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Cameron, Archie Galbraith (1895–1956)

by Arthur Calwell

"Whoever may succeed him as member for Barker in the Federal Parliament and whoever else may be his successor as Speaker in the Parliament of the nation, there will never be, because there never can be, one so inimitable as Archie Galbraith Cameron."

Archie Galbraith Cameron, who died yesterday, was one of the most colorful figures the Federal Parliament has known.

He was able, kindly, irascible, tough, taciturn, unpredictable, fiery, and many other things as well, and in turn.

His clashes, often violent and bitter, and the vigor with which he fought for what he believed, left him, extraordinarily enough, with no real enemies.

No respecter of persons, he fought with the Country Party, which he led in the 1940 election and then left it for the Liberal Party.

He clashed often with Mr. Menzies as leader of the Opposition and as Prime Minister.

He once moved a want of confidence motion (from a back bench seat on the Government side) in the then Minister for the Army, Mr. Spender.

He advocated conscription for oversea service of all Australians against the wishes of the majority of his own party in World War II.

He clashed often with Prime Ministers Curtin and Chifley. He spared no-body in his criticism, and he asked for no quarter in return.

I knew him as well as any other member of Parliament because, when I was a Minister and he was in Opposition, and from 1950 on (when he was the Speaker and I sat on the Opposition front bench) we often violently disagreed — our not inadequate vocabularies containing invective and criticism, even abuse.

What he often said and did, I resented greatly, but I knew that he was honest, if mistaken, in his beliefs — and so I respected him.

We were good friends "off the stage."

I respected him for his many manly qualities, for his industry, ability, devotion to what he believed, and for the fact that largely he was a self-made man.

He had only one equal in the House of Representatives for the sharpness of his wit and his gift of repartee.

His equal was Edward John Ward, who was engaged in many encounters with him, but who shared with him a mutual respect.

The things I said against Archie Cameron when nominating opponents to him for the Speakership were as harsh and hard as anything I have ever said about anybody, but I believed them, and he knew that, as well as I did.

As examples of the clashes that often occurred when Archie Cameron was the presiding officer of the Parliament, or occupying the floor as an Opposition member, I think the following show the clarity and brilliance of his mind.

Each retort was uttered almost instantly on each occasion.

There was the time between 1946 and 1949 he boasted that he recollected that he had opposed the application of sanctions against Italy in the Abyssinian war, and turning to Mr. Speaker Rosevear, he said: "On that occasion I had the support of no less a distinguished person than yourself."

To which I interjected "that must have been a temporary aberration."

As quick as a flash came the reply: "Yes, like the honorable gentleman's inclusion in the Ministry."

In 1940, when the Apple and Pear Board losses were under discussion, Mr. Ward said: "You can send all the apples and pears that are going to waste to East Sydney. We can make good use of them."

Mr. Cameron, then in the Opposition, shot out: "What you need in East Sydney are raspberries " We clashed often.

My own clashes with him were many. But I remember once when I scored. The story, like the others I have mentioned, are enshrined in the pages of Hansard.

Inadvertently, while addressing the House I used the term "Mr. Chairman" instead of "Mr. Speaker."

Mr. Cameron interrupted me with the remark: "I am not a chairman."

To that I replied: "Mr. Speaker, I know you are not, but I thought I would like to pay you a compliment."

We chuckled over that and other clashes months later.

Somehow or other, Archie Cameron felt that Destiny had carved out his future and that inevitably he should be Prime Minister of Australia.

He had great faith in his own capacity and much contempt for little minds.

The story is that Mr. Menzies was afraid to include him in the Ministry because he would not be a "rubber stamp," and equally afraid to leave him on the back benches because he could easily be a pivot for a revolt.

The solution was found by "kicking him upstairs."

He was made the Speaker in the hope that that would quieten his manner and dampen his ambition.

It did neither.

On several occasions he told me of overtures that had been made to him by back-bench Liberals and members of the Country Party to lead a movement that would make the Menzies Government the Cameron Government.

But ill-health overtook him, and though he was a valiant fighter against his final illness — as he was a fighter in two world wars, and in peace, and in his Parliamentary activities, both in the South Australian Parliament and the Parliament of the nation he finally lost his fight to live.

He was a Minister — Postmaster-General — in the Lyons Government, and in that capacity suppressed Station 2KY in Sydney for a week or two.

Denounced as an autocrat he never budged, but always thought that he was completely justified in what he did.

He was a fearless exponent of that which he believed to be right. In my view he was very often wrong, but that neither depreciates the value of his efforts nor derogates from the quality of his contributions.

He was a trusted friend of Curtin and Chifley and most of their Ministers.

He was a devoted husband and father, and had his family always in his thoughts.

Looking back over the hectic and epoch-making war and immediate post war years, history will find an honored and fitting place for the Speaker of the 19th, 20th, 21st, and 22nd Parliaments.

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Citation details

Arthur Calwell, 'Cameron, Archie Galbraith (1895–1956)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/cameron-archie-galbraith-9669/text37104, accessed 20 November 2019.

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