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Bright, Sir Charles Hart (1912–1983)

by David Hilliard

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Sir Charles Hart Bright (1912-1983), judge, was born on 25 November 1912, at Norwood, Adelaide, second child of Charles Bright, a 70-year-old English-born Baptist minister, and his second wife Annie Florence, née Hollidge, who was born in South Australia. Educated at Scotch College and the University of Adelaide (BA, LL B, 1934), Charles was admitted to the South Australian Bar on 15 December 1934. On 31 August 1940 at St Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne, he married with Anglican rites Elizabeth Holden Flaxman, a medical practitioner.

Having begun practising law in the firm of Shierlaw, Frisby Smith & Romilly Harry, in 1940 Bright entered into partnership with O. C. Isaachsen. Called up on 4 January 1943 for full-time duty as captain, Australian Army Legal Department, Militia, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers on 1 November 1944. In 1945 the law firm became Isaachsen, Bright & Zelling; after its dissolution in 1954, Bright joined D. B. McLeod in partnership. Bright, who specialised in commercial and taxation cases, took silk in 1960. He was president (1961-63) of the Law Society of South Australia and a councillor (1962-63) of the Law Council of Australia. In October 1963 he was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia. He later became an associate of the International Commission of Jurists and an executive member of the World Association of Judges.

Involved in a wide range of community activities, Bright was a member (1950-67) of the council of governors of Scotch College and chairman of the council of Presbyterian Girls’ College (1966-69) and of the Physiotherapists Board of South Australia (1953-63). He was president (1966-72) of Minda Home, Brighton, an institution for children and adults with intellectual disabilities, and vice-president of the South Australian division of the Australian Red Cross Society (1969-83) and of the State committee of the Musica Viva Society of Australia for some years. A foundation member (1966) of the council of the Flinders University of South Australia, he was its first pro-chancellor and chairman of the finance and buildings committee. In 1971 he succeeded Sir Mark Mitchell as chancellor. He served until 1983 and guided the affairs of the council with `skill and fairness’ during an eventful period.

Bright had absorbed the values, though not the religious beliefs, of his liberal Protestant upbringing and admired what he saw as `the spirit of independence and dissent which have always characterized the best South Australians’. He shared the new willingness of the Supreme Court in the 1970s, under Chief Justice J. J. Bray, to recognise that changed social attitudes should be reflected in the shaping and interpretation of law. A man of moderate and tolerant views, he was trusted by State governments of both main political parties. He was chairman (1969-78) of the Electoral (Districts Boundaries) Commission. In 1970 he was appointed royal commissioner to inquire into the anti-war demonstration organised by the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign, which, held in Adelaide in September of that year, ended in a violent confrontation with police. His recommendations formed the basis for an enlightened system of regulating assemblies and demonstrations in public places that was implemented through the Public Assemblies Act (1972) of South Australia.

In 1970-73 Bright chaired a committee of inquiry into the delivery of health services in South Australia. Its report made many suggestions for improvements and recommended the establishment of a statutory body, separate from the public service, to administer and coordinate all aspects of health care. As a result the South Australian Health Commission was created in 1977. In 1979-80 Bright was a part-time commissioner and special adviser to the government on health services. He also chaired (1976) a committee considering law and policy affecting persons with `physical or mental handicaps’ in the light of the United Nations declarations on their rights. Reports submitted in 1978 and 1981 proposed various measures to remove discrimination and to integrate people with disabilities into the community.

A short man, Bright was courteous and unassuming in manner, and always affable and self-controlled. He retired from the bench in December 1978 and was knighted in 1980. Enrolling in a postgraduate degree in history at Flinders University, he researched the life of Charles Flaxman, his wife’s great-grandfather, who had migrated to South Australia in 1838 as the agent of George Fife Angas. Following his resignation as chancellor because of illness, the university awarded him an honorary D.Litt. in May 1983. Three days later, on 16 May, he died of cancer at his North Adelaide home and was cremated. He was survived by his wife and their daughter and two sons. His book on Flaxman, The Confidential Clerk, was published later that year. In 1985 the Sir Charles Bright Scholarship Trust was established to provide scholarships for disabled South Australians undertaking post-secondary education. Flinders University holds a portrait of Bright by Robert Hannaford.

Select Bibliography

  • D. Hilliard, Flinders University (1991)
  • South Australian State Reports, 1979, vol 20, p v
  • Flinders University, Annual Report, 1983, p 4
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 25 Oct 1963, p 3, 15 Dec 1978, p 10, 31 Dec 1979, p 1, 18 May 1983, p 32
  • series B884, item S48836 (National Archives of Australia)
  • Bright papers (Flinders University Library)
  • private information.

Citation details

David Hilliard, 'Bright, Sir Charles Hart (1912–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bright-sir-charles-hart-12254/text21989, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 22 August 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

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