Artist - Katie Kitchen is a writer who draws and paints, finding inspiration in the everyday—quirks of the suburbs, the way the sun looks in autumn, well-made coffee and the goofy things her cats do. She can see West Torrens Council from the sidewalk in front of her house. You can find her commuting on her bike or, if that fails, look her up on Instagram: @ktkitschen
BREAD IS BREAD IS BREAD looks between the lines of the newspapers to find a story of the West Torrens District Council clerk and the loaves of Maltina Bakery bread that he thought were ‘simply underweight’. The matter proved far more complicated, and over nine months in 1937, rose from the Richmond Magistrates Court to the state Supreme Court, as a magistrate, lawyers, a health inspector, a chemical analyst, two justices and others sought an answer to the question: what is bread?
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Asked to participate in the ‘food and beverage’ round of West Side Stories, I turned to the National Library of Australia’s online resource Trove to find out what I could about iconic local brands, like Maltina Breadcrumbs with its distinct blue and orange box. Although I was initially hoping to learn more about the familiar little figure decorating those boxes, I discovered an interesting story: Maltina bread had been the subject of a legal dispute back in 1937. “WHAT IS BREAD” shouted one headline, with subheadlines “Hears long legal argument” and “Tricky point”.
The case began in April that year in the Richmond Police Court, when the West Torrens District Council Clerk, Vernon Shephard, made a complaint that the Maltina bread made by master baker Arthur Cashmore was underweight. The counsel for the baker, Mr L Whitington, notes the case’s “many legal technicalities…should be considered by a paid magistrate” and one can almost imagine his tone as he perhaps tried to gain the sympathy of the poor, overworked justices of the police court: “It was not fair that justices acting in an honorary capacity should be called on to deal with such matters.”
Similarly perhaps a reader might detect surprise when reading of Shephard’s insistence that “the case was simply a matter of the weight of the bread”.
The two honorary justices adjourned for a hearing in Adelaide in June, by a magistrate (apparently paid).
Whitington was correct about the legal technicalities, which arose from the South Australian Parliament. When amending the Bread Act in 1936, the Parliamentarians deleted the clause defining ‘bread’, leaving an apparent loophole.
One wonders if both Shephard and Whitington would have persisted that day, had they known the case would drag on for months, through the Licensing Court on to the Magistrates Court and finally a full sitting of the state Supreme Court.
I enjoyed the time-travel through the news stories, particularly in some amusing exchanges between the main players as inserted by the anonymous newspaper reporters of the time. Some of these have found their way into the comics integrated into the display Bread Is Bread Is Bread, including the exchange between Vernon Shephard and Special Magistrate Halcombe that led me to choose that title:
“What is bread?” Mr. Halcombe, S.M., asked in a special magistrate's court in Adelaide today, while hearing a short-weight bread charge.
“All bread that is commonly known as bread is bread,” said the clerk of the West Torrens District Council (Mr. Vernon S. Shephard), who was prosecuting for his council. "Whatever it is called it is still bread, and I contend that there is no legal authority other than it must be of standard weight."
Mr. Halcombe: What do you think you are getting when you buy a sausage?
Mr. Shephard: l would not hazard a guess.
Mr. Halcombe: I have heard them called bags of mystery.
Although I included those lines verbatim, in trying to capture the spirit of the story between the lines, I have taken some liberties -- thought bubbles added, tone of voice imagined. The biggest change regards Mr Shephard. Reading his words, I thought of the Monopoly Man -- the plucky little guy with the moustache making his way round a boardgame of rules and regulations -- and so I adopted this guise for Vernon Shephard.
In reality, I discovered through further reading, he was probably in his late 30s or early 40s at the time of the Bread Case, probably a lot taller than I’ve made him out to be, and perhaps a lot more sure of himself as well. In the Supreme Court, when one of the Justices asks “Who brought these charges?” the lawyer for the defence responds, “The Tsar of West Torrens” (ie Mr Shephard).
Throughout the Bread Case, Shephard clings stubbornly to the belief that he is right.
After many months, many loaves displayed in courtrooms, and many hours of expert witness testimony, Council’s final appeal failed in the Supreme Court and was dismissed with more than £100 in costs, with Justice Napier particularly emphatic in his opinions: “This is a persecution, not a prosecution,” The Advertiser reported.
A followup article on the council proceedings found a disheartened Council commenting at its meeting that “It was rather hard that a judge should have said that the council was out to ‘persecute’ a citizen”
The Council Clerk however, stuck to his line, telling the meeting “that he could not estimate what the council's costs in the appeal would be. He suggested … to approach the Government before the next session of Parliament, and ask that definite legislation be introduced to provide that all 'bread should conform to fixed standards of weight’.”