Skip to main content

Portrait of Alec Campbell
, 2001-2004

by Terry Eichler

oil on canvas (frame: 99.0 cm x 147.0 cm)

Alec Campbell (1899-2002) was Australia's last surviving Anzac, and possibly the last survivor of the entire Gallipoli campaign. Campbell signed up at the age of 16, claiming he was two years older, and landed on Gallipoli in November 1915. He was discharged from a field hospital the following month, having contracted influenza, and later suffered mumps. Shipped home as medically unfit following the evacuation, he returned to Australia, where he was to father nine children - the last born when he was 69. Working as a railway carriage builder from the mid-1920s until the beginning of World War 2, he was active in the Australian Railways Union. During this period, and later, he worked as a builder on Old Parliament House, other sites around Canberra and in Adelaide. Tasmanian-based for most of his life, he gained an economics degree at the age of 50, built boats and sailed in six Sydney to Hobart yacht races.

Alec Campbell never sentimentalised or exaggerated his short stint at Gallipoli, yet he was fated to become a powerful symbol of the famous campaign. When he died at the age of 103, honoured with a State funeral in Hobart, HM Queen Elizabeth II wrote that 'his death marks the passing of the generation which contributed so much to the character, identity and independent standing of the Australian nation.' Historian Michael McKernan, among many others, has explained his significance to the broader Australian community. 'While ever we had the opportunity of personal contact with a man of the decency and humanity and humility of an Alec Campbell, we had the opportunity of knowing what we needed to know in a personal sense about that campaign . . . It's a remarkable thing that a man like Alec Campbell lived as long as he did to keep that personal contact and message for all Australians. And, somehow or other, we've got to make sure that that's not lost.'

Terry Eichler is a Vietnam War veteran. Eichler hopes that his art will 'bear witness to the sickening reality (veterans) encountered in Vietnam' and encourage Australians 'never again as a nation [to] resort to war as a strategy of foreign policy.'

Collection: National Portrait Gallery
Gift of the artist 2005
Accession number: 2005.78