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Sir Collier Robert Cudmore (1885–1971)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published:

Sir Collier Robert Cudmore (1885-1971), lawyer and politician, was born on 4 June 1885 at Avoca station, near Wentworth, New South Wales, second son of Daniel Henry Cudmore, pastoralist, and his second wife Martha Earle, née McCracken. Educated in Adelaide at the Collegiate School of St Peter and the University of Adelaide, and in England at Magdalen College, Oxford (B.A., 1909), Robert won a gold medal in rowing as a member of the British four at the 1908 Olympic Games. He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple, London, in 1910, and, after returning home, to the South Australian Bar next year. Cudmore joined the Adelaide Club and the Liberal Union, serving as a branch secretary and as a member (from 1912) of that party's State executive. With (Sir) Stanley Murray, he established the firm Murray & Cudmore, in which he was to practise as a solicitor until 1955.

Commissioned in the Royal Field Artillery Special Reserve in France on 11 August 1915, Cudmore commanded a battery and was twice severely wounded; thereafter he wore a back-brace and used a walking-stick. His brother Milo was killed in action in 1916. Invalided home in 1919, Cudmore was a member of the State Repatriation Board, an administrator (1919-36) of the Soldiers' Fund, and deputy-chairman (1936-44) of the South Australian Sailors and Soldiers' Distress Fund. On 27 April 1922 in St Peter's college chapel he married Phyllis Miriam Wigg (d.1964). He was a member (1926-43) of the Anglican diocesan synod, a governor (1932-57) of his old school, and patron of the Adelaide City and University boat clubs. A director of North British & Mercantile Insurance Co. Ltd, Esperance Land Co. Ltd, and Elder, Smith & Co. Ltd, in 1947-56 he organized Elder's takeovers of De Garis, Sons & Co. Ltd, Commonwealth Wool & Produce Co. Ltd, Nenco Ltd and Moreheads Ltd. As vice-president of the South Australian Liberal Federation, he promoted its fusion with the Country Party in 1932 to form the Liberal and Country League. He was its president in 1934-36.

In 1933 Cudmore had been elected to the Legislative Council as a member for Adelaide Central District No.2. An able speaker and committee-man, he led his party in the Upper House from 1939 until his retirement in 1959. He defended the council's role as a house of review, and insisted that L.C.L. councillors convene separately and refrain from attending party meetings with their colleagues in the Legislative Assembly. He has been seen as a reactionary because of his opposition in 1945-46 to (Sir) Thomas Playford's nationalization of the Adelaide Electric Supply Co. Ltd when he once called Playford a 'Bolshevik'. Cudmore's antagonism may have owed something to his professional and family links with Murray, the company's chairman. Yet, Cudmore also mistrusted any large increase in the public debt when resources were required for postwar reconstruction. He was later to praise Playford's action.

A liberal conservative, steeped in the writings of Aristotle, Burke, Brougham and Adam Smith, Cudmore sponsored bills of his own and hundreds of his amendments were passed. From 1933 he had campaigned for a parliamentary public accounts committee, more liberal lottery and gaming legislation, and later hours for hotel trading. These proposals were anathema to Playford, but they became law soon after Labor won office in 1965. While demanding stiffer penalties for those who sexually abused children, Cudmore was too radical for many of his contemporaries in expressing approval of a properly controlled 'red light' district. He secured pensions for Supreme Court judges, better traffic laws, compulsory tuberculosis examinations, protection of circus animals, more humane methods for slaughtering livestock, and the introduction of racing and trotting meetings on Anzac Day. Although critical of soldier-settler and organized marketing schemes, of state capitalism and H. V. Evatt's plans for the Federal parliament's aggrandizement, Cudmore also insisted that the 'rights' of private property should be 'necessarily circumscribed in the interests of others'.

As a council-member (1933-53) of the University of Adelaide, Cudmore obtained changes to allow the appointment of a salaried vice-chancellor, and one who was not already a member of the university; he also gained pensions for the staff. He championed John Henry Newman's ideas on university education and fought for adequate funding of the humanities, especially history, quoting the dictum of the American patriot Patrick Henry: 'I know of no way of judging the future but by the past'.

During World War II Cudmore had been a battalion commander in the Volunteer Defence Corps and chairman of the Australian War Service League which proposed conscription of 'Manpower, Womanpower, Wealth and all other Resources' to promote 'equality of sacrifice'. He was knighted in 1958. While he cherished relics of the 'gracious living' of the late nineteenth century, he was a spender, not an accumulator, of wealth. Sir Collier was confined to a wheelchair in his last years. Survived by his son and daughter, he died on 16 May 1971 in North Adelaide and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • E. J. R. Morgan, The Adelaide Club, 1863-1963 (Adel, 1963)
  • Parliamentary Debates (South Australia), 1933-58
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 7 May 1958, 17 May 1971
  • University of Adelaide, Calendar and Council minute books, 1933-53 (University of Adelaide Archives)
  • South Australian Sailors and Soldiers' Distress Fund, Report, 1937-44
  • Cudmore papers (State Library of South Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Cudmore, Sir Collier Robert (1885–1971)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1993, accessed online 18 July 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]


4 June, 1885
Wentworth, New South Wales, Australia


16 May, 1971 (aged 85)
North Adelaide, 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.