Lest you think I have attached the wrong pictures to this review I should point out that this is not a palace in the real sense of the word. I will explain further, later in this review. This quaint, rather plain and indeed rather rundown looking clothes shop was formally a tearoom run by one of Adelaide’s most flamboyant sons – Albert Augustine (Bert) Edwards. Edwards, on the right, with one of his employees are depicted in my second picture, outside the tearooms as they were in 1912 – picture courtesy of the State Library of South Australia.
In the rear of the tearooms, Edwards ran an illegal two-up ‘school’. For those not familiar with two-up, it is a very simple Australian (though I imagine there were would variations on it elsewhere) gambling game wherein two coins are tossed into the air in the centre of a ‘pit’ and bets are taken as to how they will fall. Outside ANZAC Day, two-up gambling remains illegal in Australia outside registered casinos. Two-up was very popular with Australia’s soldiers during World War I and post that war two-up became a regular feature of ANZAC Day celebrations for returned soldiers. Initially authorities turned a blind eye on this breach of the law but soon an exception to the general ban was enshrined into various State laws permitting general betting on two-up on ANZAC Day (25 April).
At some stage between Edwards’ Tearooms closing and the current tenant taking over, the building was occupied by the Metropolitan Saw Works as alluded to on the fading signing still visible on the facade of the building.
Back to Mr Edwards, if I may. Bert Edwards was born in the West End of Adelaide on 6 November 1888, of uncertain paternal linage. He later claimed to be the son of Sir Charles Cameron Kingston, a former State Premier and Federalist and a rather colourful gentleman, himself, not adverse to a calling for a pistol dual should the need arise. See my separate review – CC Kingston – Patriot and Statesman. Edwards’ claim is now generally accepted as correct, backed by the fact that Kingston’s marriage was not a happy union and he was not adverse to a bit on the side, as it were. Kingston, while immensely successful, was ostracised by Adelaide society for his sexual indiscretions and is now thought to have fathered at least six illegitimate children, of whom Edwards is one.
Edwards opened his tearooms here in Compton Street in 1912 and went on to own several hotels, in the city and beyond. In addition to his business ventures, some of which perhaps erred on the risqué side, he became a prominent figure in public life being a member of the Adelaide City Council, a controversial official with the West Adelaide football club (his nomination as the clubs delegate to the League’s governing body was rejected on the grounds that he had once used intemperate language at a junior meeting), and a Labor Member of Parliament for Adelaide.
While in Parliament, Edwards spread his talents widely. He defended persecuted Germans (immediately post WWI), the city’s poor, underpaid teachers and the police. He supported slum clearances and the licensing of bookmakers and opposed a prohibition referendum in addition to being an active (overly active according to many) prison reformer.
Notwithstanding his parliamentary activity, though often complementary to it, he is best remembered as great philanthropist, a champion of the poor and as a benefactor to a number of city missions. Right to the end, Edwards almost daily collected food from city shops and bakeries and distributed it to the poor and hungry. As Sir Thomas Playford, then State Premier, noted at his funeral, “Scarcely a good cause in the city did not receive some help from him”.
Edwards, probably the City’s best known gay man of the time, is also, sadly, remembered as man with a criminal record having been jailed three years for the then scandalous and ‘unnatural offence’ of sodomy with John Gaunt “Jack” Mundy, a “sexually perverted boy”, in 1931. Edwards famously owned a hotel at Second Valley, in the Adelaide Hills, where he and young footballers ‘celebrated’ after Saturday’s matches though the offence for which he was convicted was purported to have been committed elsewhere. While there is no doubt that Edwards was gay, whether or not he committed the offence remains the subject of some doubt. There were certainly people out there who would have been happy to frame Edwards as he alleged had, in fact, happened, during his trial.
Edwards was loved by his local constituents in the West End and was almost universally referred to as “The King” – hence the rather odd or obscure title for this review. This accolade was not lost on Edwards who referred to the residents of the West End as ‘My People’.
In his personal life and dress sense Edwards was nothing if not flamboyant. He drove a large American Studebaker car, dressed in white suits, donned Hamburg hats, bow ties and suede shoes and is known to have favoured silk pyjamas and gold-tipped cigarettes. Notwithstanding his decadent lifestyle his considerable wealth was left to charities for the homeless and destitute on his death.
For his 1931 sin, he was dumped by the Labor party and his political career came to an abrupt end though it was rekindled in 1948 when he was re-elected to the Adelaide City Council where he remained a Councillor until his death in 1963.
‘The King’s’ funeral is said to have been one of the largest ever seen in Adelaide, his poor constituents remained loyal to him to the end and, notwithstanding his conviction for sodomy, to which no reference was made in his glowing obituary, the Nuns of the Daughters of Charity subsequently named a new dining hall after him. Today Albert Augustine (Bert) Edwards rests in peace in his copper casket in the nearby West Terrace Cemetery.
Address: Crompton Street
Directions: One east side about 50 metres in from Gouger Street, across from the Adelaide Central Market