Father, farmer, inventor: politics giant's humble roots

Before he grew to be a giant of Australian politics, Steele Hall was a father, farmer, inventor and theatre designer.

The former South Australian premier, senator and federal MP will be farewelled at a state funeral on Monday at the Adelaide Festival Centre - a nod to Mr Hall's influence in choosing the iconic venue's site.

Kathy Smart says that when her father visited 42 theatres around the world, they all told him they wished they had a bigger stage.

He returned home with plans to give Adelaide the biggest stage in Australia.

"The Sydney Opera House was being built around the same time, and when they found out, they changed their plans so they'd have the bigger stage," she said.

Seele Hall portrait unveiling SA Parliament
Steele Hall will be remembered at a state memorial service in Adelaide. (HANDOUT/HALL FAMILY)

Mr Hall, who was premier from 1968-70, a senator from 1974-77 and federal Boothby MP from 1981-1996, is the only Australian to lead a state as well serve as the member of three legislatures.

He died on June 10, aged 95.

His Senate biography describes him as a maverick politician with a reputation for integrity and political courage, and a remarkable ability to annoy his party colleagues.

"To us, he was just Dad," Ms Smart said. She was one of four children Mr Hall had with his first wife, schoolteacher Ann Fletcher, whom he married in 1956.

She grew up with her siblings, Mary, Michael and Elinor, on the family farm at Owen, 80km north of Adelaide, where their father "tried his hand at everything", often with improvised tools.

"Mum was in despair because either the knives had disappeared, or they had reappeared in the knife drawer with scrape marks and very sharp blades," Ms Smart said.

Her father worked incredibly hard, and "farming was tough, especially with the old machinery of the day".

"Oxyacetylene burns, kicks from cattle, gouges from barbed wire - nothing stopped him working. When he suffered an electric shock while welding in the shed, he took the extraordinary step of a few hours off," she said.

Her father was always experimenting. As a teenager, he created a miniature wooden pinball machine and as a farmer, he taught himself to tan animal hides, and built his own clover harvester, which his children dubbed "Squabbleguts".

"He could teach himself to do anything. He never stopped wanting to learn about the world and everything in it," Ms Smart said.

Mr Hall farmed the traditional wheat, barley and oats, with sheep, then cattle, then clover.

In 1965, he was one of the first farmers in the district to get a TV, because he was in government and he needed to keep on top of current affairs and journalists were always trying to contact him.

Mr Hall and his wife divorced in 1978 and later that year, he married his research assistant Joan Bullock.

They were together for more than 45 years and had two children, Alexia and Ben. Joan was elected to the SA parliament in 1993.

Mr Hall famously refused to accept the title of "Honourable" simply because he was elected to parliament.

"When he became premier, they put a sign on his door saying 'The Honourable Steele Hall', and he made them change it," Ms Smart said.

The family fondly remembers the moment Mr Hall realised he'd changed careers.

"After he'd been working in the city for a long time, Dad once said out of the blue: 'I don't have one bruise or scab on me!', Ms Smart said.

"We all piled over because we couldn't believe it, and checked him over for cuts and grazes. It was true, Dad was completely free of injury. He was no longer a farmer."

Steele Hall with his children
Steele Hall's daughter Kathy said the family would remember him as a caring father. (HANDOUT/HALL FAMILY)

Ms Smart said many people would remember that as a politician, Steele Hall always stood up for what he thought was right. But to his family he was simply "Father Hall".

"My siblings and I will remember him for something smaller but I think greater: as a caring father who gave us belief in ourselves and always pushed us to strive and achieve," she said.

Monday's state memorial service will be livestreamed from 2pm local time on the SA Government Facebook page.