Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Harry Graham Alderman (1895–1962)

by J. F. Corkery

This article was published:

Sir Harry Graham Alderman (1895-1962), lawyer, was born on 24 September 1895 at Parkside, Adelaide, son of Thomas John Alderman (d.1916), bootmaker, and his Scottish wife Annie, née Graham. Harry attended Christian Brothers' College, even then inscribing 'H. G. Alderman Q.C.' on the flyleaves of his schoolbooks. Encouraged in his ambition by his mother, he was articled to Paris Nesbit and admitted to the Bar on 21 April 1917; another mentor and Alderman's first partner was Francis Villeneuve Smith. On 29 October 1919 Alderman married a civil servant Mary Philomena Farrelly in St Francis Xavier's Cathedral, Adelaide.

By 1928 the firm of Alderman, Brazel, Clark & Ligertwood (now Piper Alderman) was established. Alderman's clients included (Sir) Arthur Fadden, (Field Marshal Sir) Thomas Blamey and Rupert Murdoch. Alderman took silk in 1943, becoming the fourth Catholic to do so in the State. He assisted the labour movement in South Australia and became the confidant of powerful people, among them Ben Chifley: in Canberra the two enjoyed long walks together, the prime minister smoking a pipe and Alderman his perennial cigar. Bert Evatt, attorney-general in the Curtin and Chifley governments, briefed Alderman several times and was also a close, if fair-weather, friend.

Following Japanese attacks on Darwin, in 1942-43 Alderman led a government inquiry into compensation claims made by those from the evacuated areas against the Department of the Army. He had strong links with the military, was an unofficial adviser to the wartime Commonwealth government and had been involved in negotiations to mend the breach between Blamey and (Sir) Sydney Rowell. President (1945-47) of the Law Society of South Australia, Alderman became president of the Law Council of Australia in 1950 and next year ran a successful National Law Council convention which established his prominence beyond the State.

An able barrister, he often appeared before the High Court of Australia. His most notable case before the Privy Council was O'Sullivan v Noarlunga Meat Ltd No.1 (1954), on the scope and interpretation of sections 51(i) and 109 of the Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act. Alderman's expertise extended to taxation law and he successfully argued the taxpayer's case in Quarries Ltd v Federal Commissioner of Taxation (1961) which concerned depreciation of 'plant and articles' under s. 54 of the Income Tax Assessment Act. In 1959 Alderman's partner J. F. Brazel was senior counsel assisting the royal commission into the case of Rupert Max Stuart who was sentenced to hang for the sexual attack on and killing of a child. Next year, with John Bray, Q.C., Alderman successfully defended the Adelaide News in defamation proceedings arising from alleged sensational reporting of the affair.

Alderman's gregariousness, professional skills, national influence and 'folksy' wisdom ensured him a place in Australian legal history. He coined the term 'luck follows the good player', and himself exemplified the aphorism. A generous friend, a loyal colleague and a meticulous counsel, he was also renowned as a legal draftsman and helped to frame South Australian statutes on matrimonial causes, religious education and compulsory third-party insurance.

In 1961 Alderman developed bronchial cancer. After an operation he kept working, his clerks trundling oxygen cylinders with him to court. Survived by his wife, two daughters and three sons, he died on 15 June 1962 and was buried in Mitcham cemetery. Thirteen days before his death he had been knighted.

Select Bibliography

  • J. A. Hetherington, Blamey (Melb, 1954)
  • S. F. Rowell, Full Circle (Melb, 1974)
  • J. A. Cassidy and J. F. Corkery, Aldermans, Barristers and Solicitors (Adel, 1988)
  • Australian Law Journal, 28 June 1963
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 21, 27 Sept 1944
  • Herald (Melbourne), 29 Sept 1944, 17 Oct 1947
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 2 June 1962
  • Age (Melbourne), 18 June 1962.

Citation details

J. F. Corkery, 'Alderman, Sir Harry Graham (1895–1962)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 22 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 13, (Melbourne University Press), 1993

View the front pages for Volume 13

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


24 September, 1895
Parkside, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia


15 June, 1962 (aged 66)
Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

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