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Donald Alastair (Don) Cameron (1900–1974)

by Jennifer Harrison

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Donald Alastair Cameron (1900-1974), politician and medical practitioner, was born on 17 March 1900 at Ipswich, Queensland, son of John Alexander Cameron, a native-born medical practitioner, and his wife Eliza, née Taylor, from Ireland. One of four sons of Donald Cameron, John was president (1912) of the Queensland branch of the British Medical Association. Young Don was educated at Ipswich Grammar School and at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1921; M.B., 1927; B.S., 1931); a resident of St Paul's College, he became senior student, rowed in the first VIII and capped 1926 with a memorable speech at a college dinner.

From 1927 Cameron was a resident medical officer at Royal Prince Alfred and the Coast (Prince Henry) hospitals in Sydney. On 9 August 1933 at his college chapel he married with Anglican rites a nurse Rhoda Florence McLean. Following a short trip abroad, the couple went to live at Ipswich where he joined his father's private practice and also acted as honorary medical officer at Ipswich General Hospital. He was to be chieftain of the Ipswich Caledonian Society and Burns Club, and chairman (1948-56) of trustees of his old school.

Having been appointed captain in the Militia in 1936, Cameron transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 21 May 1940 as major, Australian Army Medical Corps. From December that year to March 1942 he served in the Middle East with the 2nd/2nd Casualty Clearing Station and the 2nd/9th Australian General Hospital. Promoted lieutenant colonel, he commanded the 2nd/1st Field Ambulance in Papua (September 1942 to March 1943) and during the Aitape-Wewak campaign in New Guinea in early 1945. He was mentioned in dispatches and appointed O.B.E. (1946). After service on New Britain from July, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 5 December 1945 as honorary colonel. In 1948-49 he was president of Queensland's Moreton district of the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia.

At the 1949 general elections Cameron won the Federal seat of Oxley. He was a member of the Liberal Party's committee on federal policy, the council of the Australian National University (1951-56) and the parliamentary joint committee on foreign affairs (1952-55). Groomed by Sir Earle Page to succeed him as minister for health, Cameron took over the portfolio on 11 January 1956. He led the Australian delegation to the tenth session of the World Health Assembly at Geneva in 1957 and was elected vice-president. In 1960-61 he was minister in charge of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. He was 5 ft 8½ ins (174 cm) tall, slight in build and dapper in appearance. Taciturn, 'calm, dignified and imperturbable', he was noted for his integrity; Cameron's flashes of dry humour ensured his popularity in parliament.

His devotion to federal responsibilities may have contributed to his defeat by William Hayden at the 1961 elections. Cameron subsequently worked for his former department as Commonwealth medical officer at the General Post Office, Sydney, until his appointment in 1962 as high commissioner to New Zealand. Returning to Brisbane in 1965, he established a general practice at Nundah. A member (1929) and fellow (1971) of the British (Australian) Medical Association, he was president (1969) of its Queensland branch. In 1958 he had been an instigator of the preventive medicine committee of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners. He served on the council and Queensland executive of the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Ltd. With Rhoda, he was prominent in launching the State's 'Meals on Wheels' service. He belonged to the Australasian Pioneers' (Sydney) and the Queensland clubs. Survived by his wife, daughter and son, Cameron died on 5 January 1974 at Chermside and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • H. S. Paterson, The Ordinary Doctor (Brisb, 1990)
  • St Paul's College, University of Sydney, Pauline, Nov 1927, p 12
  • Newsbulletin of the Queensland Branch of the Australian Medical Association, 13, no 3, Mar 1974
  • Medical Journal of Australia, 22 June 1974, p 1011
  • Queensland Times, 8, 11, 23 Dec 1961, 7 Jan 1974
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 7 Jan 1974
  • Canberra Times, 8 Jan 1974.

Citation details

Jennifer Harrison, 'Cameron, Donald Alastair (Don) (1900–1974)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 14 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Donald Cameron, 1956

Donald Cameron, 1956

National Archives of Australia, A1200, L21642

Life Summary [details]


17 March, 1900
Ipswich, Queensland, Australia


5 January, 1974 (aged 73)
Chermside, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

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