', and warned against the encroachment of housing on the Adelaide foothills.  Committed to the ideal of the Legislative Council as a chamber of review and using his legal training, he diligently reviewed legislation.

A defender of propertied interests, Rymill argued in 1956 that 'it is within the bounds of any person within the State to be qualified as an elector for this Council because who is there today who could not afford to buy land at the price of £50?'  He advocated voluntary enrolment and voting.  In the 1960s he opposed the Walsh Australian Labor Party government’s proposal to end the property franchise for local government and, later, the Dunstan government decision to do the same for the Legislative Council.  Allied with another Liberal MLC, Renfrey DeGaris, he worked tirelessly on the LCL’s position on the question of Legislative Council electoral reform and helped to introduce proportional representation.  Becoming disenchanted with the small 'l' liberalism of the LCL leaders, Steele Hall and Robin Millhouse, particularly their support for electoral reform, he retired from the council in 1975.  He strongly disapproved of the Dunstan government’s reformism.  In 1977 he learned that Dunstan had struck only two persons—Sir Arthur and Lady Rymill—off the list of citizens proposed for receipt of the Queen’s silver jubilee medals.

Rymill was a director of many companies, including Advertiser Newspapers Ltd (1955-83), South Australian Brewing Co. Ltd (1956-81) and the South Australian board of the Australian Mutual Provident Society (1954-80).  Chairman from 1952 of the Bank of Adelaide, he presided in 1979 over its takeover by the Australian & New Zealand Banking Group Ltd following the Adelaide’s ill-fated merger with the Finance Corporation of Australia Ltd.  During this difficult period he became disaffected with the Liberal Party of Australia and particularly with the Federal treasurer, John Howard, who refused to support the Bank of Adelaide.

The inaugural State chairman of the Australian Elizabethan Theatre Trust (1954-57) and of the council of the National Trust of South Australia (1956-60), Rymill was on the board of governors of the Adelaide Festival of Arts (1960, 1962) and of the Art Gallery of South Australia (1969-73).  From 1960 he supported the construction of a festival hall; four years later a somewhat sceptical Premier Playford moved to fund a festival theatre.  A member of the Adelaide Club from 1929, Sir Arthur was president in 1979-80; he joined the Melbourne Club in 1956.  Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 27 March 1989 at Bedford Park and was cremated.  Rymill Park in Adelaide had been named in his honour in 1964.

Select Bibliography

  • N. Blewett & D. Jaensch, Playford to Dunstan, 1971
  • R. de Meyrick, Rymill, 2003
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 17 May 1956, p 109
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 15 June 1965, p 295
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 4 April 1989, pp 2531, 2557
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 15 May 1979, p 1
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 28 March 1989, p 8
  • B883, item SX5493 (National Archives of Australia)

Citation details

Haydon Manning, 'Rymill, Sir Arthur Campbell (1907–1989)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rymill-sir-arthur-campbell-14182/text25194, published in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 23 October 2014.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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