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Charles Arthur Campbell (1937–2011)

by Michael Persse

In 2005, Charles Campbell was appointed bailiff grand cross in the Order of St John – only the fourth Australian in 120 years to receive this highest honour – for his long leadership of the St John Ambulance service. In the same year, he was promoted from the Medal of Australia (1999) to membership of the Order of Australia.

He was also a grazier, chief executive and community worker who inherited what remains of 19th-century family properties that in the 20th century became Canberra.

Woden, now just 92 hectares, was once an outstation of Duntroon, itself a consolidation of holdings granted in stages from 1825 to his Scottish-born great-great-grandfather, Robert Campbell, who arrived in Sydney in 1798 to develop a trade in livestock and other supplies from India.

Duntroon was inherited by George Campbell, fourth son of Robert and his wife, Sophia, sister of the commissary, John Palmer, who arrived in 1788 as purser of Governor Phillip's flagship, Sirius.

George married Marrianne Collinson Close, a painter of flowers and philanthropist. Their second son, Frederick Arthur, was Charles's grandfather.

In 1913, with the founding of Canberra, another grandson of Robert sold Yarralumla to the Commonwealth government. It became the seat of the governor-general and Duntroon that of the military college.

Charles Arthur Collis Campbell was born on March 28, 1937, in Canberra, the youngest child of Jock Campbell and his wife, Elizabeth Higgins.

He went to Canberra Grammar School, then Geelong Grammar. After travel overseas in 1955, he studied classical Greek at the Canberra University College, then read independently. He worked for his father on Woden, mainly a sheep property, for 10 years and after Jock's death ran it himself.

In 1970, he married Martha Rutledge, daughter of Thomas Rutledge and Helen, daughter of Sir Colin Stephen (a great-grandson of Robert Campbell). Martha had already contributed articles to the Australian Dictionary of Biography, whose staff she joined.

Their union was described by their son Patrick, in a eulogy with his brother Daniel, as the result not so much of courtship as osmosis.

Together – amply framed, clever, generous, witty and gently wise – they became a much-loved couple, hospitable in their sharing of food, wine, friendship and wide-ranging conversation. Campbell's work for an antiques shop in Canberra was followed in 1975 by a temporary appointment as secretary of the Australian Priory of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St John of Jerusalem.

This developed into 22 years' service that helped the priory become the hub of St John Ambulance services in Australia.

In complex ways its services derive from the hospice established by Christian merchants in Jerusalem. This became a knightly order after the fall of the city to crusaders in 1099. The work of St John Ambulance is that of the good Samaritan: offering help with no thought of reward.

Campbell's work for it as priory secretary led to successive appointments as commander in 1980 and knight in 1994 before the highest honour in 2005.

The National Trust – whose Canberra branch Campbell helped found – and the Australiana Fund – established by Tamie Fraser – benefited from his strong, kindly and subtle diplomacy, knowledge of Australian history and Australiana and appreciation of others' sensitivities. Also to benefit was the historic homestead Lanyon, near Canberra, of whose restoration and acquisitions committee Campbell was the founding chairman.

Campbell was adept at reconciling the interests of government and the National Trust and at getting things done, trusted by all and capable of making even the dullest business highly enjoyable.

At Woden, trees were planted, the garden was made by him and Martha into an oasis of beauty and a sense of the stewardship of the land was passed on to Patrick and Daniel.

Charles Campbell is survived by Martha, sons Patrick and Daniel, grandsons Finn and Sam and his sisters, Roslyn, known as Blue (Lady Parkinson), and Robin.

Original publication

Citation details

Michael Persse, 'Campbell, Charles Arthur (1937–2011)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 31 May 2024.

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