Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Reginald Joseph (Reg) Coombe (1899–1985)

by Brendan Moran

This article was published:

Reginald Joseph (Reg) Coombe (1899-1985), magistrate, was born on 7 August 1899 at Gawler, South Australia, second of three sons of Joseph Coombe, engineer, and his wife Emily Avis, née Cheek. The family was renowned for its passion for music and its strong Methodist faith. Reg was educated at Gawler Public and Adelaide High schools and Prince Alfred College, Adelaide. Winning a scholarship to study the organ, he began a music course at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide, but in 1920 transferred to the faculty of law (LL B, 1923). Articled (1919-23) to Alexander McLachlan, he was admitted as a barrister and solicitor on 13 December 1923. In 1924-30 he practised as a solicitor at Waikerie. On 2 July 1927 at East Adelaide Methodist Church he married Adelaide Hilda Headland (d.1981).

The Depression forced Coombe to return to the city and he entered into partnership with Howard Vaughan. In 1935 he was appointed a stipendiary magistrate, to preside over the Adelaide Juvenile Court. Awarded a travelling fellowship by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, in 1939 he toured the United States of America and Europe observing a variety of juvenile justice systems. Following the trip he drafted the Juvenile Courts Act, 1941, and made other recommendations, focusing on crime prevention, that became the foundation of the current juvenile justice framework in South Australia. He was an advocate for the humane treatment of young offenders and he emphasised a rehabilitation process to support the courts in their work. Seeing the need to recruit suitably skilled professionals, he helped to establish the academic study of social work in Adelaide. From 1950 he was also a magistrate in the Adelaide Police Court.

A firm believer in the benefits of physical activity, Coombe was a board-member of the local Young Men’s Christian Association (president 1942-45) and chairman (1945-49) of the Boys’ Brigade, Adelaide. He helped to establish many organisations, including the South Australian Board of Social Study and Training (1935), National Fitness Council of South Australia (1939), South Australian Council of Social Service (1947) and Marriage Guidance Council of South Australia (1950). Inaugural president (1949-51, 1963-65) of the Good Neighbour Council of South Australia, he was active on its executive for twenty-six years, encouraging newcomers `to retain their love for their land of birth, its language and culture’.

Coombe’s humanitarianism was a logical expression of his deep religious faith; he practised what T. H. Green called a `simple, religious citizenship’. He played the organ at various Adelaide churches and found time to train choirs and occasionally to preach. In the report on his Carnegie tour he had remarked that the methods of American judges were `a lesson in courtesy, patience and friendliness’; these qualities defined Coombe also. He was appointed MBE in 1956, and raised to OBE in 1968. Tall and thin, he was always well groomed. He read voraciously and maintained an active sporting life, playing cricket and lawn bowls. Generous with his time, after retirement in 1964, he worked as a relieving magistrate, and as a volunteer at the Glenside Hospital. He was named South Australian Father of the Year in 1969. Survived by a son and a daughter, he died on 18 May 1985 at Toorak Gardens and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • News (Adelaide), 4 Aug 1964, p 24
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 Apr 1983, p 7
  • L. Arnold, taped interview with R. J. Coombe (transcript, 1969, State Library of South Australia)
  • L. E. Ardlie, Australianization to Melting Pot (BA Hons thesis, University of Adelaide, 1967)
  • Good Neighbour Council of South Australia records (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Brendan Moran, 'Coombe, Reginald Joseph (Reg) (1899–1985)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 20 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (Melbourne University Press), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


7 August, 1899
Gawler, South Australia, Australia


18 May, 1985 (aged 85)
Toorak Gardens, Adelaide, South Australia, Australia

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.