Clyde Robert Cameron (1913–2008) was born at Murray Bridge, South Australia, and educated at Loos Primary School and Gawler High School. From 1928 to 1936 he was a roustabout on sheep stations and then graduated to the position of shearer. He soon became active in the Australian Workers Union and was an organiser from 1938 to 1941 and state secretary from 1941 to 1949. At the 1949 federal election he won the seat of Hindmarsh for the Australian Labor Party and held it until his retirement in 1980. He was president of the South Australian branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1946–48, 1958–59 and 1963–64.
In the long years in opposition, Cameron was a powerful figure in the shadow Cabinet and in the Australian Labor Party organisation. He became a fierce opponent of industrial groups and the leadership of the Australian Workers Union. He played a key role in the return to power, by supporting the leadership of E.G. Whitlam and securing the federal takeover of the Victorian branch of the Australian Labor Party in 1970. Following the victory at the 1972 election, he became Minister for Labour in the Whitlam Government. In June 1974 he was appointed Minister for Labour and Immigration. In June 1975 he lost the support of Whitlam, but he refused to resign and his commission was withdrawn by the Governor-General. He was offered the portfolio of Science and Consumer Affairs, which he reluctantly accepted. His official career came to an end when the Whitlam Government was dismissed on 11 November 1975. He was made an Officer of the Order of Australia in 1982.
Cameron was an avid reader, with an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Australian labour movement. When he was in opposition in the late 1960s, he carried out research on the formation of the Australian Workers Union in the 1880s and made use of the Library’s collections. He turned again to history following his retirement in 1980. He had recorded an extremely long oral history interview with Mel Pratt for the Library in 1971–72. In 1981 he assumed the role of interviewer, recording a very lengthy interview with Sir Garfield Barwick. In the next 12 years he made recordings of 11 other public figures. His passion for history was also evident in his meticulous work over many years in organising, indexing and binding his extensive papers.
Cameron had a long and close association with the Library during his 31 years as a federal Parliamentarian. In 1969 he stated that he would place his papers in the Library and the first instalment was received in 1973. He made additions to the collection nearly every year up to 2007 and, following his death, a final instalment was received from his family in 2009. In 1971–72 he recorded an oral history interview for the Library and in 1972 he arranged for the Library to receive tapes of speeches of the trade unionist Pat Mackie. From 1981 to 1993 the Library provided financial and technical support for his project of recording politicians and public servants and in particular it funded the transcribing, indexing and binding of the transcripts.
The Clyde Cameron Collection consists of recordings of conversations between Cameron and 12 people whom he had known during his long political career. Interestingly, only two of them had been colleagues in the Parliamentary Labor Party, whereas five had been leading figures in the Liberal Party. Cameron called the recordings ‘reminiscential conversations’ rather than interviews and they each contain the recollections, reflections and views of Cameron as well as the person whom he was recording. Most of the recordings are lengthy and they are among the longest held in the Library.
The individuals who took part in the project were:
- Sir Garfield Barwick, Liberal politician and Chief Justice (1981)
- Dame Nancy Buttfield, Liberal Senator (1983)
- Sir Peter Lawler, public servant and diplomat (1983)
- Justin O’Byrne, Labor Senator (1983)
- Sir John Gorton, Liberal politician and Prime Minister (1984)
- Sir James Plimsoll, public servant, diplomat and Governor (1984)
- Sir Paul Hasluck, Liberal politician and Governor-General (1985)
- Malcolm Fraser, Liberal politician and Prime Minister (1986)
- Ian Sharp, public servant and arbitration commissioner (1988)
- James Toohey, Labor Senator (1992)
- Robert Corcoran, Australian Labor Party activist (1992)
- Ingrid Murphy, wife of Lionel Murphy, Labor politician and High Court judge (1992).
Manuscripts and Personal Papers
The personal papers of Cameron comprise correspondence, diaries (1976–77), memoirs, speeches, research material and notes, records of the Australian Labor Party and the Australian Workers Union, cutting books, pamphlets and printed ephemera. The correspondence mostly dates from 1970 to 2007. There are extensive papers relating to Pat Mackie, E.G. Whitlam and Bob Hawke.
The oral history recordings, together with bound transcripts and indexes, are held in the Oral History Collection at various locations. They have been catalogued individually. A 25-year closure applies to most of the recordings before they are available to the public.
The manuscripts and personal papers are kept together in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 4614. A finding aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-415358644/findingaid. Consolidated indexes of the letters and some of the other papers are shelved with the collection. Some of the papers are held under restricted access.
Cameron, Clyde R., The confessions of Clyde Cameron 1913–1990, as told to Daniel Connell, ABC Enterprises, Sydney, 1990.
Carr, Bob, Cameron and Barwick tell it as it is, The bulletin, 16 February 1982, pp. 31–2.
Guy, Bill, A life on the left: a biography of Clyde Cameron, Wakefield Press, Adelaide, 1999.
Legge, Kate, Talking of history, just for the record, The age, 3 August 1985, p. 9.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)