“It is better to be defeated on principle than to be defeated on lies1,” “ Two Wyongs do not make a White1, ” “ Populate or Perish1” and many other such popular but controversial quotes are attributed to the one and only Arthur Calwell, the politician who had the honour of being the longest serving member in the House of Representatives in Australia; serving as an MP for 32 years. Active and energetic in the Australian Labor Party, he was elected President of the Victorian Labor Party in 1931.He is considered as a social revolutionary, who has contributed invaluably to Australian Nationalism2.Arthur Calwell was the chief architect of Australia’s post-war immigration scheme, at a time when Europe was teeming with refugees who desired a better life far from their war-torn homelands. Calwell was appointed as the first Minister for Immigration in the Australian government in 1945, during Ben Chifley’s term as Prime Minister. More effectively than others could have done in the 1940s, he was able to expand Australia's traditional immigration base beyond the British Isles to include eastern and southern Europe.Calwell and Sir Tasman Heyes1, his personal choice to head the new department, formed an outstandingly creative partnership. In a way, whatever Australia is today: an affluent, developed country with a zillion opportunities for locals and immigrants: can be contributed to the far-sightedness of Arthur Calwell.
A sneak peak into the background and ideals of Arthur Calwell will help the reader understand more about his style of functioning and perpetually courting controversies.
Calwell, Arthur Augustus (1896-1973), the eldest of seven children, was born on 28 August 1896 in West Melbourne. Both his parents had a Victorian upbringing, which explains his stiff, conservative thinking in the political field. His father was a police constable who later rose to the rank of superintendent. Arthur's paternal grandfather Davis Calwell was an American, whose Ulster Protestant father had served in the Pennsylvania General Assembly. Davis came to Victoria in 1853 and married a diminutive Welshwoman Elizabeth Lewis who became, in Arthur's phrase, "the matriarch of the tribe". Thus there was politics and authority running in his blood.
In Calwell's own words "I grew up in crowded inner area, with its cottages built on fourteen-feet frontages and even less, and with evidence of human misery visible to all". He suffered a near fatal attack of diphtheria when he was barely six years old and later attributed the high-pitched huskiness of his mature voice to the same.
He was a bright student, but lack of funds for a college education made him take up a job at a very early age. After matriculation at Christian Brothers' College, Calwell started his career with the Victorian Public Service on 28 March 1913 as a clerk in the Department of Agriculture1. He moved to the Treasury in 1923. At the very young age of 19, he became secretary of the Melbourne branch of the Australian Labor Party, marking his first step in the world of Australian politics.
When the British Empire went to war in August 1914, Calwell, a second lieutenant in the senior cadets, applied for a commission in the Australian Imperial Force. Rejected because of his age, in 1915-21 he served as a lieutenant in the Militia. By 1916 he was a critic of the war and an ardent advocate of a 'No' vote in the conscription referendum which split the Labor Party that year. His activities as secretary of the Young Ireland Society after the 1916 Easter Rising brought him under the surveillance of security authorities. Honorary secretary (from 1917) of the State Service Clerical Association, he was foundation president (1925) of the restructured Australian Public Service Association (Victorian branch).