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Bray, John Jefferson 1912-1995

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Born: 16 September 1912 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Died: 26 June 1995 [Adelaide, South Australia]

Educated at St Peter's College and the University of Adelaide, Bray was a classical scholar, playwright and poet as well as a lawyer. His legal career began as an articled clerk at the firm of Genders, Wilson and Pellew in 1930. Bray was admitted to the Bar in 1933 and was awarded his Doctorate of Laws in 1937. He was appointed a part-time lecturer at the University of Adelaide during World War Two (having been unable to sign up for the armed forces on account of his extreme short-sightedness). In 1957 Bray was appointed Queen's Counsel.

Bray was a member of the Libraries Board of South Australia from 1944 to 1987; the longest serving Libraries Board member to date. On his retirement the State Library's reference section became known as the Bray Reference Library (until redevelopment in 2001 when his name was given to a suite of study rooms in the State Library). From the mid-1950s Bray began writing in earnest, beginning with a verse play Papinian (performed for the first time in 1955). Bray was vice-president of the South Australian branch of the Fellowship of Australian Writers and was involved with the staging of the Writers' Weeks of the first three Adelaide Festival of Arts (1960, 1962, 1964). He participated in many poetry readings during Writers' Weeks in subsequent years. Bray also served as a member of the drama advisory board of the Festival. He was involved with Adelaide's Friendly Street Poets from its inception in 1975.

In 1960 Bray defended Rohan Rivett, editor-in-chief of Adelaide's TheNews newspaper, against charges of libel brought against him by the Premier, Thomas Playford, relating to the Royal Commission into the Rupert Max Stuart case (see PRG 1098/31 for Bray's records of this case). Emerson describes Bray's conduct in Rivett's case as showing 'more than any other in [his] career...his fearlessness as an advocate' (Emerson, p. 186). Bray was appointed Chief Justice of South Australia by the state's Attorney-General Don Dunstan in 1967. He has the unusual distinction of being appointed directly to the post, without having previously served as a judge.

Bray became Vice-Chancellor of University of Adelaide in 1968. He retired from the Bench in 1978. The following year Bray was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in recognition of 'service to the law, literature, and to the community'. A bronze bust of Bray by South Australian sculptor John Dowie stands in the State Library of South Australia.


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Key achievements

1933: Admitted to the Bar of South Australia

1937: Awarded Doctorate of Laws from the University of Adelaide

1942: Began lecturing in law at the University of Adelaide

1944-1987: Member of the Libraries Board of South Australia

1955: Bray's first play Papinian performed in Adelaide

1957: Appointed Queen's Counsel

1962: Published Poems, his first book of poetry

1967-1978: Chief Justice of South Australia

1968-1983: Vice-Chancellor of the University of Adelaide

1979: Made Companion of the Order of Australia

1990: Satura : selected poetry and prose won the award for the best non-fiction by a South Australian writer at the Adelaide Festival of Arts Writers' Week

Further reading

Cockburn, Stewart. 'A humanist to lead the law', Advertiser, 16 June 1979, p. 4

Cockburn, Stewart. 'Ex-chief justice John Bray dies at 82', Advertiser, 28 June 1995, pp. 1-2

Emerson, John. First among equals : Chief Justices of South Australia since Federation, Adelaide : University of Adelaide Barr Smith Press, 2006

Bray, J.J. (John Jefferson). Papers and personal effects, PRG 1098

Prest, Wilfrid (ed.). A portrait of John Bray : law, letters, life, [Adelaide] : Wakefield Press, 1997


Friendly Street Poets See: Gallery of poets: John Bray

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