WALTER LEWIS BRIDGLAND, A.M., O.B.E., J.P.
1908 — 1987
The fifth Jewish Lord Mayor of the City of Adelaide
Walter Bridgland was the only child of Harrie and Hannah Bridgland. Hannah was the elder daughter of Sir Lewis and Lady Cohen. Lewis was the first Jewish Lord Mayor of Adelaide. Walter’s paternal gentile great grandparents, Charles and Harriet Bridgland, arrived in South Australia in the ship “Cheapside” in 1849, just thirteen years after the colony was established. His Jewish great grandparents, Henry and Elizabeth Cohen, arrived in Sydney from Liverpool, England, in 1853.
Harrie Bridgland’s father, Walter James Bridgland, died before his only child was born. Harrie’s mother, Mary Ann Bridgland (nee Wigzell), re-married. Her second husband was Vaiben Louis Solomon, a prominent South Australian Jewish businessman and politician.
Hannah and Harrie Bridgland began their married life on the goldfields of Western Australia at Greenbushes, where Harrie ran a store. Walter was born there on 23rd March, 1908. When he was twelve months old his parents returned to Adelaide.
Childhood and Teenage Years
Much of Walter’s childhood and teenage years was spent living with his parents in the household of his maternal grandparents, Lewis and Selina Cohen, mainly at Barnard Street, North Adelaide. Lewis was a merchant banker, a politician, active in local government, and entertained lavishly. Hannah Bridgland, as Lewis and Selina’s elder daughter, assisted with entertaining and on occasions deputised for her mother as hostess due to Selina’s sometimes ill-health.
During Walter’s late teenage years Lewis and Selina moved to an apartment at Colley Terrace, Glenelg. Walter moved with his parents to a house in Partridge Street, Glenelg.
Walter was called Wally or Wal by his family and friends. His formal schooling began at Pulteney Street School, which later moved to South Terrace and became Pulteney Grammar School. The major part of his schooling was at Queen’s College at North Adelaide, where he was a diligent student and excelled at sport.
Like his father, Harrie, Walter was a keen sportsman. Swimming was his main forte. In 1924 when he was sixteen years of age and a student at Queen’s School he won the State Junior Swimming Championship, the School Cup for running, was captain of the First Cricket Eleven and the First Football Eighteen. After leaving school he played cricket for Queen’s Old Scholars and for many years was a competent social tennis player. Walter continued to swim in competitions for another twelve years, with some success. As a small girl Margot remembers watching her father win a swimming race at the Gilberton Swimming Pool, which was in the River Torrens at Gilberton.
On 22nd April, 1932, Walter, with some assistance from J.V. Christopherson, saved the life of Edward John Mooney in the sea off Glenelg beach. For this heroic deed Walter received the Royal Humane Society Award of Merit.
All his life Walter maintained his interest in swimming. He became President and a Life Member of the SA Amateur Swimming Association. The Administration Building at the North Adelaide Swimming Centre is named in his honour. For much of his life he went swimming all the year round at Glenelg beach. His Pier Street home, where he lived for fifty-four years, was only five minutes walk from the beach.
At school Walter was a member of the Army Cadets. He was active in the CMF (Citizen Military Forces) for most of the years between leaving school in 1924 and enlisting in the A.I.F. in 1940.
Harrie was a financier and Walter worked for him as an accountant between leaving school and his service in the Army during World War II. In late 1946, after his discharge from the A.I.F., he established a Nursery Furniture business at 91A Gawler Place, Adelaide. Over the years he added children’s play equipment, hobbies, games and toys to his stock. Michael joined him in the business, which expanded to a second shop in Gawler Place. The business later specialised in Model Trains, and the Nursery Furniture business was gradually phased out.
Wally Bridgland met Elizabeth Saunders (she was called Betty or Bet by her family and friends) one Sunday afternoon at Glenelg. They were walking along the jetty with their parents and were correctly introduced, as was the custom of the day. They were both in their early teens. Betty’s parents were Ray (Rachel) and Sol Saunders. Betty had an older sister, Rebie, and a brother, Alfred, who was younger.
Betty and Walter were married at the Orthodox Synagogue, in Synagogue Place, Adelaide, on 9th April, 1929. Walter was twenty-one years of age and Betty was aged twenty-two. At that time Walter was living with his parents at 59 Partridge Street, Glenelg. Betty’s parents had sold their family home on King William Road, Hyde Park, and were living at Albert Mansions, Sea Wall (now called South Esplanade), Glenelg. Even though Walter’s mother was Jewish and he had spent most of his life living in his Cohen grandparents’ Jewish household, because his father was a gentile Walter had not been brought up as a Jew. Before the wedding could take place certification that Walter was a Jew by birth had to be received from the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire (as it then was) in London. He had to undergo Jewish studies and learn Hebrew.
The Family Man
Walter was not quite twenty-two years of age when Betty gave birth to their first child, a daughter, Margot Elizabeth. Their second child, born three years later, was a son, Michael Walter. Walter was an excellent father. He was firm but fair in his discipline. He taught his children to swim in the sea at Glenelg when they were three years old, and when they were older he and his father taught them to body surf at Moana. He taught Michael to play cricket and football. During the years before World War II he took Margot with him many times when he competed in swimming carnivals, played in cricket matches and played tennis at the homes of friends. After World War II Margot and Michael often went to cricket and football matches with him at the Adelaide Oval. Walter and Michael attended many other sporting events together. Until Michael’s marriage in 1954 he and Walter replayed many a football game or cricket match around the dinner table.
In 1954 Michael married Janet Crossley. They had four children — Christopher, Jennifer, David and Andrew. In 1958 Margot married Keith Bailey. The birth of their son Peter and their twin daughters, Beth and Anne, increased the number of Walter and Betty’s grandchildren to seven.
Walter delighted in spending time with his grandchildren. Their “Pop” was always pleased to take them swimming or have a hit of cricket with them. At one end of the back verandah at 8 Pier Street, Glenelg, the family home, there was a red brick wall. On it Walter used to periodically mark in chalk the heights and ages of his grandchildren. Those markings were still there when the home was sold after Betty’s death in 1994.
Although not a keen gardener Walter was an excellent pruner of roses. He undertook the pruning each year of the roses in the garden of Michael and Jan’s first home and of the many roses growing around Margot and Keith’s Novar Gardens home. Walter’s Chairmanship of the Botanic Gardens board was certainly not for his horticultural knowledge. Rather it was for his skill at conducting meetings and his financial and administrative knowledge.
Walter the Jew
Prior to World War II Betty and Walter attended synagogue fairly regularly and the Sabbath candles were often lit on Friday nights. During the war Walter carried with him a small book of “Jewish Holy Scriptures”. After the war Walter’s business commitments did not always allow him to attend Synagogue services as frequently as previously. He kept some but not all of the dietary laws.
He was President of the Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women’s Association (SA Branch), and Chairman of the Jewish National Fund’s Ketura project.
He encouraged Margot to be Confirmed at the Synagogue on 28th May, 1944. Michael became Bar Mitzvah in May, 1946,
Walter was always proud to acknowledge that he was a Jew.
In the early days of World War II Walter was in a Light Horse Regiment, although by 1941, when he joined it, the Regiment had had no horses for many years. When he came home for the first time in his uniform with the red braid stitched down one side of his trousers and the feathers on his slouch hat Margot asked him if he was in the band! Later the Light Horse Regiment became the Armoured Corps.
Because of Walter’s pre-war service in the CMF he soon received a commission and later became a captain.
For sixteen months Walter served in New Guinea. To quote from the transcript of the City of Adelaide Oral History Project interview with Walter by Bruce Edwards:
OH: (Oral Historian): “Were you very close to the fighting or had the front moved on by that stage?”
WB: “Close enough. We landed under overhead fire and it was just over the other side of the hill.”
Walter was now in the Engineers in a Docks Operating Company. He was in charge of the harbour at Madang. One day he was in a launch close to a ship. Hanging down from the ship there was a Pilot’s ladder that ended short of the launch, so the man coming down the ladder had to jump from the ladder into the launch. Unfortunately he landed on Walter, injuring his shoulder and causing him much pain then and for many years to come. The slightly deformed shoulder was with him for the rest of his life. He had his suit coats and sports jackets specially made to disguise this deformity. When he returned home from New Guinea his skin was an unhealthy looking yellow colour from the anti-malarial medication Atebrin which the troops took in the tropics to (hopefully) prevent them from getting malaria. Walter never had malaria but he did have dengue fever. For the next several years he often had a bout of it until the frequency of the fever became less and eventually ceased.
One notable aspect of Walter’s war service was the time he spent on court martials. This proved to be invaluable experience for his peace time service as a Justice of the Peace.
During the latter part of the War Walter was in charge of Italian prisoners of war who were working and living on farming and grape growing properties south of Adelaide. With a small detachment of men he was stationed at a hotel in Willunga – a great improvement in living conditions after camp life and New Guinea.
In 1946 he was discharged from the AIF. Five years later he was asked to re-join the CMF, which he did. This was supposed to be for a period of two or three years. He was repeatedly asked to extend his service. He did not resign until 1957, a year after his election to the Adelaide City Council.
Election to Adelaide City Council
In July 1956 Walter was elected to the Adelaide City Council as a Councillor for Young Ward. It was suggested to him that Young was an appropriate Ward for which to stand as the sitting member had indicated that he was likely to retire at the next election. He won by a majority of only six votes. In twenty-six continuous years on the Council this was the only time he had to contest an election. He was Lord Mayor from 1966 to 1968, then an Alderman until his retirement from the Council in 1984.
After the War Walter was actively involved in the Liberal and Country League (LCL). For several years Walter and his daughter Margot were both delegates to the State Council of the LCL and enjoyed attending meetings together. When Walter stood for the Adelaide City Council he was an endorsed LCL candidate.
From the Oral History interview he recorded on 28th June, 1984
OH (Oral Historian Bruce Edwards): “…. had you been involved in LCL affairs yourself very much in previous years?”
WB: “Yes I had. I’d been involved, never as a candidate for Parliament, but I had been President of the Glenelg Branch and President of the District Committee, and later on President of the Adelaide Men’s Branch….”
OH: “…. you managed to win the pre-selection and you then had to face up to the actual Council election in July of 1956, and you were opposed by A G Morris, I believe. What sort of thing did you have to do during that Council election to win votes?”
WB: “It was a fairly torrid one (election) because Morris had stood previously. He was quite well known. I formed a committee and found that the best way of obtaining votes was to go around yourself and see as many as possible of the ratepayers either living or working in Young Ward. Postal Votes were a significant factor.”
The active support of family and friends contributed considerably to Walter’s success in local government.
From a paper presented “To: Council on 10th August, 1987.
From: The Lord Mayor (Steve Condous)
Subject: Death of former Lord Mayor, Mr. W. L. Bridgland, A.M., O.B.E., J.P.
At various times Mr. Bridgland was Chairman of the Council’s Traffic Committee, the Public Health Committee and the Health, Welfare, Recreation and Parks Committees. He represented the Council on the Metropolitan Taxi Cab Board for ten years.
During his Lord Mayoralty, Mr. Bridgland was the Council’s representative on the Municipal Association of S.A., the Metropolitan County Board, the Council of the Royal Zoological Society, the National Parks Commission, the St, John’s Ambulance Association, the Royal Humane Society of Australasia, and was President of the Adelaide Festival of Arts.”
His service of twenty six- years on the Adelaide City Council was a happy and fulfilling period in Walter’s life.
Service to the Community
Please see appendix “Biographical Details”
From a Paper to Adelaide City Council –
“In 1967 Mr. Bridgland was named the S.A. ‘Father of the Year’. The Order of the British Empire was conferred on him in 1976 and he was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1985.”
From 1933 when they moved to their Pier Street, Glenelg, home Walter and Betty gave many parties there. Their children, and later their grandchildren, assisted them. To entertain their family, their friends and visiting dignatories gave them both great pleasure. As they grew older they entertained more away from home, particularly at the Naval, Military and Air Force Club in Hutt Street, Adelaide. It was at this venue that a large number of family and friends celebrated their Golden Wedding Anniversary on 9th April, 1979. On one occasion Walter chartered the MV Aroona to take seventy guests on a lunch cruise from Goolwa to the Murray Mouth and back to Goolwa.
From the early 1980′s Walter and Betty spent several weeks of the winter each year at Burleigh Heads in Queensland. Each day began for Walter with a swim in the apartment building’s swimming pool, followed by a run across the road to the Pacific Ocean. After exercises on the beach he would swim for twenty minutes in the Ocean. He was doing this until two days before his sudden death, following a stroke, on 30th July, 1987.
Walter and Betty were married for fifty eight years. A Memorial Service was held for Walter at the Adelaide Synagogue, Synagogue Place, Adelaide, on 5th August, 1987.
As part of the eulogy Rabbi Philip Heilbrunn said:
“With his beloved bride of fifty eight years, they served as an example of a devoted marriage and it was a unique privilege to observe their obvious care, concern and tender feelings for each other whenever they came together to Synagogue”.
Margot Elizabeth Bailey (nee Bridgland) AUA
(Daughter of Walter and Elizabeth Bridgland) January, 2003
Memories of my father, Walter Lewis Bridgland By Michael Bridgland
My most vivid memories of my wonderful, caring father are of our shared sporting and business interests.
Many hours during my formative years were spent playing cricket, football or tennis with beach bats, using a suitably sized net in our back garden, with my very patient father, who was an excellent coach. Because of business commitments, my father was unable to watch my under 13 to under 16 progress at cricket and football. However, when I reached the 1st XI and 1st XVIII status, Saturday afternoons would always see Dad out supporting me. This continued when I played district cricket for Glenelg and Adelaide University.
I was thrilled in 1945 to play against Dad for Queen’s School versus Queen’s Old Scholars, captained by my father.
From 1951 until 1957 I was employed by my father in the family business at 91A Gawler Place, Adelaide. We became partners in the business in 1957. The business was first called “W L Bridgland, Children’s Furnishers” and in about 1970 became “Bridgland’s Hobbies”. We later moved to 81 Pirie Street, Adelaide. The business closed in 1986.
I have these wonderful memories of a very close association with my Dad, and of the utmost respect we had for each other.
MICHAEL WALTER BRIDGLAND