Cricket: 'The Don' accused of underarm tactics in financial scandal

By Richard Boock

By RICHARD BOOCK

HOBART - The family of the late Sir Donald Bradman have denied allegations that the world's greatest batsman contributed to the demise of his former stockbroking boss so that he could start his own business.

The allegations of impropriety and opportunism rocked the Australian cricket fraternity this week and left a cloud hanging over the memory of the nation's most celebrated sportsperson.

The Don ended his test career with the scarcely believable batting average of 99.94.

Headlined "The Don we never knew," David Nason's article in the Australian claims that Bradman showed some of his most nimble footwork when he managed to turn the biggest financial scandal in South Australian history to his own profit - and within 48 hours of the first alarm bells ringing.

The story focuses on the 1945 collapse of Adelaide stockbroking firm HW Hodgetts and Co, which Bradman joined in 1935 after relocating from Sydney.

It was a move aimed at securing his future after cricket, but the company went under with debts of more than £120,000.

Henry Warburton "Harry" Hodgetts - Bradman's friend, mentor and one of Adelaide's leading citizens - was left facing charges of fraud and false pretences.

Hodgetts, a member of Australian cricket's board of control and one of the state's best-known business identities, was jailed for five years, but was released early because of ill health, and died of cancer in 1949.

Nason's piece says the controversy erupted further when Bradman held a series of secret meetings with the official receiver. This cleared the way for him to take control of HW Hodgetts and its 4000 clients.

In its coverage of the Hodgetts' collapse, the Adelaide Advertiser newspaper observed that it usually took a month for the receiver to decide whether a company could trade its way out of trouble - in order to best service the interests of the 238 creditors.

But just 48 hours after Hodgetts declared bankruptcy, the receiver allowed the new firm of Don Bradman and Co to start trading from Hodgetts' fully-furnished offices, and to access without charge the company's client list.

This apparently raised eyebrows all over Adelaide for several reasons. There was the question of whether the receiver had time to properly evaluate the horribly distorted accounts; there was the remarkable decision to allow former Hodgetts' staff to access the books despite the possibility of criminal conduct; and there was the issue of allowing Bradman to assume ownership of the goodwill of the huge client base.

The latter point was no small matter as the client list had a monetary value enlarged by the golden stockmarket rule that one broker could not approach another's client.

"People accused Bradman of stealing the goodwill of the company and basically they were right," said Tom Phillips, a former long-serving Adelaide stock exchange president. "The client list should have been put out to tender so that all brokers could bid for it and the return placed against the Hodgetts' estate for distribution to creditors.

"I have always believed that part of the reason Bradman became so reclusive was that he never wanted to face hard questioning about the Hodgetts' collapse.

"No one can doubt he was a great cricketer, but all this man of honour stuff - where does that come from?"

Nason's article is one of the first big public examinations of the great batsman.

A day earlier, there was a smaller item of stinging criticism of the Don from one of his nephews.

The Bradman family and the Bradman Foundation said they were disappointed with the articles and that publication had caused distress and sadness.

"It is disappointing that a newspaper of the standing of the Australian chose to wait some eight months after Sir Donald's death to publish this material, thereby depriving Sir Donald of a right of reply to what would clearly have been defamatory of him and his family.

John Bradman - Bradman's son who changed his name to Bradson for many years - said yesterday: "My dad was a decent person and scrupulously honest.

"He was a man who made an enormous contribution to the welfare of the community.

"It is unfair that this material has been published when my dad is not able to defend himself."

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