In a move that surprised his friends and colleagues, McCallum
left Parliament in March 1935 to take up the post of Chairman of
the Agricultural Bank.
McCallum, Minister for Works, has been selected to be chairman of
the new board of commissioners which will be charged with a
re-organisation of the Agricultural Bank under the Act passed by
Parliament in December following upon the sensational report by the
Royal Commission which investigated the bank's affairs... Mr
McCallum's retirement from the Ministry comes as a profound
surprise to political circles. The Cabinet, while loath to release
him, was actuated by the idea of appointing the best man for the
formidable task of reconstructing the bank.
'New Bank Board. Mr McCallum
Australian, 7 March 1935
Perhaps McCallum was unwilling to
continue the heavy work load of supporting Premier Collier without
any indication that he would attain the premiership himself
 or perhaps the constant
demands on him as Minister and MLA led him to look for a change of
career. A letter written to his son, Don, who was then in London,
gives some insight into McCallum's frame of mind at the time.
The general public got the shock of
the century when they read in Thursday's West that I had been
appointed Chairman of the new Agricultural Bank Commissioners. The
appointment is for seven years at £2,000 per year less financial
emergency reductions. You will remember that we put the Bill
through last session. They offered me the position in January but I
did not decide until last week. Even Cabinet got a shock. I don't
believe a dozen people in the State associated me with the
The Trades Hall folks were dumbfounded especially Fremantle people.
Nominations for the selection ballots had closed only a week before
the general elections. I was unopposed and now I am out of
politics. Finished I think for all time. The announcement has been
well received. The West had a very nice leading article. I have had
scores of wires and letters of
congratulations however I would not be surprised if Keenan and
Latham attack me when Parliament meets. It was a wrench to me to
give it up. The Leadership was just within my reach and my life's
ambition had to be allowed to slip from me. I am however heartily
sick of the life and although I have taken on what is regarded as
the most difficult task any man in this State has had I am sure it
will not be so strenuous as what I have been doing....
No more fiery speeches. No more elections and thank goodness no
more poverty stricken callers every morning. 
There was some controversy over the appointment with the
Fremantle Districts Sentinel condemning
the fact that 'from April 1933 to 1936, all offices of profit at
the disposal of the Crown were, with the exception of the
Lieut.-Governorship, awarded to prominent adherents of the party in
power'. The paper continued:
McCallum and his confreres have a job with great possibilities, and
should they be successful in rehabilitating their 10,000 debt
ridden clients, all on overdrawn accounts, they will go down in
WA's history as the most successful political-financial
experimentalists Australia will yet have recorded.
'Picking the political plums',
Sentinel, March 1935
Left: Alex McCallum, March
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.
Records of Alex McCallum. Alex McCallum, March 1935.
Right: Farewell function for Alex
McCallum. Left to right: Mr Munt (Under-Secretary for Works), Alex
McCallum, Mr Tindale (Director of Works). Caption reads:
'Upon resigning office as Deputy Premier
and minister for Works to take over Chairmanship Agricultural Bank
Commissioners, March 1935. Period of Office: April 1924 to April
1930. May 1933 to March 1935. A record under responsible
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.
Records of Alex McCallum. Farewell function for Alex McCallum on
his resignation from office as Deputy Premier and Minister for
Works, March 1935. JCPML00830/8
Taking on the 'formidable task of reconstructing the Bank'
Alex McCallum now turned his attentions to the modernisation and
reorganisation of the Agricultural Bank's management. A thorough
examination and valuation of the Bank's securities was completed by
March 1936, revealing that debts owed to the Bank (including loans
to soldier settlers, group settlers and Industries Assistance
loans) exceeded £16 million, while its securities were only £11.5
million. Historian and writer Ken Spillman records how McCallum
went about the task of reconstruction:
Bank's Chairman, Alex McCallum, remembered as a 'dynamic',
'forthright' and 'pragmatical' person with a 'capacity to
administer affairs with equity and ability', frequently toured the
agricultural districts, often in the company of fellow Commissioner
Charles Clarke. Although a long-time Fremantle resident, McCallum
had farming interests of his own, and rural communities respected
him for the diligent interest he took in their affairs, and his
preparedness to grubby his hands with farm-to-farm inspections.
Between June 1935 and June 1936,McCallum visited farms at
Geraldton, Kununoppin, Kellerberrin, Bruce Rock, Northam, Narrogin,
Katanning, Denmark, Manjimup, Busselton, Bunbury, Esperance, the
Lakes Districts, Bullfinch, Southern Cross, Holleton, Dulyalbin,
and Gibb Rock; in 1936, he personally arranged the employment, by
the Department of Agriculture, of a well-known authority on
sheep-breeding and husbandry...who, following the Royal Commission's
recommendations, were converting to sheep farming. 
The Commissioners were able to report in August 1936 that the
process of consolidating and liquidating securities and
conditioning debts had commenced, in line with the Royal
Commission's recommendations. McCallum
worked tirelessly even though he 'wasn't a well man'.  His son, Don, recalls talking
with his father about his work at the Bank:
'Well, how are things going with
this Agricultural Bank of yours?'
Alex McCallum was an extraordinary man. Not only did he have a
personal knowledge of all farming pursuits by virtue of the
properties we owned ourselves but he had an uncanny natural
knowledge of finance. He could quickly see danger signals... He
said, 'Son, if I had only realised the mess McLarty left this place
in I would never have taken the job on. I suppose it is really not
McLarty's fault because he had to put up with too much Government
I said 'Well, what about you?' My father and I could always speak
this way together since I had many years before sworn a mighty oath
to him that I would never disclose these sorts of confidences.
He said, 'Well, I only accepted the appointment on the condition
that the Act would be amended to correct this, and I would have the
right to appoint my own two commissioners to help me.' He had
immediately appointed E A Berkeley, the Under Treasurer and Charles
Lionel Clarke, a pastoralist and most capable businessman. He
continued 'Son, as I see it we will
have to write off five million pounds of mortgaged debt due to the
Bank,' he said in a shocked voice. Five million in those days would
amount to at least 100 million today.
I said, 'Well what are you going to do about it?' He said, 'I'll
see it through, even if it kills me.'
He then later attempted the impossible, to try and meet each one of
these mortgagees personally and inspect their properties. Yes, it
killed him at the age of fifty-nine. 
Alex McCallum also traveled to
Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney in his role as Chairman of the Bank
Board, studying the activities of other State banks, as the Bank's
'board has the power to write down debts and revalue, and during
his trip, he intends to see what is being done in this regard in
the Eastern States'. 
Left: Alex McCallum and others having a
tea break on a farm inspection, c 1934
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.
Records of Alex McCallum. Alex McCallum and others having a tea
break on a farm inspection, 193? JCPML00830/179
Right: Alex McCallum on one of his
numerous visits to country areas, c 1930s
John Curtin Prime Ministerial Library.
Records of Alex McCallum. Alex McCallum and others, country road
trip, 193? JCPML00830/175/129
Accusations of bribery and corruption - facing a Royal
In Parliament in August 1936, T J Hughes, a persistent critic of
McCallum, accused him of corruption and political expediency,
attacking him about a range of matters including his farm at
Muntadgin, the Licensing Court, and McCallum's part-ownership, with
Senator E B Johnston's wife, of the Captain Stirling Hotel in
Nedlands. McCallum had granted planning permission for the Hotel,
just before he retired from Parliament, and Hughes alleged improper
conduct. John Willcock, who had become Premier on Collier's
retirement in mid 1935, requested a Royal Commission to investigate
these and other matters and its findings were tabled by Percy J
Hart, Royal Commissioner, on 8 February 1937. The Commission
cleared McCallum of any wrong-doing.
Precis of the Report of the Royal
Commissioner presented to both houses of Parliament by His
Excellency's command at the second sitting of the sixteenth
The Royal Commission was called to enquire into charges of bribery
and corruption made by Mr Thomas John Hughes in a speech made to
the Legislative assembly of WA on 27th day of August 1936 in
relation to: The present Premier Hon J C Willcock; The West
Australian Newspaper; Hon E H Gray MLC; Hon A McCallum (present
Chairman of Commissioners of the Agricultural Bank); The Licensing
Court; SP Betting and Mining Reservations.
The charges made against Alex McCallum were as follows:
a) He (AMcC) had the Premier of the State in an unfortunate
position, in which he could blackmail the Premier into doing
anything he wanted. The Premier was in the unfortunate position
that he had to leave the State and when he returned the gun was put
at his head by our noble Alex McCallum. He was not game to wait and
stand the chance of having his seat declared vacant, but he forced
the Premier to take certain action because he had the Premier, who
had been his colleague for years, at his mercy; so he demanded from
the Premier the job, for which he has absolutely no qualifications
at all, at 2,000 pounds a year.
b) With reference to the request for a picture show and the hotel
at Nedlands. The then Minister for Lands held out on them and held
up the necessary regulation for four months. The Premier suddenly
transferred from the Minister for Lands to Mr McCallum, who was
then Minister for Works, the portfolio governing town planning and
three days before Mr McCallum retired from public life he reversed
the decision of the Minister for Lands and granted leave for the
Pub and the Picture Show.
The findings of the commissioner were as follows:
In relation to (a) 'I am clearly and definitely of the opinion that
the allegations in charge (a) are not true. I believe and so hold
that the Honorable Michael Francis Troy (then Deputy Premier and
Minister for Lands) and the Honorable Philip Collier were witnesses
of truth and I adopt their evidence and unhesitatingly acquit both
the Honorable Alex McCallum and the Honorable Philip Collier of the
charges levelled against them in this respect.
In relation to (b): On the whole I see no grounds whatsoever for
the suggestions made against the Hon P Collier, MLA nor against the
Hon A McCallum. I do not think in this respect, any charge was made
against the Hon M F Troy, but assuming that his character is
necessarily involved in this charge, I find that his evidence was
true, and that throughout the transaction he acted in a
conscientious manner and from a high sense of duty.
In Summary: The commissioner said
'Whilst, therefore, I find that none of the charges preferred have
been substantiated, I feel it is no part of my duty to say that
those charges should never have been made. This, as I have
indicated, was a matter for the Legislative Assembly
A life of public service earns 'honours without display'
Overwork and the additional strain caused by the Royal
Commission's proceedings led to a worsening of Alex McCallum's
May, Mr McCallum was taken seriously ill while he was visiting
Merredin on Agricultural Bank business. After eight days in the
Merredin Hospital, he returned to his home at South Fremantle,
where he found it possible to do some administrative work. He told
friends that he did not like others to do work for which he was
'Mr A McCallum dead. Mark left in public
Mail, 15 July 1937 
McCallum returned to work on 8 June for a few weeks but he fell
ill in early July and died on July 12 of chronic nephritis (kidney
failure). He was accorded the first State funeral in WA for 40
was a big crowd, truly representative. On all sides were men
distinguished in the State. They were not sorted in ranks or
beliefs, but people of all shades of life and opinion, pressed
together in warm sunshine, heard prayer and oration in a still
atmosphere and drifted quietly away...
Honours without display.
In deciding that there should be a State funeral, the Ministry
directed that, in keeping with the character of the man who was
being honoured, there should be no show or noise. Five mounted
policemen rode in front of the hearse and two others rode after the
chief mourners. A long procession of motor cars followed and many
people lined the streets.
'The late Mr McCallum. People's last
Australian, 14 July 1937
The then Leader of the Federal Opposition, John Curtin, attended the funeral and was a pallbearer.
I grieve very much at the death of a dear friend. Alex McCallum was one of the most forceful personalitlies the Australian Labour movement has known. He had a very great ability, and his energy was amazing. Over the years he spent his great vitality in the service of the working cause, building up trade unions and laying the foundations of a proud and virile democracy. He was valiant-hearted, of spotless record and irreproachable character.
'Mr.Curtin's Tribute', Western Argus, 20 July 1937