Albert Augustine (Bert) Edwards (1888-1963)

They were deadly rivals. Edwards was a life-long parishioner of the cathedral. He was born in the poor West End of the city, illegitimate son of a single mother named Mrs Miller. He received a primary education from the Sisters of St Joseph at their school in Sturt Street and eventually, by 1912, scraped together enough money to open a tea-shop in Compton Street, near the Central Market. This was a meeting place for football men and gamblers: he liked working-class young men. He then entered ALP politics. He represented Grey Ward in the Adelaide City Council from 1914 to 1931 and was a member for Adelaide in the House of Assembly from 1917 to 1931. On the council and in parliament he was a vigorous defender of the city’s poor, paid overdue rent for poor tenants facing eviction, was a prison reformer and took up many unpopular causes. He was an important figure in the West Adelaide Football Club and bought several hotels, notably the Newmarket. Edwards’ influence in his own area was enormous: he was a great fixer, known as ‘the King’ of the West End. But others thought he was a rogue (for he was said to be involved in sly-grogging and illegal gambling) and a trouble-maker. He also had enemies within the Labor Party for his politicking. One of them was W.J. Denny, with whom (in those days of multi-member electorates) he represented the seat of Adelaide.

Then scandal struck and ‘the King’ was dethroned. In 1930 Edwards was charged with alleged sexual misbehaviour and suffered public disgrace. After a sensational trial in 1931 the jury found him guilty on one charge but acquitted him on the other. He was sentenced to five years in prison and served 30 months. He had to give up his seats on council and in parliament and to sell his hotels. After his release from prison he tried without success to re-enter state (and federal) politics but in 1948 he was returned to the Adelaide City Council for Grey Ward. Although members of the old establishment who ran the council initially looked down on him, he won their respect for his good ideas and hard work. With his innate business ability he became quite wealthy. He was a great benefactor of Catholic charitable work among the poor of Adelaide. He gave the Sisters of Charity the money for a meal centre in Hutt Street. Each Friday and Saturday at the end of trading he collected leftover perishable food from city shops and bakeries and took them to old people’s homes and orphanages. In 1961 he gave a Whitmore Square property to the St Vincent de Paul Society for use as a night shelter for homeless men. He himself worked at the shelter almost every evening, preparing its free meals. On his death in 1963 he had a big funeral at the cathedral, with Bishop Gleeson in the sanctuary, and the hearse was given a police motorcycle escort.

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