Colin Campbell-Fraser interview, 8 October 2014, 14 October 2014 and 22 October 2014

Dublin Core


Colin Campbell-Fraser interview, 8 October 2014, 14 October 2014 and 22 October 2014


Public Affairs


Colin Campbell-Fraser is a UWA Graduate and prior to taking the role of Director of Public Affairs at UWA in 1996 he enjoyed a successful career as a senior journalist, media producer and policy and media advisor to various Ministers and Premiers at a state level. Colin retired from his role as Principal Advisor for External relations at UWA in 2011 but he maintains strong links to UWA as a Member of UWA's Council of Convocation.


Campbell-Fraser, Colin


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Colin Campbell-Fraser


Gwelup, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour 4 minutes, 50 seconds
Interview 2: 1 hour, 14 minutes, 50 seconds
Interview 3: 1 hour, 49 minutes, 34 seconds
Total: 4 hours, 9 minutes, 14 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Colin Stewart Campbell-Fraser born 29 October 1945 in Corrigin. Family lived at Bruce Rock until he was about 10 years old. Father PNG technical transferred to Perth and the family lived at Hobart Street, North Perth. Got Junior Certificate at Tuart Hill High School. Became a copy boy at WA Newspapers with a view to becoming an apprentice compositor. Father impressed on him the value of getting an apprenticeship. When he turned 18, he was called up to the Vietnam War but it was deferred until he finished his apprenticeship. He joined the army in 1967. WA Newspapers (WAN) was located at 162 St George’s Terrace. His job was to put the pages of the newspaper together in metal frames. The industry went through many technical changes and Cam was involved in these as a union member and shop steward and later production supervisor. The company had made up the difference between his normal pay and what the army paid him which was very generous and engendered his loyalty. Returned to WAN in 1969.
04:26 Coming back to WAN was like returning home. People didn’t move around so much in those days. Cam attended a Trades & Labour Council Conference at the age of 16. Five of the speakers told the young men in the audience that the days of a job for life were over. In time he became a floor hand then held supervisory positions in charge of shifts. There were four shifts between the Daily News and the West Australian. Staff rotated through the shifts every 3 months. When he was working as a copy boy in 1961 on the Pictorial Desk he was encouraged to do study with a view to taking a photography cadetship. He studied at Tuart Hill High School to do Leaving English but did not complete it. As a result of army service he was paid to do 1 year full time study or 2 years part-time. He went back to Leederville Tech to do his leaving and did one year of English and one year of English Literature. The following year he went to re-enrol and was advised to do a mature-aged Matriculation which could take him to university. He repeated English and did Economics which gave him entry into UWA in 1972.
10:54 He enrolled in English Literature and Politics. Bob Hetherington lectured in Politics. 1972 was the year that Labor swept into power under Gough Whitlam. He had always read at home so it wasn’t a chore to study literature. He was enthused and stimulated by the study. He was initially quite intimated by the younger students but soon realised he had life experience on his side. The lecturers and the administration staff were supportive. The hardest part was trying to balance work, study and family life. You had to enrol for a full year at UWA whereas WAIT or Curtin had a semester system. He often had to withdraw from units.
15:34 The lecturers and tutorials were generally from about 4pm. He had to learn how to use the library for research. There were other matured aged people studying particularly after 1972. They weren’t so many team projects in those days. Several mature-aged people were studying industrial relations. This led to a more collegial atmosphere.
20:40 He loved Ancient History and enjoyed studying the politics of the period and the fact that life has not changed so much in the way we organise ourselves. Industrial relations and the psychology of managing the work force were beginning to be popular. Cam learned that he was an informal leader. The impact of his studies made the newspaper realise that he had potential. Cam recalled some excellent debates with the sub editors and journalists.
25:06 Although UWA staff sympathised with his plight, the university had not formal support for part-time and/or mature aged students. He needed and welcomed the feedback that he got from the academic staff. He felt empowered as an individual whereas on the shop floor he was merely a production unit. Discussion and debate was also quite strong within the union movement. The union was a very good training ground for learning how to manage issues. The printing industry was faced with vast changes in technology. People had to transition and learn new skills. More women coming into the work force was a challenge for many! They were prepared for the technological changes as print media in other areas of the world had already gone through this. Cam was taught how to type in the army as signals officer. He found this a very useful skill when keyboarding and computers were introduced.
31:32 In 1978, the Herald newspaper in Melbourne took over WAN. People who left were not replaced and they moved from employment of journalist cadetships to graduate journalists. Many of these graduates left rather than do the mundane jobs. Cam was approached by the Editor of the Daily News, Ian Hummerston, to become a journalist. Cam negotiated that he would take a pay cut. Now he was working during daylight hours during the last 3 years of his degree. This fact assisted him to complete the degree in 1981. Cam’s wife and children and his father attended his graduation ceremony. He was presented with his degree by the Chancellor D. H. Aitken who was also Chairman of the Main Roads Department.
37:19 Cam negotiated to report as a graded journalist and the editors knew that he could write and had life experience and contacts. He started off doing general reporting. His first story was on heatwave conditions in WA. He had already learned the importance of maintaining relationships. The job was a shared experience and very immediate.
41:36 Cam covered a lot of the tax avoidance stories that were prevalent at that time. Also the garbage collectors’ strike. He did the environment round and a column called “Bird Watch” during the drought in about 1978 or 1979. His university contacts were from Murdoch or Curtin. UWA was more conservative.
45:13 After environment he did industrial relations and then was made the Daily News political reporter in about 1984 when John Arthur left for Canberra. Cam would attend the Labor Party public meetings if John was away and always covered the Trades & Labour Council meetings. John was tenacious and followed Sir Charles Court around doggedly in 1982 as he had got wind of Court’s impending retirement. His persistence led to Sir Charles Court calling him in and giving him the scoop. Court was succeeded by Ray O’Connor who was known to Cam from campaigning in East Perth and playing football for East Perth. Cam has made no secret of his political affiliations as he considers it dishonest to do so.
50:16 Politicians regularly contact journalists to present their case. The journalist must enquire beyond what is given to them. Politicians also invite the media to the opening of new infrastructure projects. In 1983, when Brian Burke was elected Premier, he established a practice of taking the Cabinet to the community and would fly them and a media contingent to places such as Albany or Kalgoorlie to hold Cabinet meetings. This was not standard practice.
53:53 Cam had his own office in WAN but in Parliament the journalists shared offices. Cam was very rarely in his office at the newspaper. He generally had about 8 assignments per day and would phone in the news from Parliament House, the Trades & Labour Centre or the Courts.
56:09 When he had “writer’s block”, he would write a human interest story. One of his first stories involved interviewing the parents of a young violinist who had died in a traffic accident. Another involved pet rocks!
60:48 The editors and sub editors would check the copy. Cam had done a bit of that occasionally as relief work and if he worked on the Saturday paper. He preferred journalism as he liked to be out of the office and meeting new people.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Journalist (1978-1985). While on Cam’s rounds one day he was visiting Premier Brian Burke’s press secretary, Ron Barry, who suggested that Cam work as media secretary to Peter Dowding. His fellow journalists thought he had gone over to the dark side! At his leaving party he was told he wrote without personal or political bias.
06:25 Worked closely with Peter Dowding’s private staff. Told Peter Dowding he would not lie to the media and that he required access to him as Minister whenever he needed it. Much of his work centred on industrial relations, employment and training issues.
11:05 He gave guidance to how ministers and policy officers framed things. He tried to imagine how announcements would impact on the public. There were several industrial issues at the time - strikes in the Pilbara, etc. His role was to be a sounding board and to guide and ‘protect’ the minister. Handling television media was a significant part of the role. Print, radio and TV all have a spatial context requiring a set time to get your message across.
16:28 Cam met Brian Burke at WAN. In this job he liaised with Brian Burke through his press secretaries and sometimes with him personally. Burke established a meaningful government media office. It caused better co-ordination and helped to enhance the solidarity of Cabinet but there were unscripted comments from time to time.
21:50 Cam trained the minister in how to be media savvy. Before a press conference, they would rehearse what some of the questions might be. Brian Burke understood the importance of having a Cabinet that looked presentable. Cam was responsible for Ernie Bridge when he became a Minister in 1986. He was the first Indigenous Minister and was very personable. Cam believes his contribution to UWA was to build a more responsible and flexible culture and to communicate the university’s vision.
29:56 The stock market crash of 1987 impacted on Perth, WA and on the State Government. The Rothwells rescue was put in place. Unfortunately the Government was not in full possession of the facts. Brian Burke had decided to leave in early 1988. There were four emerging leaders: Peter Dowding, Julian Grill, Bob Pearce and David Parker.
34:23 Peter Dowding’s office worked hard to make him palatable as a successor to Brian Burke. He was announced as Premier in late 1987 but was in a holding pattern until Brian Burke left in 1988. The Rothwells controversy was by then at its height and took 6 months to discover the scale of the problem.
39:41 Cam then became Press Secretary to the Premier. Brian Burke was a very hard act to follow as he was a consummate media performer. Peter Dowding was also very good with the media and a good and clear thinker. The “Dowding’s Working” campaign re launched him after about 6 months as a hard worker and a man of the people. This created a sense of change. Peter Dowding’s first budget was a social budget but they couldn’t build on it as he began to white-anted from within his own party.
45:50 In the end, Peter Dowding could not resist the internal and external campaigns against him. Premier Dowding went to the World Economic Forum in Davos in 1990 to showcase Western Australia. Politics in Europe were at a very interesting stage with the dismantling of the Berlin Wall while back in Perth the knives were out for him.
49:05 Caucus voted him out but the deal was that Carmen Lawrence would retain David Parker as Deputy Leader. Cam believes that David Parker should have been encouraged to resign so that the Lawrence Government would have some distance from WA Inc. Carmen Lawrence did not want to retain Cam as he was viewed as being too close to Peter Dowding. He worked for TAFE WA as Public Affairs Manager for about 9 months.
55:29 In late 1991, Carmen Lawrence asked Cam to be Principal Private Secretary (now called Chief of Staff) for Dr Judyth Watson. She was a new Minister who came in when Gavan Troy was sacked and her office was a mish-mash of staff from previous ministers. Her portfolio mix was all people orientated and the demands were great. There was also the wash up from Western Women and Robin Greenburgh. Other issues were Mabo, Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Marandoo and Yakabindie. Cam had to unify the office.
1:02:26 There was a very good press report from Judith Watson’s visit to Marandoo and she won back a lot of respect in Cabinet.
1:07:12 A year later he was asked to become Director of Policy in the Office of the Premier. Cabinet was fractured due to the Penny Easton affair. Despite their best efforts the Government lost the 1993 election to Richard Court.
1:12:42 Cam could have stayed working for the incoming Government but he decided to leave. He was offered a job on the ABC working on the current affairs morning radio programme.

Interview 3

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
Cam was producer of the ABC morning current affairs programme from April 1993 to August 1996. At the same time, he was doing coaching work – managing leaders and senior executives for government agencies or law firms and so on. UWA approached him this way. They were at a cross roads. There had been a failed merger plan between UWA and Murdoch in 1988/89. Fay Gale had been appointed the first female Vice Chancellor. She was a strong feminist who believed in fairness and equity and she had been experiencing some hostility to her appointment and the changes that she was trying to make. At the same time, an issue known as the “Rindos affair” had split the university. UWA was getting bad press.
05:11 Alan Robson, the Deputy Vice Chancellor and Malcolm Orr, the Registrar tried to put out the fires. Cam gave some initial advice and was eventually appointed as Director of Public Affairs in 1996. The culture and management style of UWA at this time was conservative. They had no coherent strategy to deal with these sorts of problems. Cam insisted his office was separate from the Vice-Chancellery. Cam realised UWA’s culture must change and that the public and the media needed to have access to the university.
09:37 Cam decided that he was going to make internal relations more informal. There seemed to be an inability to act in a timely fashion in relation to issues and he felt that the university was operating in a cocoon. Cam encouraged the academics to co-operate and participate with the media. He made his office the first port of call for the Australian media, particularly in relation to research programmes. He used his contacts in the media and politics to enable UWA academics to take part in conferences. He did a review after 4 years and discovered that roughly 500-600 UWA staff had been quoted in the media on an annual basis. The media have space to fill and are looking for good talent. Cam was able to deliver them on time and built up a good relationship with the media.
15:20 Cam had a good PA but ran a lean office so that he was not accused of wasting university funds. When the academics realised that community service was part of being considered for promotion they were more prepared to get involved. Fay was highly respected by the women in the university as she promoted a lot of women to leadership roles. She was respected nationally and internationally. The Howard Government reduced Commonwealth funding to universities and Fay championed the importance of higher education.
20:24 The other part of Cam’s role was to revamp the outreach programme of the university – UWA Press, Extension, the museums and galleries and the Festival. He proposed that an umbrella be placed over all of these different aspects of UWA. Fay recruited Professor Margaret Seares in 1997. She was a UWA music graduate and had been head of music. She had managed the Department of Culture and the Arts in Western Australia. She was appointed Chair of the Australia Council part-time and worked for UWA part time as Executive Director, Community Relations to promote UWA’s interests.
24:06 Cam believes that the Rindos affair got out of control and that people became entrenched in their positions. He puts this down to lack of communication and unwillingness to understand the issue. It got so bad that there was an Upper House enquiry of the Legislative Council. He advised Fay Gale to tell the enquiry that as Chancellor, she was responsible for all decisions made by the university. This took the wind out of their sails to some extent. There was a headline to this effect in the West Australian. The death of David Rindos in 1996 effectively ended the controversy.
29:50 The faculties viewed the administration as becoming too big and taking over their patch. Consultation was paramount in order to make sure that everyone felt that they had some input. Committee structures needed reform as it took too long to effect changes. The inertia was also evident in other parts of the university. Alan Robson and Fay Gale had a plan to buy out senior staff and give them a good package in order that they could retire with some integrity and dignity and so that the university could bring in people with fresh ideas. Alan Robson and Fay Gale decided that UWA should aim to be one of the top 100 universities in the world by the time of the centenary in 2013 and to be within the top 50 within fifty years.
34:57 Cam was doing this job for 10 years. He then went to a 3 day week as Principal Adviser External Relations and Advocacy. Advocacy was the buzz word and he became more of a lobbyist. Fay Gale left in 1997 and Deryck Schreuder was appointed. Cam’s role was to support the Executive and give them self-belief and honest advice. Cam believes that Deryck Schreuder did not achieve as much as he wanted to at UWA as he had some personal issues – not least that his wife remained living in Sydney. Alan Robson remained as Deputy Vice Chancellor and remained responsible for the running of internal issues.
40:10 Deryck Schreuder wanted UWA to be more engaged with the community. Fay Gale did 3 significant things in her last year – she committed to the air conditioning of Winthrop Hall; she committed to building a University Club and she established the Fay Gale Scholarship for UWA staff. They appointed a Director of Management Events to help engage with the community. In 1999, the established the Parents Welcome. Another significant thing was the celebration every two years for those who had donated their mortal remains to science. This involved their relatives and the Anatomy students.
46:51 Towards the millennium, Deryck Schreuder was active on various boards and committees promoting the university nationally and internationally. On Valentine’s Day 2000 all those couples who had wedding photos taken and/or married on campus were invited back to UWA for an afternoon tea. They got a front page human interest story in The West Australian. Cam used his media background to get people to talk about the university in ways other than just about research and the students.
50:15 The 2000 Festival of Perth was one of the most significant but went over budget. Managing this was quite sensitive. Perth could have lost its Festival and the university its community outreach. It was Seán Doran first festival. The role is now split into two roles to enable the artistic director to take care of the arts side and a manager who oversees the finances.
55:40 UWA established a Clinical Evaluation Training Centre along the same lines of ones that had been established in the UK. This was opened by the Queen in about January 2000. Significant funders were introduced to the university as a result of this event. It enabled the university to extend its invitation list to all the significant people around Perth including the State Governor and the politicians.
01:01:15 More capital works followed. In 2002, Cam approved the interviews for would be Big Brother contestants to take place in Winthrop Hall. It made the university look a little less aloof. Another controversial event was the Pangaea conference in about 1999. Cam feels that universities have a role in facilitating discussion and debate – not matter how controversial – and can provide a neutral environment.
01:06:31 A key event was Alan Robson recruiting Barry Marshall back to Perth and UWA. Geoff Gallop opened the Motorola Building in 2003. This later became the Ken and Julie Michael Building . UWA internally funded the new Science Building at UWA that Geoff Gallop opened. Cam recalls when he heard through a Spanish journalist in 2005 that Barry Marshall had won the Nobel Prize. This was important for Barry Marshall and UWA.
01:15:35 Around this time, Cam did more external lobbying and attended State Political Conferences which had not been done before. Cam managed to organise a meeting with Kevin Rudd and the Senate before he was elected in 2007. When Stephen Smith became Foreign Affairs Minister he extended an invitation to the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice. Cam drafted a letter for Alan Robson extending an invitation to her if she ever visited WA. She did visit UWA in 2008.
01:21:54 In this period there were great developments in fund raising and outreach. Ex-UWA students such as Kim Beazley and Carmen Lawrence have been invited back to take up positions at UWA. This adds value to the university experience. In 2014, Stephen Smith became Winthrop Professor of Law at UWA. It is important that students see high achievers whether they be politicians or business leaders as people who were once students like them. It makes them realise that they too can achieve their goals and not lose their fundamental humanity.
01:25:43 To make UWA a top university, it was necessary to elevate the status of the university and make it more well-known. It was decided that UWA should be a centre of research excellence. Cam’s role was to publicise that this was their goal and get the message across to decision makers both in Australia and overseas. Recruitment was important; it was fortunate that Barry Marshall returned to UWA just before he won a Nobel Prize. If Cam went interstate he ensured he met with education journalists in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra and also politicians and ministers.
01:29:45 Facilities were also important. From 1997 through to about 2002, approximately $5 million was made in capital investment including the University Club, the Science Building, the Business School and new libraries. Staff and students saw the value of this. Technologies were changing. Cam made a point of introducing himself to the new Guild President each year. The student experience was key and through them the alumni. There is a cultural precinct at UWA now. The student experience is far more valuable than when Cam was at university in the 1970s. Working in PR for a university is very satisfying because it is a good product.
01:34:52 Working for UWA was similar to politics in that Cam was working for leaders and he wanted to do the best for those people. Working for UWA is slightly more complicated than working for politicians. Academic freedom is a bit different to making decisions according to the party line. Cam enjoyed working for UWA. It was a good product, with good people and a common thread of community service. The campus was inspiring and seeing young people blossom and the beauty of the grounds made working there a joy. He is appreciative of all the people he worked with and for at UWA.
01:43:20 Watching the eulogies for Gough Whitlam on television last night (21 October 2014) made him realise how visionary Gough Whitlam was. He was elected in 1972 which was Cam’s first year at UWA. Cam is concerned about the current financial situation and the lack of focus on university funding. He hopes that UWA will remain open to all sections of society. UWA is now 88th in the world and it is hoped that will get in the top 50. UWA must not shut itself off from the public but remain open and accessible.



Campbell-Fraser, Colin, “Colin Campbell-Fraser interview, 8 October 2014, 14 October 2014 and 22 October 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,