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Rudall, Reginald John (1885–1955)

by Jenny Tilby Stock

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

Reginald John Rudall (1885-1955), by unknown photographer, 1939

Reginald John Rudall (1885-1955), by unknown photographer, 1939

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7795

Reginald John Rudall (1885-1955), lawyer and politician, was born on 27 September 1885 at Gawler, South Australia, elder child of Samuel Bruce Rudall, a South Australian-born solicitor, and his wife Margaret, née McNeil, who came from Victoria. Reg attended Queen's School, North Adelaide, the Collegiate School of St Peter, and the University of Adelaide (LL.B., 1906) where he won a Stow prize. He was articled to his father in 1902 and admitted on 20 April 1907 as a barrister and solicitor. Tallish, lean and athletic, he played football, cricket and tennis, and captained the Gawler hockey team. In 1908 he was awarded a Rhodes scholarship. He read at Christ Church, Oxford (B.Litt., 1911), before working in his father's firm at Gawler. On 20 January 1914 he married Kathleen Clara Sutherland in the chapel of St Peter's College; they were to have two sons, John ('Jake') Glasgow (b.1920) and Peter Sutherland (b.1922).

Prepared by several years membership of a rifle club, and service in the King Edward's Horse at Oxford, Rudall enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 11 August 1915 and was commissioned on 16 December. He trained in Egypt and England, and in December 1916 joined the 50th Battalion in France. In January 1917 he was detached to the headquarters of the 13th Brigade; next month he was promoted lieutenant. Sent to London in September 1918, he was appointed assistant-director in the newly formed A.I.F. Education Service. He took charge of the London office, as a captain from January 1919, until he embarked for Adelaide in May.

After his A.I.F. appointment terminated on 29 July, Rudall returned to his practice at Gawler and lectured (1920-25) in constitutional law at the University of Adelaide. In July 1933 he stood as the Liberal and Country League's candidate for Barossa and was elected to the House of Assembly. As a back-bencher he was a fiscal conservative, but he supported the development of free public libraries in South Australia. With the abolition of multi-member electorates, Rudall won the seat of Angas in March 1938. His 'ability . . . industry, and the charm of his rugged personality' made him an exceptional chairman of committees in the last months of (Sir) Richard Butler's government.

(Sir) Thomas Playford became premier in November 1938. Rudall was immediately elevated to the cabinet. As commissioner of crown lands (1938-44), minister of lands (1944-46), minister of repatriation (1938-46) and minister of irrigation (1938-46), he was involved in the soldier-settlement scheme in a State that bore the scars of earlier unsuccessful efforts. His credentials as a returned soldier, and his open-minded and judicious approach, alleviated criticism when bureaucratic and financial problems with the Federal government and his own department delayed the selection and purchase of suitable land. He retained warm relations with returned servicemen and became a valuable legal adviser to the Returned Sailors', Soldiers' and Airmen's Imperial League of Australia.

Rudall's life, however, had been shattered by the deaths of his sons (Peter in H.M.A.S. Sydney on 20 November 1941, and Jake at Buna, Papua, in December 1942). The premier smoothed his path to the Legislative Council, to which he was elected as a member for Midland in 1944. He helped to steer through a recalcitrant Legislative Council bills to control the dividend rates and share issues of the virtually monopolistic Adelaide Electric Supply Co., to set up a royal commission into, and ultimately to nationalize, the company in the form of the Electricity Trust of South Australia. Invoking protection of the people against exploitation, he endeavoured to guarantee reliable and fairly priced electricity.

For the remainder of his career Rudall served as attorney-general (from April 1946), minister of education (April 1946 to December 1953) and minister of industry and employment (from December 1953). He was tested by the education ministry as the neglected and under-funded state system faced an unprecedented increase in the number of school children. A popular visitor to schools, he travelled as much as he had done when overseeing the far-flung soldier settlements, charming the most disgruntled with his empathy and wit. Although welcomed as an approachable minister by harried teachers' organizations, he was unable to obtain sufficient resources from the government to avert serious overcrowding in dilapidated classrooms or to maintain a supply of properly trained staff. His relations with the teachers deteriorated and in July 1953 he refused to meet an approved deputation. On 15 December he relinquished the portfolio.

Rudall was a heavy smoker. He suffered from emphysema and was increasingly absent from parliament in 1953 and 1954. Survived by his wife, he died of hypertensive ventricular failure on New Year's Day 1955 in Calvary Hospital, North Adelaide; he was accorded a state funeral and was buried in the A.I.F. cemetery, West Terrace. By nature somewhat indolent and unambitious, Rudall might have had a more brilliant career were it not for the deaths of his sons.

Select Bibliography

  • B. W. Muirden, When Power Went Public (Adel, 1978)
  • S. Cockburn, Playford (Adel, 1991)
  • P. B. Wells, Rudall, the Four Rudalls I Knew (Adel, 1991)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1938, p 13, 1954, p 212, 1955, pp 51, 195, 225
  • South Australian Teachers' Journal, May 1946, p 11, June 1946, p 15, July 1953, p 3.

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Citation details

Jenny Tilby Stock, 'Rudall, Reginald John (1885–1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/rudall-reginald-john-11582/text20675, published in hardcopy 2002, accessed online 20 April 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 16, (MUP), 2002

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