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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gerard, Alfred Edward (1877–1950)

by Alan Warden

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

Alfred Edward Gerard (1877-1950), merchant and Aboriginal welfare worker, was born on 11 August 1877 at Aberdeen, South Australia, son of William Gerard, labourer, and his wife Emily, née Russell. After schooling at Burra, Gerard worked with a local coachbuilder. He then worked in Western Australia, at Broken Hill, New South Wales, and in Salisbury, South, Australia, as an engineer and driver for the millers, Edwin Davey & Sons. On 26 March 1902 in Salisbury Methodist Church, he married Elsie Maria Goodman.

In 1907 Gerard started an electrical merchandizing business in Adelaide, Gerard & Goodman. In 1921 he erected a substantial show-room and factory in Synagogue Place. Then, electrical conduit and cast fittings were imported: many had conflicting size tolerances. His solution was to manufacture conduit fittings for sheet metal so that they could expand or contract. He joined the Chamber of Manufactures, Chamber of Commerce, the Electrical Employers' Association of South Australia and the Standards Association of Australia. The business prospered with his four sons, A. H., W. G., K. E. and J. H. Gerard managing two registered companies, and Alfred, chairman of directors of both. In 1936 a factory was built at Bowden where Gerard Industries Pty Ltd, produced the nationally known Clipsal products.

Gerard was interested in the welfare of Aboriginal children and gave them city holidays and employment when possible. At an Australasian Christian Endeavour convention in Adelaide in 1924, T. E. Colebrook, a leader of the Australian Aborigines' Mission, influenced him. A local council was formed with Gerard as a foundation member. Amalgamations with similar bodies led to the creation in 1929 of the United Aborigines' Mission; Gerard was local president and a federal delegate until his death.

In collaboration with the South Australian Aborigines' Protection Board, the U.A.M. supported many mission stations: Finnis Springs at Marree; Colebrook Home at Eden Hills, near Adelaide; Nepabunna at Copley; and others at Oodnadatta, Ooldea, Quorn and Swan Reach. Gerard financed a project at Winkie, which began in 1944, with leasehold land covering 5800 acres (2300 ha) and a River Murray frontage. It included a small chapel and was called Gerard Mission. He wrote of it, 'I was standing on the “Land of Promise” … ours for the natives to the glory of God … to assist in redeeming our great debt to the Aborigines'. He anticipated the popularization of the Aboriginals' cause, 'land rights' and the 1967 constitutional amendment and believed that he had 'learned a lot from the natives'. In 1946 a government grant of £1500 was received and the mission was ultimately taken over by the State protection board. In 1974 it passed to the state Aboriginal Lands Trust, and has since operated as a local government area under Aboriginal control known as the Gerard Community Council.

A Freemason, for forty-four years Gerard was a staunch member and lay preacher of Highbury Street Methodist Church, Prospect. His book, Ears of corn (1944), was a collection of his sermons and next year he published a short history of the U.A.M. He died on 13 October 1950 and was buried in Payneham cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £7660. The Gerard manufacturing business remained until 2003.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Papers (South Australia), 1947 (20)
  • Ipad, Aug 1947, p 43
  • Hardware Journal, 17 May 1948, p 66
  • South Australian Freemason (Adelaide), Oct 1952, p 6
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 14 Oct 1950, 14 Nov 1980.

Citation details

Alan Warden, 'Gerard, Alfred Edward (1877–1950)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article has been amended since its original publication. View Original

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (MUP), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

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