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 Australias traditional immigration base beyond the British Isles to include eastern and southern Europe and to promote aggressive recruitment as the means of preserving a White Australia. 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.
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. Arthurs 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 Arthurs 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 the 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 a lack of funds for a college education made him take up a job at a very early age. .