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Wall, Colman John (1911–1982)

by Anne-Maree Whitaker

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Colman John Michael Francis Joseph Aloysius Wall (1911-1982), judge and heritage campaigner, was born on 8 April 1911 at Marrickville, Sydney, second child of Irish-born Colman Conolly Wall, curator of the Fiji Museum, and his wife, Fijian-born Margaret Emily Hilda, née Ragg. Colman was educated at Christian Brothers’ High School, Lewisham, completing the Leaving certificate in 1928 and winning an exhibition to study law at the University of Sydney. Although not a natural student—he eventually passed property at his third attempt ten years after matriculation—he was admitted to the Bar on 10 March 1939.

On 28 March 1936, at the district registrar’s office, Chatswood, Wall married Nina Petrucco (1908-1981), a secretary. She was the only child of Giovanni Petrucco, an Italian-born mosaic-tile worker, and his wife Gertrude, née Beeston. Establishing his own extensive legal practice, Wall appeared before the Supreme Court of New South Wales and the High Court of Australia; many of his cases were in the workers’ compensation field. On 6 July 1954 he was appointed a judge of the Workers’ Compensation Commission of New South Wales. Known as the ‘workers’ friend’, he had a reputation as a ‘sensible and compassionate judge’. His attitude changed, however, if ‘an applicant was caught out in a lie–-after which the case was doomed’. Wall retired in 1979, and was described in 2008 by Michael Kirby, then a justice of the High Court, as having ‘one of the best judicial temperaments I have ever seen’.

Colman and Nina Wall were both active members of the National Trust of Australia (New South Wales) from the early 1960s. He served on the historic buildings committee (1963-72) and on the act and rules study and revision committee (1964-72). Nina Wall was a member of the women’s committee from 1962, assisting with exhibitions, catalogues and publications. A fellow member said that it would be ‘hard to imagine an inspection of an historic building in the 1960’s and 70’s without them’. Both helped to found the trust’s junior group in 1965.

‘A gentle, serious man with kindly eyes’, Wall was a bibliophile who owned an extensive library of antiquarian Australian books, which he willingly lent to fellow enthusiasts. He drew attention to many buildings that were later listed on the National Trust’s register. In the late 1960s he was among the first to advocate that it expand its interest to buildings constructed after 1850. A member of the Royal Australian Historical Society from 1961, he served on the council (1970-75) and on the articles and by-laws committee. He was also a member (1965-82) of the Society of Australian Genealogists.

Wall died on 8 November 1982 in his home at Beauty Point, Sydney, and was cremated. Predeceased by his wife and childless, he donated his extensive collection of colour slides of buildings in New South Wales to the National Trust.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 25 June 1954 p 3
  • National Trust Mag, April 1982, p 10
  • National Trust Mag, February 1983, p 16
  • M. Kirby, speech on the retirement of Judge Ray Burke, 16 March 2001. http://www.hcourt.gov.au/speeches/kirbyj/kirbyj_burke1603.htm, accessed 22 June 2010, copy held on ADB file
  • M. Kirby, speech at reunion dinner, 13 March 2008. http://www.hcourt.gov.au/speeches/kirbyj/kirbyj_13mar08.pdf, accessed 22 June 2010, copy held on ADB file

Citation details

Anne-Maree Whitaker, 'Wall, Colman John (1911–1982)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/wall-colman-john-15869/text27070, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 25 April 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

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