Monthly Archives: April 2013

‘Redcoat’ by Richard Holmes


422 p. & notes, 2001

I spent all of Anzac Day and most of the following day reading about soldiers.  Not Australian ones, but British ones.  I was originally spurred to read this book by a question in my mind about the wives of officers in the British Army, but I then realized that British regiments have been just off-stage in the three British colonies that I’ve been studying (Upper Canada, British Guiana, New South Wales).  In fact, they’ve been ON the stage all along but I just haven’t been looking there.

Richard Holmes is one of my favourite biographers- as you can tell here and here. This book, however,  is written by the OTHER Richard Holmes- the military history one (who died in 2011) .  But his opening page certainly started well, and could well have been written by ‘my’ other literary-biography Richard Holmes:

He has not shaved this morning.  And from the look of things he shaved neither yesterday nor the day before.  Ginger stubble sprouts from a sun-tanned face, with red-rimed blue eyes and a mouth whose teeth stand anyhow, like a line of newly raised militia…. His name is Ezekial Hobden, Hobden to officers, NCOs and most private soldiers but Zeke to a favoured few….(p. 3)

Military history is most definitely not my favourite genre.  I dislike the deference, the lionizing of ‘great’ men,  the pernickity attention to details about battles and uniforms and regiments,  and the “well done those men!” tone of it all.  But as Holmes says in his preface

This is not a book about great, or even non-so-great generals, though both feature in it from time to time.  And it is not about battles either, even if we are rarely very far away from them.  Instead, its concern is for the  raw material of generalship and the pawns of battle, the regimental officers and soldiers, (and their wives, sweethearts and followers of a less defined and sometimes rather temporary status) that served in the British army in a century when it painted the world red. p. Xv.

Holmes makes no secret of his admiration for the British Army- he even declares his love (and he uses that word) for  “its sheer, dogged, awkward, bloody-minded endurance.”  The army he describes in this book existed with relatively little change between 1760 and the eve of World War I.  It had two functions: the continental one, with an emphasis on formalism in drill and dress and the scientific aspects of warcraft, and a colonial function where practicality outranked precedent, and dress and discipline were looser.  It is this colonial British Army that I have been encountering in my studies without quite acknowledging it.  Holmes examines both threads of the British Army, both at home and in deployments in the American War of Independence, the Peninsular campaign, in India and particularly the Indian Mutiny and finally in the Crimea.

His emphasis is on the experience of the officers and soldiers of the British Army, rather than the battles as such.  He speaks of recruiting,  food, clothing, camaraderie, punishment, equipment, wounds and drunkenness.  It is a particularly human account, with only one section on weaponry and its use in battle that had me squirming a bit and wondering why I was reading it.  He relies heavily on memoirs from soldiers of all ranks and campaigns, and there’s humour in there, alongside the waste, the waste, the waste.  We meet several of his soldiers again and again in different chapters- perhaps he could have had an appendix at the end to remind his readers of who they were when you met them again. But perhaps they’re better left as living, talking men in their memoirs, rather than a cut-and-dried obituary.  In fact, he says something like this in his closing pages:

There are moments when a memorial has come as an unexpected shock, for the man it commemorates has featured prominently in the memoirs that have formed so much a part of my working life for the past two years and, ridiculously, I know, it is hard to think of him as being dead. (p. 420)

This is a strangely emotional book for a military history with  humour and love written into it.  I enjoyed it a great deal.

Uplifting Quotes for the Uninspired Historian #17

I’ve been thinking recently about being a reader of history, as distinct from a writer.  I like the ideas in the quote below, but I must admit to wishing that I could rewrite it with different use of punctuation. But I suspect that I am being a picky historical reader, instead of a critical one.

It goes without saying that creative historical writing requires creative historical writers, historians willing and able to take their writing seriously as writing, to see the form of their work as the product of a series of choices, a creative problem they have to solve, a problem at least as open-ended as the problem of coming up with a good subject, the right questions, suitable sources, satisfying answers, interpretations, conclusions and new questions.

Less talked about is another requirement: at every step along the way, creative historical writers will need creative historical readers, readers able and willing to read their history and criticize it as writing.  Those readers will not stop trying to figure out if the author has asked a good question, reckoned with all the appropriate literature, identified sources that will actually allow them to answer their questions, and all the rest.  It simply means that they will also try to determine whether the author has chosen the form, the structure, the voice or voices, the point(s) of view, the language, the length, the controlling metaphors and so much more- that do the subject, the questions, the interpretation or story the   most justice.     James Goodman ‘Editorial’

Rethinking History, Vol 16, No 1 March 2012 p. 1-2.

‘Sufficient Grace’ by Amy Espeseth


2012, 322p.

The cover of this book is well chosen: stark twigs against whiteness, tracked with blood.  The novel is set in the deep frozen woods of Wisconsin, where the narrator 13 year old Ruth lives in with her extended family in a Pentecostal fundamentalist community.  There are secrets and sin in this community, and the children of the family are victims and increasingly, co-keepers of these secrets.

Although the book is set in the recent past where young girls can wear moon-boots and  attend the local school, theirs is a claustrophobic, simple life without television and consumer goods, resonant of a nineteenth century existence.  Hunting, fishing and farming are fundamental to their lifestyle, and they are closely attuned to the passing of seasons and their relationship with the food they eat- the changes in the ice, the viscerality of hunting, the harvesting and husbandry of the earth.  The family live close by to each other and worship together, with the exception of Uncle Peter, who is estranged from the religion that binds the rest of the family together in such suffocating ties.

The narrative is set over five months, with each month forming a separate section of the book and it is told in Ruth’s voice and from her perspective.  Ruth is a watcher, hiding in cupboards and under tables, and while in a way she sees much more than her religion-blinded relatives, she also does not completely understand what she is seeing.  As readers, we see before she does.  Her narrative is supplemented by the  hymns that shape her world view, and their simple God-based certainties of their lyrics highlight further the sweaty, murky fug of human relationships inside cabins and barns, with the stark and chilled landscape outside.

This is a layered world, with fundamentalist Christianity laid over an earlier dalliance with Amish religion; with Native American and Norwegian heritage lying underneath as well.  Ruth’s cousin Naomi has been adopted from the nearby Native American mission and Ruth’s grandmother too has Native American heritage that her children largely ignore, covered as it is by her deep religious faith.

I was very impressed with the sheer confidence with which this book is written.  Much of this might spring from the author’s own life, which largely mirrors Ruth’s experience. Her descriptions are poised and beautiful, and in her creation of Ruth’s voice she combines the majesty of the King James Bible and the shy, naive knowingness and yet innocence of a young girl approaching womanhood, uncomfortable in her body, and already blinkered to other options in the world outside.  The title is taken from Corinthians 12:9

And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.”

This is not an amazing grace; instead it is a stripped down one- merely sufficient. The biblical reference is apt because at its heart this is a story about power and weakness.  At times the biblical allusions threaten to engulf the story- the Ruth/Naomi pairing; Samuel as the much wanted child and prophet etc- but there is enough weight in the descriptions of landscape, the all-encompassing faith and the murkiness of sin to balance the biblical metaphors out.

This book won the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2009, long listed for the Stella Prize and  short listed for the UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing.

My rating: 8.5/10

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

Read because: it was long-listed for the Stella.


‘Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered’ by John McLaren


2011, 303 p plus notes

John McLaren ‘Dewigged, Bothered and Bewildered: British Colonial Judges on Trial 1800-1900’.

The title Dewigged, Bothered, and Bewildered is a play on the show-tune with a similar title, (Bewitched, Bothered and Bewildered). It examines the careers of several 19th century judges of the British Empire who, for various reasons, found themselves removed or ‘dewigged’ from their positions.  The title reflects the tone of this book- light and jocular at times- but it belies the sheer breadth of knowledge of individual colonies that it covers.   Its author, John McLaren, is professor emeritus in the Faculty of Law at the University of Victoria (Canada)  and as Bruce Kercher’s endorsement on the back cover says “John McLaren is the only person I know with sufficiently broad legal historical knowledge to attempt such a huge task, and he succeeds at it remarkably well”.

It  might seem strange that a book about 19th century judges  starts with an analysis of judicial tenure in the seventeenth century.  It was during the constitutional maelstrom of Charles  and James and the Glorious Revolution that two competing mechanisms for appointing and controlling judges emerged.  The ‘Cokeian’ model, associated with Sir Edward Coke, drew on the rhetoric of the Ancient Constitution and the ‘rights of freeborn Englishmen’ to  argue that the King, like other mortals, was subject to the law, and that he and his officers were subject to the jurisdiction of the stewards of the Common Law, the judges of the King’s Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer.  The rival ‘Baconian’ model, expounded by Lord Francis Bacon, emphasized the Divine Right of Kings and emphasized that judges must be the loyal servants of the monarch.  Hence, under the Cokeian model, judges should be employed ‘during good behaviour’ where, as long as there was not actual judicial impropriety, the judges were independent of the Crown.  The Baconian model, on the other hand, employed judges “at His Majesty’s pleasure” and kept the judges under the control of the King and his government.

All this might seem far removed from a judge in Port Phillip, Sierra Leone, Newfoundland or Upper Canada 150 years later, but McLaren argues that this 17th century argument about the independence of the judges, abuses of power by the government,  and local control over the judiciary was played out  over again, this time in the colonies.  In this book, McLaren uses group biography to examine how these battles were exemplified through the careers of a number of colonial judges from Upper Canada, New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, Sierra Leone, Newfoundland and the West Indies.

Judge Willis has a starring role here: we meet him in the opening pages, and he is featured in two chapters.  He is, however, not the only judge in this book who appears as a trouble maker in two separate colonies.  Jeffrey Bent, well known in Australia for his struggles with Macquarie, reappeared in Grenada, where he again clashed with the governor.  Robert Thorpe, who was a ‘radical’ judge in Upper Canada prior to Willis’ appointment, also had trouble in Sierra Leone, and Sir John Gorrie seemed to be shifted from place to place when he fell out with various people in Fiji, the Leeward Islands  and  Trinidad.  There are a number of troublesome judges whose travails were restricted to one colony alone: Boothby in South Australia; Sewell and Monk in Lower Canada; Montagu in Van Diemen’s Land; Beaumont in British Guiana.

The chapters are arranged thematically, but chronologically and geographically as well. For example, the chapter ‘Courting Reform in a Counter-Revolutionary Empire 1800-1831’ deals with Robert Thorpe and Judge Willis in Upper Canada, where the judges’ reforming zeal clashed with conservative local interests.  It is followed by a chapter that makes the argument in the opposite direction for other British North American colonies  ‘Ultra Conservative Judges in an Era of Developing Reformist Sentiment in the British Empire 1810-1840’.  It covers similar years to the first chapter, but this time switches the focus around.  It  examines the  cases  of Sewell and Monk in Lower Canada and Henry Boulton in Newfoundland,  where conservative judges fled  the radical colonies for the protection of the home government.

Chapters 6-8 are focussed on Australian examples.  Chapter 6 ‘Guarding the Sanctity of the Common Law from Local ‘Deviations’ in Convict Colony 1800-1830’ examines the career of Ellis and Jeffrey Bent in New South Wales, followed by Ch 7 ‘English Legal Culture and the Repugnancy Card in the Australian Colonies 1830-1850’ which follows on chronologically in examining Montagu and Pedder in Van Diemens Land, and Willis in Port Phillip.  The term ‘repugnancy’ refers to the tenet that colonial law should not contradict English law.  Part of a colonial judge’s role involved analysing local laws drawn up in the colony and advising the governor whether the law was ‘repugnant’ or not.  Chapter 8 takes up the repugnancy question in Australia after 1850 with Benjamin Boothby in South Australia.

Chapters 9 and 10 examine judges in the slavery colonies in the West Indies and West Africa, with George Smith in Trinidad,  Thorpe in Sierra Leone and Jeffrey Bent in Granada between 1800-1830 in Chapter 9.   In Chapter 10 the time frame shifts to 1834-1900 with Joseph Beaumont in British Guiana and Sir John Gorrie in Mauritius, Fiji and Trinidad.

The final chapter draws together themes that emerge throughout the stories.  In a way, this chapter subverts, or at least challenges, the structural logic of the other chapters because some of these judges, Willis in particular, are not easy to pigeonhole.

As McLaren points out, it is important that troublesome, contrary, complex and contradictory judges should not be committed to “the ashcan of historical ephemera”.  We gain a view of empire from them that is not available from ‘don’t rock the boat’ jurists, and we must never lose sight of the fact that law is never a sideshow. Instead, it was an important instrument in the extension of imperial authority, infused with and supported by the constitutional and legal values of the English-speaking world of the previous two centuries. (p. 273, 274)

It is the PhD student’s nightmare that a highly prominent, esteemed and widely published academic release a book on one’s very topic while you are still working on- or worse, just as you finish-  your thesis.  I became aware of John’s work while I’ve been working on Willis myself, and it was with a mixture of trepidation and curiosity that I read his book.  I gained much from it, particularly in being able to compare Willis with other judges in similar situations, and it’s with relief that I can see where my own  more  bottom-up work can fit under his broad umbrella of judicial misbehaviour and discipline.

A group biography, like this one, has challenges beyond that of the individual biography.  There’s a danger that so many situations and people are introduced that the whole thing breaks down in confusion, but there’s also the advantage of being able to better define the exceptional.  I think that a sign that McLaren has succeeded so well is that on encountering a particular judge a second or even third time, there is a rush of recognition.  His judicial characters are so well drawn that when the final chapter draws together observations from across the work as a whole, there is no need to check back to see ‘now, who’s he again?’  The book is suffused with a lightness of touch and a sure grasp of the contours of so many different colonies that comes from the author’s long, deep immersion in colonial legal history.

‘Making Stories: Law, Literature, Life’ by Jerome Bruner


Good grief, I thought- is Jerome Bruner still alive? I remember reading his work  back in my educational designer days.  But there he was, in 2002 at the age of 87,  giving the first Lezioni Italiane of the new millenium- a lecture delivered at the University of Bologna by a foreign visitor on a topic of his or her choosing.


2002, 107 p. & notes

The lectures formed the basis of this book and although they might not say anything new, they form a distillation of Bruner’s life-long fascination with narrative and its relation to identity and literature. According to his webpage, Jerome Bruner in 2011 (by then aged 96) was still recorded as a Senior Research Fellow in Law at New York University.  Although at first glance this seems an odd position for a cognitive psychologist and educationalist,  in this book he brings together the idea of story and the law.

The book consists of four chapters, each about 25 pages in length.  I’m not sure if he gave four separate lectures, but certainly these chapters, with their discursive and yet easily-followed narrative thread, read  as if they might have been self-contained presentations at some time.

In Chapter 1 “The Uses of Story” he commences by noting that we are all adept at narrative, which is almost as natural as language itself.  Stories commence with a breach in the expected  or peripeteia– a sudden reverse in circumstance, and the tension between what was expected and what came to pass. The story goes on to explore efforts to cope or come to terms with this breach and its consequences. A story often closes with a coda, a retrospective evaluation of what it all means.

In the second chapter of the book “The Legal and the Literary”  he turns his attention to legal stories, told before a court of law within a tight set of procedures that keeps them within recognized bounds.  Such stories, when told by lawyers for the prosecution or defence, are always partisan and adversarial, but it is our confidence in the legal process that sanitizes them.

The law has evolved over the centuries not only to render just and legitimate verdicts between two opposing narratives but to do so in a way that removes the risk of precipitating a cycle of revenge after the verdict has been pronounced.  To achieve this dual objective, the courts must be accepted as authoritative and legitimate, and they must also be seen as fair and disinterested, capable of rising above the self-serving and adversarial narratives by which cases are presented. (p. 37)

As with other stories, legal stories are also based on peripeteia.  The tension between what is possible and what is established is built into the texture of Anglo-Saxon common law.  The common-law writ is itself a plot summary of an actionable offence against what is customary and established. (p. 58).

He then turns to literature, even though courts and judges would bristle at the thought that law and literature could be coupled together in this way. He distinguishes literature from other forms of story in the intent that lies behind the fashioning of a literary narrative.  Legal stories aim at making the world self-evident, whereas literature evokes familiar life with the deliberate aim of disturbing our expectations.

The challenge of literary narrative is to open possibilities without diminishing the seeming reality of the actual (p. 48)

The third chapter “The Narrative Construction of Self” turns to the role of story in our telling of our self to our self. He argues that there is no such thing as an intuitively obvious and essential self, sitting there ready to be portrayed into words.

Rather, we constantly construct and reconstruct our selves to meet the needs of the situations we encounter and we do so with the guidance of our memories of the past and our hopes and fears for the future.  Telling oneself about oneself is like making up a story about who and what we are, what’s happened, and why we’re doing what we’re doing. (p. 64)

This self-telling accumulates over time and is patterned on the conventional genres privileged by our specific culture.  The narrative we create about our self must create a conviction of autonomy where we have a will of our own, but it also has to be related to a world of others- our family, friends, institutions and the past.   He notes that most autobiographies and self-tellings have turning points, which are themselves influenced by culture. He suggests that once a person becomes unable to tell a narrative (through, for example, Alzheimers or Korsakov syndrome) then they have virtually lost self-hood.

The final chapter ‘So why narrative?’ returns to the themes of the earlier chapters. We see more of Bruner the academic here, as he explores the anthropological origins of the ability to tell stores, and the features of language that make it possible.  He cites one of my favourite books on language, Shirley Brice Heath’s Ways with Words which examines the language practices of white and negro children in North Carolina and the way that education privileges the “just the facts, ma’am” narrative structures of white children over the imaginatively elaborated tales of white children.  He closes with a discussion of the importance of narrative in medicine and rehabilitation.

I’m not quite sure yet what I’m going to do with this and how I’m going to use it in my own work.  I’m thinking about narrative and the ways of telling a life …but I haven’t quite worked my thinking out in my own head yet.  I’ll leave with a paragraph that I think sums up Bruner’s argument across these four lectures:

For better or worse, it [narrative] is our preferred, perhaps even our obligatory medium for expressing human aspirations and their vicissitudes, our own and those of others.  Our stories also impose a structure, a compelling reality on what we experience, even a philosophical stance.  By their very nature, stories take for granted that their protagonists are free unless ensnared by circumstances.  They also take for granted that people know what the world is like, what can be expected of it, as well as what it expected of them.  In time, life comes not so much to imitate art as to join with it.  It is “ordinary people doing ordinary things in ordinary places for ordinary reasons”.  A seeming breach of this ordinariness is required to trigger the rich dynamic of narrative- how to  cope with it, to domesticate it, to get things back on a familiar track. (p. 89)….Story making is our medium for coming to terms with the surprises and oddities of the human condition and for coming to terms with our imperfect grasp of that condition. (p. 90)

As it happens, I’ve just found a lecture based on this book and echoing its title given  by Inga Clendinnen who is right up the top of my Favourite Historians list.  The lecture, ‘Making Stories, Telling Tales: Life, Literature and Law’ was delivered as the 18th Lionel Murphy Memorial Lecture in 2004. It’s a wonderful presentation that references this book, Janet Malcolm the biographer, Helen Garner’s Joe Cinque’s Consolation . It’s beautifully crafted, as Clendinnen’s work always is, and well worth reading.

Judicial biography and Pamela Burton’s From Moree to Mabo.

Lurking under the general heading of ‘biography’ are a whole range of particular genres of biography that have their aficionados but are rarely found on the best-seller lists.  Judicial biography is one such genre.  Because my research interest is a nineteenth century judge, I’ve been delving into quite a few judicial biographies and becoming even more certain that my work could not usefully be described as ‘judicial biography’ at all.

The celebratory judicial biographies of the early Victorian era (e.g. Campbell’s Lives of the Lord Chancellors) were described by Phillip Girard (2003)  as “partisan, gossipy, cavalier with facts and delightfully titillating.”  Certainly John Raithby, who wrote The Study and Practice of the Law considered, in their various relations to society in a series of letters (2nd ed, 1816) felt that we would all be better men if we read judicial biography

  ‘When I look back upon the history of my own country, or search the records of those which are no more, I rejoice that the most elegant ornaments of the one, and the noblest monuments of the other, are to be found in the fame of those men who have studied the laws, and directed the jurisprudence of their respective nations … . Look up to these exalted characters, and resolve to imitate, if you cannot equal them. … [N]ot only their works but their actions ought to be the objects of investigation. Endeavour to mark their feelings while you peruse the accounts of their lives; see how the ambition of this man has led him too far, or the immoderate love of repose too greatly restrained him … how the intemperance of lust has destroyed another, or his want of social affection rendered his powers and acquisitions useless.” (p. 17, 28)

More recent judicial biographies are lighter on the moral lessons, but sometimes they do still tend to be rather hagiographical and worthy.  They are often written by judges and lawyers (and to a certain extent they need to be if the courtroom aspect of their life is to be examined critically)  but they are often permeated by a sense of deference that emerges, perhaps, from a life spent within a hierarchical system. In this regard, they remind me of military biographies, where everyone is named, lest offence be caused by omitting someone important; and there’s a masculine clubbability that underpins them as well.

James Thomson in 2007 wrote that:

Judicial biographies must provide explanations and analysis of, at least, the major cases; explore the judge’s interpretive strategies and decision-making processes; expose intra-mural relationships— collegiality, collaboration and confrontation—with other Justices; trace the origins and development of the judge’s character, beliefs, views and motivations; and delineate the influences—public and private—on the judge’s opinions and decisions.

Phillip Girard imposed another requirement:

“which is that the time spent by the subject in judicial office, as opposed to doing other things, should be of more than passing interest to the biographer.”

So, hedged with all these exhortations and injunctions, how does Pamela Burton’s From Moree to Mabo: The Mary Gaudron Story stack up?

For a start, that masculine clubbability is challenged from the outset. Mary Gaudron was Australia’s first female High Court judge, and her biographer is a woman as well.  There is still just a hint of that professional in-groupness that is so impenetrable to outsiders, but because it is interwoven with the personal and political, it does not skew the whole worldview of the book.

The author Pamela Burton is a barrister herself, and as well as founding her own law firm, was a Senior Member of the Commonwealth Administrative Appeals Tribunal and was legal counsel for the Australian Medical Association.  Her experience serves her (and thus, us) well.  As Posner, Chief Judge U.S. Court of Appeal (1995)  wrote, it is difficult for a non-lawyer to write a judicial biography.

This is not only because judges deal with technical legal issues but also because the role of the judge is difficult for nonlawyers to understand. Nonlawyers tend either to be credulous about judges’ self-serving rhetoric of disinterest or to assume that judges are merely politicians (“statesmen” if the nonlawyer shares the judge’s politics) in disguise, whereas the truth usually lies somewhere in the middle….Judges are great bluffers, and it is particularly difficult for nonlawyers to penetrate the bluff unless they are highly cynical. (p. 513)

A quick flip through the index to the book highlights the heavy use of court records and case reports.  There is no doubt at all that this is a life spent in the law.  She presents the cases well, with enough background for someone unfamiliar with them to make sense of them.  It’s a difficult line for an author to tread: enough evidence from the judge’s behaviour in court to support the observations made in the biography, but not so many that the reader- particularly a non-lawyer reader- feels engulfed.

To my way of thinking, a biography is not just a chronicle of events.  While the elapse of time does impose a certain chronological shape to the subject’s life, it is the author’s decision where to place the emphasis and how much space in terms of pages to devote to various aspects of a life.  The author is an active agent in the telling by crafting an argument about what this life means.  Burton grapples with the issue of politics and the law by exploring the nature of ‘political connections’ as a means of progressing a career and yet resisting being captured by one side of politics.  She takes the issue of judicial logic and intellect very seriously, and in this regard the book could be just as easily conceptualized as an intellectual biography as a judicial one.  She balances the personal, the political and the professional.

Gaudron did not co-operate in the writing of this biography: in fact she said that she had a horror of biographies.  The bibliography of this book shows where the author mined to gather her material.  There are three boxes of her papers at the National Library, but these only go up to 1979 and the Conciliation and Arbitration phase of her career.  There are three oral histories, but one of them is closed to research and public use until 5 January 2043.   Gaudron herself has written the foreword to others’ books and some articles, but the bulk of the primary material is drawn from Gaudron’s speeches and court transcripts. The author undertook extensive interviews with Gaudron’s colleagues, although not all wished to be named.  As the author herself admits “A measure of boldness is required to write a biography of a living person who is not enthusiastic about it being written.” (p. xviii).  I must admit that I would quail at the thought.


Girard, Phillip  ‘Judging Lives: Judicial Biography from Hale to Holmes.’ Australian Journal of Legal History  Vol 7, No. 1, 2003 p. 87-106

Posner, Richard ‘Judicial Biography’ New York University Law Review, Vol 70, No. 3 1995, p. 502

Thomson, James ‘Biographies and Biographical Writing’ in  Michael Coper, Tony Blackshield and George Williams (eds.), The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia, 2007 p.

‘From Moree to Mabo: The Mary Gaudron Story’ by Pamela Burton


2010,  401 p. & notes

I think that most of us would be hard pressed to name the judges on the High Court of Australia- I know that I would be.  Occasionally a judge ‘cuts through’ into the mainstream- Michael Kirby comes to mind (perhaps even more since retiring from the bench than while on it?), as does William Deane (although probably more as Governor General than judge)- and Mary Gaudron is another.  Mary Gaudron was the first female High Court judge in Australia- just one of the many firsts in her career.  As the title of this book highlights, she was one of the judges involved in the Mabo decision, arguably one of the most important judicial decisions in Australian history (although- fascinating parlour game- no cheating on Google- who were the other judges in the Mabo case???) Continue reading

Thomas Wills at Heidelberg Historical Society

For those of us interested in early Port Phillip society, there will be a presentation at Heidelberg Historical Society tomorrow night (Tuesday 9 April 2013) on one of the early settlers of the Port Phillip District.  Thomas Wills (1800-1872) is associated with the Heidelberg district through his purchase of 176 acres in 1840 to the west of Darebin Creek, in what is now Alphington, for 3784 pounds.  There he established Lucerne Farm, a double storey, stuccoed house built of locally hand-made bricks and bluestone.  Richard Howitt, a neighbour described the house as:

delightfully situated on pleasant knolls and slopes.  Seen from the south of the Yarra, with the garden like an English one, the widening Yarra at a distance from it and the gleam of the natural pond near it, partly hidden by trees, the landscape is very picturesque.  Walking in the garden, you see natural birds which have become almost tame, so well are they protected by the owner.  (Cited in Heidelberg Since 1836 p. 20)

Governor La Trobe is said to have been a frequent visitor, and the house was well known as one of the social centres of the district.  Unfortunately, despite its ‘A’ classification, the house was demolished in 1960 as a car park for the La Trobe Golf Club.

Thomas Wills was a J.P. and a founding member of the Melbourne Mechanics Institute in 1839.  He was no fan of the judge’s despite the ‘neighbourly’ connection and he signed a petition against Willis.

On Tuesday 9th April, Anne Marsden will speak to the Heidelberg Historical Society about Thomas Wills.  She was awarded a 2013 Honorary Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria to research the founding committee of the Mechanics’ Institution, which included many of the most prominent Port Phillip men of the time.

The meeting commences at 8.00 pm, Tuesday 9th April 2013 at the Ivanhoe Uniting Church Community Centre, Seddon Street Ivanhoe. Visitors are more than welcome.

Update: I’ve just found five  photos of Lucerne, taken in the 1950s, when it was in very poor condition.  You can see them at:

There’s other photos of Lucerne surrounded by floodwaters from the 1930s too

Soft and fuzzies at the MCG.

Two years ago, I posted about the negative nagging admonitions that you are bombarded with at the MCG.  Last Friday I went off to the MCG again with the same son to see the same game (St Kilda v. Richmond) – although unfortunately with a less desirable outcome this time.   It’s a sad, sad thing when you crave a draw.

My chagrin was soothed somewhat by noting that the killjoys and straiteners responsible for the announcements on the score board have gone all soft and fuzzy on us.  Now instead of being harangued with the fines imposed for drinking outside the ground, we’re exhorted to enjoy a drink at the MCG, but just don’t take it outside. Instead of being drawn and quartered for running on the ground, we’re encouraged to be a part of the game, but just not on the turf.    It didn’t change the score, but it did make me feel as if I didn’t have to cringe from yet another telling-off.

Beards are back?

I did a double-take when I passed a Big Issue seller in the city a few weeks back.  Why does the big issue have an update of a 30 year old photograph of my husband on the front cover?



Oh no! I can feel a Six Degrees of Separation between Judge Willis coming on…..


I’ll let Edmund Finn (better known as ‘Garryowen’) tell the story:

Up to 1851 whiskers were not articles of common wear in Melbourne, and moustachios and beards were unknown, unless with passing visitors from the bush, who periodically burst into town for a spell, and as suddenly burst out again when their cheques were liquified.  The early town colonists were well content with the barefacedness which prevailed in England since the time of William III and were loth to encumber the human face divine with hirsute protuberances.  [Mr Edward Sewell, a dandified solicitor] sometimes affected the exceptional, and, at the risk of being out of the fashion, aimed occasionally to be out of the common, and took it into his head to create a slight sensation.  Accordingly, going into retreat for some time, he emerged unexpectedly from his seclusion, with fiercely luxuriant moustache, which, if it did not increase admiration of him, certainly rendered him pro tem the “observed of all observers”.

Making for the Supreme Court, he stalked in with the swagger of a half-daft peacock, and gazed with solemn superciliousness around him.  The Judge was startled and stared with much wonderment.  He wriggled in his seat, and with much difficulty restrained himself until the business in hand was disposed of, and then Sewell, advancing towards the Bench, asked permission to appear for a client in an Equity suit, as all the limited Bar had been retained by the other side.  The Judge regarded him with astonishment, as if unable or unwilling to recognize him in his disguise.  At length he roared out that his Court was not a place for “A whiskered pandour or a fierce hussar!” If the person who had spoken was desirous to appear as counsel, he ought to have assumed the semblance of one.  As it was, his physiognomical get-up was enough to frighten a man out of his wits! He had better clear out, or he would not be long an officer of that honourable Court.  The astounded Sewell, scared by such an unexpected reception, hastily retreated from the precincts of the highly irritated dignitary, and, fearful of being struck off the rolls if he put in a second hairy appearance, dashed away for the nearest barber’s shop, submitted to a thorough tonsorial operation, and returned with a face and a conscience equally clear to the presence of the offended impersonation of Justice, where he was received as a repentant sinner, obtained solution, and was taken (metaphorically) to the Judicial arms.

I’d always wondered about Willis’ term “whiskered pandour or fierce hussar”.  I’ve since found that he’s quoting from a poem ‘The Battle of Maciejowice’ by Thomas Campbell, which mourns the Russian defeat of the Poles in October 1794.

Oh sacred Truth!

Oh sacred Truth! thy triumph ceased awhile,

And Hope, thy sister, ceased with thee to smile,

When leagued Oppression poured to Northern wars

Her whiskered pandours and her fierce hussars Waved her dread standard to the breeze of morn,

Pealed her loud drum, and twanged her trumpet horn:

Tumultous horror brooded o’er her van

Presaging wrath to Poland and to Man!

Anyway, Mr Sewell would be gratified, I’m sure, to know that beards are back, and that he could venture into court again today with his fiercely luxuriant mustachios and be embraced as being at the height of fashion.