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Colin Wallace Campbell (1921–1977)

by Margaret Steadman

This article was published:

Colin Wallace Campbell (1921-1977), by unknown photographer, c1968

Colin Wallace Campbell (1921-1977), by unknown photographer, c1968

Herald & Weekly Times Portrait Collection, State Library of Victoria, H38849/624

Colin Wallace Campbell (1921-1977), corrective services director, was born on 10 August 1921 in Perth, son of John Alexander Campbell, clerk, and his wife Nellie Frances, née Dowell, both South Australian born. Colin attended Perth Modern School (1934-38) on a scholarship before joining the public service. Having served in the Militia from 1940, he enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 23 April 1941 and was posted to the 1st Armoured Division. On 7 August 1943 at Christ Church, Claremont, he married with Anglican rites Norma Lucy North, a private in the Australian Women's Army Service. Campbell was promoted sergeant in September 1943, but declined officer-training. He arrived in New Guinea in October 1944, took part in the Wewak campaign with the 8th Brigade Signals Section and was discharged in Australia on 18 December 1945.

Back in Perth, Campbell rejoined the public service as a probation officer with the Child Welfare Department and was encouraged by the director J. A. McCall to study part time at the University of Western Australia (B.A., 1963) where he majored in psychology. His work in child welfare took place amid community concern over perceived increases in juvenile crime and delinquency. In May 1960 Riverbank was opened as an institution for male juvenile offenders and Campbell became its first superintendent. The newly-recruited staff were given special technical-education training to emphasize Riverbank's rehabilitation aims over its custodial role.

Although it had been standard practice for the superintendent of Fremantle Prison to be given the post, in 1966 Campbell was appointed comptroller general, Department of Prisons. He began as an outsider, briefed to reform a system which he regarded as fifty years out-of-date. His administrative staff at head office was small in number and uniformed staff received minimal training, but his department had charge of six prisons, dominated in size and ethos by the convict-built maximum security prison at Fremantle with more than 450 inmates. A probation and parole board had recently been established and a new prison was under construction at Albany.

In his first annual report Campbell recorded the setting up of an assessment centre at Fremantle Prison with a reorganized committee to classify the inmates, the establishment of an officers' training school and the purchase of land on which to build a new women's prison. Between 1966 and 1977 he implemented changes to make staff more 'professional' and to reintegrate prisoners into the community; his reforms gave expression to his concepts of re-education and rehabilitation, and brought Western Australian prisons into line with contemporary correctional practice elsewhere. Stemming from his international study tour and from his humanitarianism, his innovations also included a residential Officer Training School, an examination-based promotional system for uniformed officers, the employment of psychologists, social workers, teachers and welfare officers to undertake research and treatment, a psychiatric services branch and a scheme of work-release for prisoners. In 1971 his title was restyled director and his department was renamed the Department of Corrections.

A pragmatic, down-to-earth and highly personal administrator, Campbell worked with his members of staff as he found them, earning their support by his loyalty and approachability. He made many decisions and advised his superintendents over a beer while he chain-smoked. Six ft 2 ins (188 cm) tall, physically commanding and gregarious, he had energy and magnetism; he played cricket and hockey, and, as he travelled around the State, combined prison business with the plethora of responsibilities (such as fire-brigade inspection) that came under his jurisdiction. Campbell died of coronary artery disease on 28 September 1977 at his Darlington home and was cremated; his wife and three sons survived him. The remand centre at the Metropolitan Prison Complex, planned during his time as director, bears his name. A portrait by Norman Aisbett is held by Campbell's widow.

Select Bibliography

  • J. E. Thomas and A. Stewart, Imprisonment in Western Australia (Perth, 1978)
  • Department of Prisons/Corrections, Annual Report, 1967-78, Votes and Proceedings (Western Australia)
  • Royal Commission Upon Various Allegations of Assaults on or Brutality to Prisoners in Fremantle Prison, Votes and Proceedings (Western Australia), 1972, 5
  • Weekend Magazine (Perth), 11 Nov 1967
  • West Australian, 29, 30 Sept, 1 Oct 1977
  • Child Welfare Department (Western Australia), Annual Report, 1945-66 (State Library of Western Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Margaret Steadman, 'Campbell, Colin Wallace (1921–1977)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 24 July 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

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