Sir Walter "Wally" Benjamin Campbell, AC, QC (March 4, 1921 – September 4, 2004), left an indelible mark on the legal and political landscape of Australia.
Last Updated: October 27, 2023
Sir Walter “Wally” Benjamin Campbell: A Legacy of Law and Leadership
Sir Walter “Wally” Benjamin Campbell, AC, QC (March 4, 1921 – September 4, 2004), left an indelible mark on the legal and political landscape of Australia. His distinguished career, spanning from the courtroom to the corridors of power, was marked by exemplary service, principled leadership, and a commitment to the principles of justice. This biography delves into the remarkable life of Sir Walter Campbell, a man known for his legal acumen, his role as Governor of Queensland, and his contributions to academia.
Sir Walter “Wally” Benjamin Campbell, AC, QC
Governor of Queensland
- In office: 22 July 1985 – 29 July 1992
- Monarch: Elizabeth II
- Preceded by: Sir James Ramsay
- Succeeded by: Leneen Forde
Chief Justice of Queensland
- In office: 18 February 1982 – 7 July 1985
- Premier: Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen
- Preceded by: Charles Wanstall
- Succeeded by: Dormer Andrews
- Born: 4 March 1921, Burringbar, New South Wales
- Died: 4 September 2004 (aged 83), Ascot, Queensland
- Alma Mater: University of Queensland
- Allegiance: Australia
- Branch/Service: Royal Australian Air Force
- Years of Service: 1941–1946
- Rank: Flight Lieutenant
- Battles/Wars: Second World War
Background and Early Life
Walter Campbell was born in the picturesque town of Burringbar in northern New South Wales on March 4, 1921. His parents, Archie Eric Gordon Campbell and Leila Mary Murphy, provided the foundations of his character. Archie Campbell, a decorated soldier from the First World War, earned recognition for his gallantry in action against the Ottoman Turks in Gaza, as well as the Distinguished Service Order for his later efforts in Damascus. Tragically, Leila Campbell passed away unexpectedly, and young Walter, along with his brothers, spent a considerable amount of time with their maternal grandparents in northern New South Wales.
This early disruption in Campbell’s life affected his education, causing him to leave a Christian Brothers’ convent in Toowoomba. He continued his studies at a college in Lismore, New South Wales. However, Campbell’s academic journey was nothing short of extraordinary. He completed his education at Downlands College in Toowoomba, where he distinguished himself as the college’s first Open Scholar in the late 1930s. Notably, he had previously been named dux of the college twice and earned the highest grade in Queensland for Senior Latin.
University and Military Service
Campbell’s pursuit of knowledge led him to the University of Queensland in 1940, where he demonstrated a passion for journalism by serving as the editor of the student paper Semper Floreat during his first year. However, destiny had other plans for him. In 1941, he temporarily interrupted his studies to answer the call of duty in the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) during the Second World War.
Campbell’s time in the RAAF was marked by notable achievements. He successfully passed his pilot’s examination at RAAF Base Amberley on December 7, 1941, and was assigned to the 67th Reserve Squadron of the RAAF, patrolling Australia’s eastern coast. Later, he became a flight instructor but encountered adversity when he sustained a severe knee injury in a biplane crash. After his recovery, the RAAF entrusted him with command of a Liberator Base in the Darling Downs.
His service in the RAAF culminated with an honorable discharge, bearing the rank of flight lieutenant, on February 13, 1946. Upon returning to civilian life, Campbell resumed his studies. He became President of the University of Queensland Union, earning his degree with first-class honors in Law in 1948, having already acquired a Master of Arts the previous year.
Legal Career and Academic Pursuits
With his law degree in hand, Walter Campbell embarked on a legal career that would take him to the zenith of the legal profession. He was admitted to the Bar in 1948 and attained the prestigious title of Queen’s Counsel in 1960. His legal expertise even reached the Privy Council in London, where he made several appearances.
Campbell’s commitment to the legal field extended beyond his practice. In 1954, he became a member of the Law Faculty Board at the University of Queensland. He fondly recollected that, when he began his legal career, Queensland had only about seventy barristers in private practice, a number that had significantly increased by the time he assumed the role of Governor.
In 1965, Campbell was appointed President of the Queensland Association and held this position concurrently with the presidency of the national equivalent from 1966 to 1967. Notably, he represented Joh Bjelke-Petersen in a High Court appeal against the Australian Taxation Office in 1959.
Judicial Career and Leadership
Walter Campbell’s illustrious career reached a pinnacle when, in 1967, he was appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Queensland. Throughout the late 1960s and early 1970s, he engaged with fellow Justices in Canberra, discussing critical issues facing the judiciary, including challenges related to sentencing and the recruitment of eminent lawyers to the judiciary.
In 1982, a significant turning point arrived when the incumbent Chief and Puisne Justices of Queensland were due to retire, having reached the mandatory age of 70. The appointment of Campbell as Chief Justice stirred controversy, as he was chosen instead of Jim Douglas, the favored candidate of the Liberal Party. Joh Bjelke-Petersen, then Premier, admitted that Campbell was a “compromise candidate” chosen over Justice Douglas and his preferred Chief Justice, Dormer Andrews.
Despite the controversy surrounding his appointment, Campbell’s tenure as Chief Justice was marked by his commitment to the integrity of the legal system and his contributions to modernizing the Queensland Court. His principled stance on certain legislation and his determination to uphold legal integrity were evident.
Distinguished Academic Leadership
Walter Campbell’s contributions extended to academia, where he had been a member of the University of Queensland Senate since 1963. His profound involvement with the university culminated when he assumed the role of Chancellor in 1977, serving in this position for nine years until 1985. As Chancellor, he advocated for reforms in the admission of tertiary students and offered critical insights into the educational system.
Campbell’s time as Chancellor was not without controversy, as the government’s interference led to the withdrawal of Ross Fitzgerald’s “History of Queensland,” Volume Two, published by the university. Furthermore, an honorary doctorate of law was awarded to Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen, a decision that stirred public debate.
Governorship and Political Challenges
Campbell’s illustrious career took another turn when he succeeded Sir James Ramsay as the 21st Governor of Queensland on July 22, 1985. While his appointment was viewed with suspicion by some, it was widely regarded as a strategic move by the government to reposition him from the Chief Justiceship.
However, Campbell’s tenure as Governor was marked by several political challenges, reflecting the tumultuous era of Queensland politics. Internal strife within the National Party and the Premier, Joh Bjelke-Petersen, led to a constitutional crisis. Campbell’s handling of the crisis received praise from many quarters.
Despite the complexity of the situation, Campbell remained steadfast, refusing to use his reserve power to terminate Bjelke-Petersen’s commission until the Premier lost a vote of no confidence. The crisis was averted when Bjelke-Petersen retired from politics on December 1, 1987, bringing an end to a period of intense political turmoil.
An Advocate for the Monarchy and Retirement
After seven years of service as Governor, Campbell retired in July 1992, but he did not fade into retirement quietly. He continued to participate in various public discussions, including expressing his opposition to Paul Keating’s push for an Australian republic in 1993. In his writings, he asserted that republicanism was being used as a pretext to conceal deeper agendas.
Walter Campbell’s dedication to the monarchy remained unwavering, and he continued to speak in its defense.
During the launch of the second volume of “Upholding the Australian Constitution,” he shared his perspective, stating that republicanism was often used as a smokescreen to hide other underlying purposes.
Personal Life and Legacy
In his personal life, Campbell found love and partnership with Georgina Pearce, whom he married in 1942. The couple was blessed with three children, Deborah, Peter, and Wallace Campbell. They resided in Clayfield, Brisbane, during Campbell’s tenure in the Supreme Court, and later moved to Ascot after he left Government House.
Tragically, Sir Walter Campbell passed away at the age of 83 on September 4, 2004, after a brief period of illness. He was cremated at the Mt Thompson Crematorium, leaving behind a rich legacy of legal expertise, principled governance, and a commitment to the values he held dear.
Honours and Recognitions
Sir Walter Campbell’s contributions to the legal profession, academia, and governance were widely acknowledged. In 1979, he was appointed a Knight Bachelor, recognizing his exemplary service. A decade later, in 1989, he received one of the nation’s highest honors, being named a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), a testament to his distinguished career.
On January 1, 2001, he was awarded the Centenary Medal in recognition of his exceptional contributions to Australia. Throughout his career, Campbell’s unwavering dedication to justice, fairness, and the legal system earned him respect and admiration from colleagues, students, and fellow Australians.
In summary, Sir Walter “Wally” Benjamin Campbell was a man of remarkable achievements, who left an indelible mark on the legal, academic, and political spheres of Australia. His unwavering commitment to justice, principled leadership, and strong advocacy for the monarchy serve as an enduring legacy, inspiring future generations to uphold the values he cherished throughout his illustrious career. Sir Walter Campbell’s life and career stand as a testament to the enduring impact of individuals dedicated to the pursuit of justice and the betterment of their society.