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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Symonds, Saul (1894–1952)

by M. Z. Forbes

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Saul Symonds (1894-1952), barrister and Jewish leader, was born on 23 March 1894 in Sydney, second son of Morris Symonds, a Russian-born furniture dealer, and his wife Celia, née Goldstein, a Londoner. He was educated at Sydney Grammar School where he won the junior Knox prize (1908), excelled at languages and was school captain (1911), and at the University of Sydney (B.A., 1915; LL.B., 1921) where he took first-class honours in French and German (1914). In 1916 he returned to his old school as an assistant master while studying law. On 12 September 1917 he married Lorna Doris Trenn at her Bronte home. He was admitted to the Bar on 16 May 1921 and practised until 1939 when he entered the family business, Symonds Furnishing Ltd. During World War II he worked for the Anzac Buffet and Australian Comforts Fund.

From the 1920s Symonds took an active role in various Jewish organizations and strove to promote Zionism. For many years a councillor, he was president of the New South Wales Board of Jewish Education (1928-30). Like his father, Saul also became a leader of the Great Synagogue, serving on its board from 1933 and holding the positions of treasurer (1936-39, 1945 and 1950-52) and president (1940-44 and 1946-50). He was prominent in the affairs of the New South Wales Jewish Advisory Board and a founder in 1945 of its democratic successor, the New South Wales Jewish Board of Deputies (president 1945-52).

Honorary treasurer for many years of the Sydney Jewish Aid Society, Symonds gave vigorous leadership to the Australian Jewish Welfare Society as treasurer (1938-48) and president (1948-52). He strongly supported Jewish immigration and helped many European refugees to establish themselves within the Australian community. Although regarded by some as a 'patrician' by background, he was sympathetic to newcomers and a forceful negotiator with the government. He markedly exerted himself as president of the Executive Council of Australian Jewry for two terms in 1946-48 when the character of the Jewish community was changing due to the influx of increased numbers of migrants from central Europe.

With cropped dark hair that receded in middle age, Symonds possessed a keen intellect, a sharp wit and a decisive nature. He was a noted patron of art and was thought to have influenced the work of Elioth Gruner whose paintings he collected. The garden at his Wahroonga home was known for its orchids and admired for its beauty. Survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, Symonds died of a cerebral haemorrhage on 9 April 1952 at Wahroonga and was buried in Rookwood cemetery. He had served the Jewish community with unflagging devotion, gaining the respect and allegiance of those who worked with him.

Select Bibliography

  • I. Porush, The House of Israel (Melb, 1977)
  • S. D. Rutland, Edge of the Diaspora (Syd, 1988)
  • Great Synagogue Congregational Journal, May 1952
  • Australian Jewish Historical Society, Journal, 3, pt 8, Mar 1953.

Citation details

M. Z. Forbes, 'Symonds, Saul (1894–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 7 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

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