Arthur Calwell

Arthur Calwell

Arthur Calwell 1966.jpg
Leader of the Opposition
Elections: 1961, 1963, 1966
In office
7 March 1960 – 8 February 1967
Prime MinisterRobert Menzies
Harold Holt
DeputyGough Whitlam
Preceded byH. V. Evatt
Succeeded byGough Whitlam
Leader of the Labor Party
In office
7 March 1960 – 8 February 1967
DeputyGough Whitlam
Preceded byH. V. Evatt
Succeeded byGough Whitlam
Deputy Leader of the Labor Party
In office
20 June 1951 – 7 March 1960
LeaderH. V. Evatt
Preceded byH. V. Evatt
Succeeded byGough Whitlam
Minister for Immigration
In office
13 July 1945 – 19 December 1949
Prime MinisterBen Chifley
Preceded byNew position
Succeeded byHarold Holt
Minister for Information
In office
21 September 1943 – 19 December 1949
Prime MinisterJohn Curtin
Frank Forde
Preceded byBill Ashley
Succeeded byHoward Beale
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Melbourne
In office
21 September 1940 – 2 November 1972
Preceded byWilliam Maloney
Succeeded byTed Innes
Personal details
Arthur Augustus Calwell

(1896-08-28)28 August 1896
West Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Died8 July 1973(1973-07-08) (aged 76)
East Melbourne, Victoria, Australia
Political partyLabor
Margaret Murphy
(m. 1921; wid. 1922)

Elizabeth Marren (m. 1932)
EducationSt Mary's College
St Joseph's College
ProfessionPublic Servant
Trade Unionist

Arthur Augustus Calwell KCSG (28 August 1896 – 8 July 1973) was an Australian politician who served as the leader of the Labor Party from 1960 to 1967. He led the party to three federal elections without success.

Calwell grew up in Melbourne and attended St Joseph's College. After leaving school, he began working as a clerk for the Victorian state government. He became involved in the labour movement as an officeholder in the public-sector trade union. Before entering parliament, Calwell held various positions in the Labor Party's organisation wing, serving terms as state president and as a member of the federal executive. He was elected to the House of Representatives at the 1940 federal election, standing in the Division of Melbourne.

After the 1943 election, Calwell was elevated to cabinet as Minister for Information, overseeing government censorship and propaganda during World War II. When Ben Chifley became prime minister in 1945, he was also made Minister for Immigration. He oversaw the creation of Australia's expanded post-war immigration scheme, at the same time strictly enforcing the White Australia policy. In 1951, Calwell was elected deputy leader of the Labor Party in place of H. V. Evatt, who had succeeded to the leadership upon Chifley's death. The two clashed on a number of occasions over the following decade, which encompassed the 1955 party split. In 1960, Evatt retired and Calwell was chosen as his successor, thus becoming Leader of the Opposition.

Calwell and the Labor Party came close to victory at the 1961 election, gaining 15 seats and finishing only two seats shy of a majority. However, those gains were wiped out at the 1963 election. Calwell was one of the most prominent opponents of Australia's involvement in the Vietnam War, a stance that was not electorally popular at the time. In 1966, Calwell survived a leadership challenge from his deputy Gough Whitlam, survived an assassination attempt with minor injuries, and finally led his party to a landslide defeat at the 1966 election, winning less than one-third of the total seats. He was 70 years old by that point, and resigned the leadership a few months later. He remained in parliament until the 1972 election, which saw Whitlam become prime minister, and died the following year.

Early life

Birth and family background

Calwell was born on 28 August 1896 at his parents' home in West Melbourne. He was the oldest of seven children born to Margaret Annie (née McLoughlin) and Arthur Albert Calwell. His father worked as a police officer and retired as a superintendent of police.[1] Calwell's parents were both born in Australia. His maternal grandfather was Michael McLoughlin, who was born in County Laois, Ireland, and arrived in Melbourne in 1847 after jumping ship. He married Mary Murphy, who was born in County Clare. Calwell's paternal grandfather Davis Calwell (or Caldwell) was an Irish American born in Union County, Pennsylvania, who arrived in Australia in 1853 during the Victorian gold rush. He married Elizabeth Lewis, a Welshwoman, and settled near Ballarat, eventually becoming president of the Bungaree Shire Council. Davis Calwell's father, Daniel Caldwell, had immigrated to the United States from northern Ireland, and served in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives in the 1820s.[2]


Calwell grew up in West Melbourne.[3] As a young boy he contracted diphtheria, which permanently scarred his vocal chords and gave him a lifelong "raspish, nasal voice".[4] Although his father was an Anglican, Calwell was raised in his mother's Catholic faith. He began his education at St Mary's College, the local Mercedarian school. In 1909, he won a scholarship to St Joseph's College, North Melbourne, a Christian Brothers school. One of his closest friends at school was Matthew Beovich, a future Archbishop of Adelaide. In later life he said "I owe everything I have in life, under Almighty God and next to my parents, to the Christian Brothers".[5] Calwell's mother died in 1913, aged 40, when her oldest son was 16 and her youngest child was only three months old. His father remarried, eventually dying in 1938 at the age of 69.[6]

World War I

Calwell was an officer in the Australian Army Cadets at the outbreak of World War I, and made two unsuccessful applications for a commission in the Australian Imperial Force. After his second rejection in 1916 he made no further attempts to seek active service, being unwilling to join as an enlisted man; however, he was placed in the Army Reserve and remained there until receiving an honourable discharge in 1926.[7] Calwell joined the Young Ireland Society in 1914, and served as the organisation's secretary until 1916. His reputation as an Irish republican brought him to the attention of the military police, which suspected him of involvement in the more radical Irish National Association. His residence was searched on one occasion, and his correspondence was routinely examined by censors. On two occasions there were moves to have him dismissed from the military for disloyalty, but Calwell denied the accusations and there was little proof that he had been actively disloyal.[8]

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