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Sir Harold Alfred Maurice Campbell (1892–1959)

by Stuart Sayers

This article was published:

Sir Harold Alfred Maurice Campbell (1892-1959), journalist, was born on 25 October 1892 at Longwarry, Victoria, fourth son of native-born parents Frederick Joseph Campbell, labourer, and his wife Elizabeth, née Cook (d.1896). Frederick farmed at South Gippsland until 1895 when he moved his family to Western Australia where he managed timber-mills. Educated at Bunbury, Harold left school at 14 to become a proof-reader's assistant on the local newspaper; he later worked as a reporter with the Daily News in Perth.

On 28 February 1916 Campbell enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force and was posted to the Australian Army Medical Corps. Arriving in England in March, he was sent to France next month. There he served with the 13th Field Ambulance. He was awarded the Military Medal for his courage on 24-25 April 1918 when, although wounded, he continued to carry stretchers through shell and machine-gun fire at Cachy, near Villers-Bretonneux. Returning to Australia as a temporary sergeant in July 1919, he was discharged on 27 October.

He resumed work with the Daily News and formed a lasting friendship with John Curtin, then editor of the Westralian Worker. Moving to Melbourne, he joined the Herald before crossing in October 1920 to the Age where he established his reputation as the Federal political writer. 'Ham' Campbell, as he was always known, was also a keen theatregoer who wrote graceful, well-balanced reviews. He briefly farmed an orchard at an outer suburb in his spare time. On 31 December 1921 at St Kilda he married Queenie Emma May Davy with Presbyterian forms.

In 1926 Campbell was appointed a leader-writer when George Cockerill departed abruptly for Sydney shortly before the death of the editor Frederick Schuler. Leonard Biggs succeeded Schuler and the editorship passed to Campbell in February 1939. By then Campbell was chief leader-writer, well seasoned in the generally liberal traditions of the Age. He was the fourth editor in his own right since the appointment in 1872 of Arthur Windsor, whose predecessors were editor-writers entirely subservient to the paper's owner-editors, notably Ebenezer and David Syme.

The Age was adopting new approaches to meet the needs of a modern readership and to match its competitors. Publishing news on the front page in place of classified advertisements marked the realization that the paper had to accept technical and editorial freshening to survive. World War II delayed further changes that Campbell and his younger staff wished to make. Plans for essential expansion of plant and departmental reorganization were well advanced when the war ended, but the establishment of a capital fund was hampered because the rights of the beneficiaries were the chief concern of the trust established by David Syme to preserve the Age. Nevertheless, an order from the Supreme Court of Victoria cleared the way to forming a public company, David Syme & Co. Ltd, in June 1948. Campbell was elected a director and deputy-chairman under Oswald Syme; he was also a trustee of the Syme trust.

The reputation earned by the Age under Campbell's editorship and his standing as a journalist were acknowledged in 1945 with his appointment by Prime Minister Curtin to the Australian delegation to the conference at San Francisco, United States of America, which drafted the charter of the United Nations. He attended the U.N. General Assembly in New York in 1949 as one of three non-official advisers to the Australian delegation to discuss freedom of information. Appointed C.M.G. in 1953, he was knighted in 1957 for his services to journalism.

Campbell was a temperate editor, self-effacing, famously courteous and insistent always that he was simply 'a working journalist'. He preferred anonymous journalism, condemning the bylined, investigative style as 'muck raking'. He was a director of Australian Associated Press and, as its chairman from 1953 to 1955, was the Australian director of Reuters Ltd; he was also a director of General Television Corporation (GTV-9). Although a councillor of the Victorian Society for Crippled Children and a trustee from 1944 of the Public Library of Victoria (vice-chairman 1946), he was by choice an observer of affairs, not a participant. He belonged to the Melbourne and the Savage clubs where he was regarded as 'somewhat retiring'. After his wife died on 3 August 1949, he centred his interest on the Age, on reading and on his grandchildren. He died of a coronary occlusion on 31 July 1959 in East Melbourne and was cremated; his daughter and two sons survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • D. M. Dow, Melbourne Savages (Melb, 1947)
  • Age (Melbourne), 16 Oct 1954, centenary supplement, and 1 Aug 1959
  • 'Obituary: Sir H. Campbell', Times (London), 1 Aug 1959, p 8
  • H. Mishael, Lend Me Your Ears (manuscript, State Library of Victoria)
  • Campbell family papers (privately held)
  • Syme family papers (State Library of Victoria).

Citation details

Stuart Sayers, 'Campbell, Sir Harold Alfred Maurice (1892–1959)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 27 May 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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