ORAL HISTORIES INTERVIEW
Honourable Rodney Burr AM
By Lindy McNamara on 4 July 2014
This is an interview with The Honourable Rod Burr AM by Lindy McNamara, and the date is the 4th July 2014. Maybe we could start, Rod, with your full name and your date of birth.
Sure. Rodney Keith Burr. 9 February 1947.
And your parents, their names?
Yes. Keith and Laureen, both now deceased.
And where were you brought up?
I think I was born in North Adelaide, but my earliest memories were growing up in Eden Hills. So I went to Blackwood Primary School and then at the end of my primary school career there was no high school in the area, so I went to Unley High School. However at the end of first year all of the kids who came from the Adelaide Hills were bundled up as a package and sent up to Blackwood to open the new Blackwood High School. So we were foundation students. Then by the time we got to Year 12 Blackwood High School didn’t have a Year 12 yet so we were all bundled up again and bussed down the hill to Marion High School where we completed Year 12.
So you did the rounds as a school child?
Very much so. That’s the true story. I get a lot more mileage out of saying in a social setting that I was expelled from the first two. But, yes, it didn’t do me any harm I don’t think. I made a lot of friends at three different schools.
What about your parents? What was your father involved with and was your mother working?
Yes. We didn’t have a heap of money and so mum went back to work when we kids became more expensive with the occasional school fee for one of my sisters. She went to a private school, but my other sister and I went to public schools, but university had introduced fees by then. So she went back to work as a driving instructress for many years.
Dad had always been involved in aviation. During World War II he was a licensed aircraft maintenance engineer for a company called Guinea Airways. They were based in Adelaide, but during the war they were sent to Darwin and supplied the aircraft that did all the supply drops on the Kokoda Trail and things like that. So Dad was up there keeping the aircraft airworthy, which was a bit of a task in those days. After Darwin was bombed they were moved back down to Alice Springs and they did all of their maintenance from there. Dad’s favourite story of those times was that, as the Senior Engineer, he was staying in the best room in one of the hotels in Alice Springs. He came back from work one day and was told that he had been booted out of his room for a couple of nights. He indignantly demanded to know who could possibly outrank him and get that room. And they said, “Well actually it’s General MacArthur”. So he was happy to give up the room to the good General for a couple of nights. Then after the war he came back and secured a job with the Department of Civil Aviation. He spent probably forty years in aviation and that’s where I acquired my love of aviation because while all of the other kids in my class were going down to the beach with their buckets and spades during the long summer holidays, I was on one of the aeroplanes out of Adelaide going to Port Moresby or Darwin or Daly Waters, Leigh Creek, you name it.
How young were you when you first went up in an aircraft?
Yes. Dad organised a mate to take me up in a Tiger Moth. I was packed up on about three pillows and strapped in and away we went. And I continued the tradition. After I obtained my commercial pilot’s licence, I took my daughter up for the first time when she was 2 years old, stacked up on pillows, and then when my son was 2 he went up with me also stacked up on pillows. So you would have to say my wife was pretty trusting by then.
Have your children followed in your footsteps? Do they enjoy flying?
Very much. For a lot of our family holidays we were privileged to be able to pack up the aeroplane and head off to all parts of Australia. So they developed a love of flying. It translated into … my children are nine years apart, my daughter being the elder of the two and, yes, she loved flying such that she shot off to Sydney and was a flight attendant with Ansett for a few years until they closed down. Then when she married and moved to New Zealand with her Kiwi husband, for a few years until she sorted out what else she would like to do, she secured a job as a Qantas international flight attendant for a while. My son ended up working at Adelaide Airport, first as a landscape gardener, but then in Customs and Border Security. A lot of that was due to his aviation background and the amount of travel that he had undertaken and how well he understood what travellers coming through Customs might be up to.
So it is really in your family’s blood?
So up to around finishing at Marion High School, what drew you to the law, to study law?
It was pretty simple really. I was pretty ordinary at maths and science, so it had to be an arts based degree and that meant there was only arts or law really. If I finished an arts degree, I would probably wind up being a teacher and that had zero appeal. Hence it was a very, very narrow focus that I had. So I went off to law school with a few other mates from Marion. I enjoyed my time at law school mostly. There were all sorts of stressors about studies and exams, but most of the time … certainly in those days when you did not have to do what the kids have to do now to get into law school. If you matriculated there was a position and so off you went. So the pressure was not nearly as great and it meant probably that law school was a lot more fun in those days than it is now. We did not have to be nearly as serious. We knew there would be a job at the end of it.
Which is obviously an issue now too, there’s not a lot of jobs for graduates coming out.
Absolutely. The name of the game has changed dramatically. We went through a very lucky period.
Any people of note that you went through law school with that you have kept in contact with throughout your career?
It probably depends on what you describe as “of note”. Julian Disney was in my year and he ended up at ACOSS, the Australian Council of Social Services or something. Tony Abbott was in my year. Julian Disney and Tony were the two bright young things. They were the ones who earned scholarships to Oxford and Cambridge.
Brian Martin was in my year. Of course, he played quite a bit of league football for Sturt and became a Supreme Court Judge here and then Chief Justice in the Northern Territory. I think I was the first from my year to be appointed as a Judge of the Superior Court, which would have shocked and amazed every other law student in my year or probably at law school at the time and certainly all of my lecturers. But I guess I was just lucky enough to find my niche in family law and get to be reasonably good at it. Otherwise, I don’t think there’s much fame that emerged from our year. We were too busy having a good time to contemplate what we might do to improve the world.
Were you a typical university student?
I think, yes, although perhaps a little less serious than some. Well those years at law school were fun. I think we and the medical students were considered to be the most outrageously fun-loving students of the time.
So you graduated in what year?
I think 1970.
Right. And from there you went to do your Articles?
Yes. 1969 and 1970. You did two years of Articles in those days. The first year of Articles was combined with the last year of law. And I was again lucky. I was still cruising through in student mode when I went to a party one Saturday night and all of my mates there said, “So who do you have your Articles with?” and I said, “Articles - I haven’t even looked yet”. And they said, “Well you had better hurry because as far as we know just about every position is taken”. I was fortunate though that a girlfriend of the time had two positions she had accepted and she said, “I’ve decided to take this one and you can apply for that one”. Well that one turned out to be the best time of my life professionally because it was with Playford & Boylan - Malcolm Playford and Frank Boylan. This was a period too in the law which I do not think covered the profession of the law in great glory. In the first four interviews I had attended for Articles, the questions were always, “What does your father do?”; “What school did you go to?” and “What denomination are you?”. So when I said, “Dad was a public servant, I went to a public school and I was a Methodist”, I never got a job at any of the Catholic or Anglican firms. So when I went to my interview with Frank Boylan at Playford & Boylan, I was told that Frank was a very devout Catholic and I thought, “Oh here we go again”. So I walked into Frank’s office, sat down expecting the same questions and his first question to me was, “When can you start?”. So I fell in love with the bloke and the firm. And so I did my Articles there. At the end of that time I’d established already then an embryonic matrimonial causes practice (as it was then) and they said “it seems to be an emerging area of work for the firm”, so they offered me a job to stay on as a solicitor and then, just within a few years, partner. I stayed with that same firm in its various forms and varieties of partnerships up until my appointment to the Bench on the 2nd of April 1998.
So it was a long time.
It was nearly 29 years. It might be a bit more than that, isn’t it? It’s nearly 30 years.
That’s a bit unheard of nowadays – to stay with the same firm for a long period of time.
Absolutely. Life is an enormous amount of luck, as we all know. In many senses you make your own luck, but if I had not had the girlfriend I had at the time and had not gone to that party and had not had Frank Boylan just take me on straight away and had not had Malcolm Playford and Frank invite me into the partnership at a very young age and if I had not found my niche in family law, just who knows how it would have turned out. But lucky too in terms of the partners that our firm attracted. We never had a written partnership agreement. We operated as seven mates. And we earned different amounts in fees, but all drew the same amount of money. You paid nothing to come into the firm. When you left, you got nothing apart from what would have been accumulated in your capital account. The last six or nine months of my practising life was with Thomson Playfords when we merged with Thomsons. So I went from a firm of seven lawyers to a firm of about 60 or 70 lawyers and it was a huge culture shock. So I must say that I was thrilled when I received the phone call from the Federal Attorney-General asking me if I would like to get out of there.
Who were the seven partners that you had?
David Nicolle was there throughout; David Munt, who sadly died a year ago of leukaemia. Then of course, Malcolm Playford himself was there for quite a period of that time. Frank Boylan went to the Bench. He went to the District Court not long after I became a partner as did Brendan Burns was another partner there. Garry Hiskey, who became a Magistrate and Bill Ackland, who became a Magistrate. John White who was a very recent President of the Law Society here. Trevor Edmond, the managing partner now of Wallmans. Phil Harris, who has essentially retired, but doing quite a lot of mediations for The Legal Services Commission. There were a few who were in there for a few years but the stalwarts were Mr Playford until he retired, then David Nicolle, David Munt, John White, Trevor Edmond, Phil Harris and myself.
Were you all close mates as such?
Yes, some closer than others. David Nicolle, would be still my best friend and he was my best man at my wedding. We were very close to David Munt. We socialised a lot together. We still do. We’re all off to McLaren Vale to have a long degustation lunch in a few week’s time to remember David Munt. So we’ll be starting memorial lunches for him as another excuse to stay together. I still go to the football just about every weekend with David Nicole. So I’ve been lucky to be able to combine friendship with a professional life. It makes that professional life a lot less stressful too knowing you’ve got mates in the same place and you can just go and knock on their door, close it, pour your heart out and get some advice.
Do you think the legal profession is perhaps a bit unique in that way? In the early days, perhaps not now,\ when there’s so many people in the profession, but back then was it a scenario where you did all work together and help each other out?
Absolutely. And it was across the firms too. There’s a huge camaraderie in the profession. In fact, there were a couple of lawyer’s pubs - the Crown & Sceptre was always a lawyer’s pub because those involved in the criminal arena, at the end of a day in Court, would head to the Crown & Sceptre. In fact, I think still above the doorway of the Crown & Sceptre Hotel is a sign which says, “Court No. 13” or something or other because there might have been twelve Supreme Court Rooms , and number 13 was across the road and that’s where the lawyers drank.
So the 19th hole, like a golf course?
Correct. There was also one in Pirie Street and every Friday night just about every lawyer in town headed for that hotel. There were an enormous number of social events. I noticed in one of my President’s monthly reports in the Bulletin that you were kind enough to send me, that I was grieving the loss of a number of the social events in which the profession had been historically engaged. We lost the Field Day out at Kensington where we all played cricket, bowls and tennis against one another. Then the Tennis Day and dinner dance were kind of collapsing. But that was the nature of the profession then. We spent as many opportunities as we could to get together. My mentor in my early years in family law, because nobody at Playfords practised in the jurisdiction, was Max Basheer. Malcolm Playford said, “Look just give Max a ring”. So I’d go down and I’d talk to Max or I’d ring Max when I had a problem and occasionally if it was a bit difficult for me as a young barrister/solicitor, I’d get Max to do the court work for me and I’d sit with him or behind him. So he was a great mentor to me until I felt confident enough.
That was just how the profession was. You didn’t have to hope that somebody in your firm would help you. Every lawyer in the profession would pick up the phone and just give you assistance, whatever it was that was needed. I remember during my time at the Law Society, as the profession got bigger and bigger, we needed something more formal. And they have still, I think, got various sorts of mental health and mentor panels. We used to have a Senior Practitioner committee, where senior members of the profession volunteered that they were there ready to take a phone call. So, yes, it was a wonderful profession.
How did the interest in family law start? Was it basically there was a niche there and you fell into it, or was it something that you were quite passionate about early on?
No. I don’t think I was, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I think my whole professional life has been like that. As I earlier explained, I left school and I struggled to do a sum or work out a physics principle, so I had to confine myself to arts. I fell into law and then I fell into Articles and then I fell into a partnership and then you get a phone call from the Attorney-General and you think, “Oh okay, well I’ll be a Judge” and then you retire. And you think, “Well, it’s probably about time I made a decision as to what I’m going to do with my life”. None of them have been really conscious decisions.
It’s been amazing. Now I’ve talked for so long I can’t remember what the question was.
Family law. How you fell into that one?
When I was in Articles, there was a woman there, Ashley Marshall, and she was doing a bit of matrimonial work and then she took a new job, it was then called Parliamentary Draftsman. So there were these files left and Malcolm Playford said to me, “Well none of us want to do it so here’s half a filing cabinet”. And that’s how it started. I guess I got to like it and I got to be reasonably good at it.
Were you doing court appearances at a fairly early stage in your career?
Yes. That was the nature of doing Articles. I think probably I had been there about – I don’t know – three months when I went down on my first Court appearance. You start with a few simple guilty pleas and adjournments and things like that, although one of my poor partners went down to do what he was told was a simple adjournment and it turned out to be about a three day committal hearing in the Magistrates Court which terrified him and put him off doing court work ever again. But, yes, we used to run civil actions in the Magistrates Court before some of the magistrates down there who had fearsome reputations, and this is the point where I won’t be mentioning names. But anybody who is of that era and who reads any of what we’ve got to say about that period would know exactly who we’re talking about. There were a couple of mongrel magistrates and their job they thought was to make the life of young lawyers as miserable as possible. And there was a Supreme Court Judge too who was like that. But I guess we survived and it toughened us up and we were beyond being reduced to tears. But I think it also taught us very much the value of humility in the profession too and how … I don’t imagine any of my mates or cohorts or people through that period of time who would have had that experience, who would ever have exhibited that behaviour on the Bench. There’s no way I ever treated any lawyer, yet alone a young lawyer, like I was treated by some of those Judicial Officers and that would be the same with every other mate of mine who is a judge. Most of us want people to like the law, to stay in the law, to keep turning up to practice the law and not be frightened off.
I’ve read with interest, I don’t know if it was your first case, but one of your early ones, was a DUI for someone on a bicycle. Do you recall that one?
Absolutely. There was a Magistrates Court at Glenelg at the time and Frank Boylan said to me, “I want you to go down and do this DUI guilty plea at Glenelg”. So I spent two days preparing all my submissions and caught the tram down. Frank described the client to me. He was supposed to be there because he was on remand and sure enough he was there, but he was clearly drunk as a skunk again. Anyway, I managed to sit him at the back and I don’t think anybody really noticed. So I hop into court and I think Lloyd Gun was the name of the Magistrate. I think he was a relative of John Gun who also became a Family Court Judge. Anyway, the Guns were big time in the law then. I stand up to start, I announce my appearance and the Magistrate leaned over to the police prosecutor and said, “What do you want me to do with him? Suspend his licence? He’s been charged with DUI in a bicycle” Then he said, “Why don’t we just charge him with common drunk? We agree on a fine and off we go”. The police prosecutor thought that was a good idea. So that’s what happened. I don’t think I said another word. So the DUI was dropped, the common drunk charge was substituted, he received a $10.00 fine and we were all over. He thought I was the greatest lawyer that had ever walked the planet. But the last I saw of him, he was back on his bicycle and wobbled his way around the corner from Moseley Square into Colley Terrace, crashed into a letterbox and fell off his bike again with the police walking in his direction already.
So you caught the tram back and left it there?
So I caught the tram back. I didn’t bother to tell the whole story. I just said, “Look I went up to the police prosecutor and to the Magistrate and said this is ridiculous. What are you going to do? Suspend his licence? Why don’t you just etc etc”. “Oh well done son” says Frank Boylan. The problem with that was he thought that I was ready well before my time and he threw me into a little civil trial in the Magistrates Court against John Doyle the next week. John later became our Chief Justice and is one of the brightest men I’ve ever encountered. So that taught me a lesson.
Going through your career at Playfords then, you built up a fairly substantial family law practice?
Yes, such that in the end we had another partner almost full-time in family law as well. Phil Harris came along and was very much involved in that. Again luck followed me through my career because there was no way I would have ever secured an appointment to the Supreme Court because I didn’t have a generalist practice and almost certainly wouldn’t have been good enough across a lot of the criminal stuff etcetera. But the Federal Government decided to introduce the Family Law Act. By conscience vote, both Houses of Parliament, both parties unanimously adopted the Family Law Act in 1975 and it came into effect in 1976. The Law Society formed a Family Law Committee pretty soon after that, in about 1977 I think. Doreen Davey, who became a Family Court Judge, was the Chair. She resigned and others approached me and said, “We’d like you to be the Chair”, so I did, in 1978 I think, and got lucky again. That was when the Law Council of Australia decided, because it was a federal jurisdiction, that they needed a Family Law Committee, so they formed one. As the Chair here, I went off to start that and I didn’t get off it until I had to retire to go to the Bench which was some twenty years later.
What were some of the major issues that you were dealing with?
Law Society or family law?
Well the transition from a fault based jurisdiction – adultery, cruelty, desertion, etcetera – to no fault – irretrievable breakdown. The law had to really be created by judicial decision making and trials that you ran. So that was an interesting time. When I started in that jurisdiction the handbook was 55 pages long. When I retired a couple of years ago it came in about seven or eight massive CCH volumes. There were thousands and thousands of pages. So it was nice to be able to embrace the complexity of the jurisdiction by being part of its creation and going along for the ride rather than having to pick it up at the end now. And wedged in there I became the President of the Law Society after about another nine years – that was 1987/1988. When I finished that, I then became Chair of the National Family Law Section of the Law Council. The Law Council had decided that they couldn’t support us as a committee anymore and couldn’t afford us – flying people in from all over Australia. So they said we had to survive on our own. So we formed a Family Law Section and held out first National Family Law Conference in Hobart in 1984. They have been held every two years since and are the most successful legal conference in the country attracting up to a thousand delegates each time. Probably in some ways it was in part responsible for the Australian Legal Convention collapsing. It just became the biggest thing on the conference calendar.
And is there a lot of camaraderie between family law lawyers? Is that similar to what you perhaps experienced at the start of your career?
Right through. I think probably more later. Once we were separated from the general fold of the Supreme Court that embraced every jurisdiction, I think family law fell off the pace a bit in terms of its perception. When we had leading lights like Roma Mitchell being heavily involved in family law, there was no problem with its reputation then. But I think when it separated out into a specialist court, there was a view that it wasn’t black letter law and that the lawyers in the jurisdiction were very much more like social workers than lawyers. And we had to fight hard against that sort of stigma and false perception. I think it’s still there, to a degree. I think that’s how some people who have absolutely no clue about this jurisdiction view it. But I can tell you from my time as a lawyer and my time as a Judge that some of the biggest commercial cases in the country are run in the Family Court. If it takes the geniuses in the commercial arena to create trusts and company structures and you name it, to try and shield assets under the guise of various entities, including tax havens and the like, it’s quite a task to unravel it all and share it around as you can legitimately do within the confines of what the law and the High Court says you can do. It’s a very challenging jurisdiction and the big property cases are really fascinating.
On the personal level, it must have been difficult some of the time not to get involved in the emotion of everything that was happening, say, at the level of a family breakdown.
Sometimes. I think probably the longer you were in the trade, the easier itbecause because you knew what you were going to expect. But certainly you couldn’t just divorce yourself from some of the personal tragedy that these people had to engage, but it was also a very rewarding jurisdiction because you’d take in somebody who was a bit of a wreck, emotionally exhausted, had lost all their self-esteem and didn’t know where they were going to go in the future and were worried and uncertain about their security, about the children – you name it. Then by the time you’d finished, generally speaking, you had a person who had their act together again and walked out of your office for the last time with a positive outlook for the future. So that was very rewarding – sort of helping them rebuild their lives.
The family law profession here in South Australia is still very strong with its Family Law Committee. Nationally it’s huge. I think it has about 2500 paying members. And again, they’re a group that still perpetuates this law school ethos of mine which is they party hard as well. So it’s a great specialist area of a fabulous profession. So I’ve lucked in multiple times, I think.
Tell me about the World Congress, when you worked towards setting that up.
That’s too long a story in it’s full form, but in 1989 there was a meeting of Law Asia in Hong Kong. Lawasia, as you know, is the organisation that represents lawyers and lawyers associations, law societies, bar associations in the Asia and Pacific region and I think (I’ve lost count now), there are about 22 member nations. They issued an invitation to Stuart Fowler, who was then the Chairman of the Law Council’s Family Law Section, and myself, who was the Deputy Chair, to come to Hong Kong because they wanted us to help them establish a Family Law Section for Lawasia. They knew by reputation that since our first conference in 1984 we’d been very successful. I remember I travelled out of Adelaide on a Singapore Airlines flight with Bruce Debelle who was then on the Executive of Lawasia as the Law Council representative. Anyway, Stuart Fowler and I go into the meeting when it’s our turn, when the agenda item comes up, and they tell us about how they would like us to form this Family Law Section and we said, “Yes, we can do that on our head, that’s easy. We have all the paperwork in order and we can tell you how to garner the membership etcetera”. We thought “well this is pretty cruisey”. We’ve had a paid business class trip to Hong Kong, here’s the “free lunch”. Old story. So we were about to leave and they then sprang the “zinger” on us and they said “well before you go, there’s one other thing we want you to do. We want you to take on a brief for the human rights of children in the Asian Pacific region”. We had a couple of reactions. One was “well what are you talking about”, and they said, “well we’re talking about child prostitution and we’re talking about child slavery, we’re talking about children who are kidnapped off the streets and have organs removed for sale on the international organ transplant trade, we’re talking about children who are abducted and mutilated so that they can be turned into beggars” and on and on it went. It was just absolutely horrific.
Was this very confronting for you?
Absolutely scary. I sat there in shock. You’d need a Charles Dickens, you know literally, or a Hogarth pictorially, to convey the horror of what we were being told. Anyway, the second question was “well why us? They’re your children. Why aren’t you doing something about it “and they said, “yes, well we might be the supply end, but you’re the demand end. It’s Australian men, it’s Japanese men, it’s German men, it’s New Zealand men, it’s whatever. They’re the ones flying up here and having sex with our children”.
Certainly the issues about slavery and mutilation and all that sort of horror was something in which our populous was not involved, but nonetheless they were packaging it up as a “do it all” thing. So shakily, we got back onto the plane and regretted that we’d ever accepted the invitation we talked about it on the way home and sort of came up with a notion of it. We came up with the idea that we would use all of the international connections that we’ve garnered over the years through legal politics that our roles in the Law Council had created for us, and our roles in the Law Society and the family law profession generally and incorporate this organisation called the World Congress on Family Law and Children’s Rights. The title was deliberate also because we knew we wouldn’t really – I’m afraid this is just society – we wouldn’t really get any interest, a sniff of interest, if it was the World Conference on Children’s Rights. So we had to build in family law so we could get the family lawyers to come along and pay and then we’d use their dollars to do whatever we could.
The first notion that we hit on was to approach the Australian Federal Government and convince them that we thought they had the constitutional power under their extra-territorial powers to pass a law that meant that citizens of Australia who engaged in sexual practices with children in Asia could be punished on their return to Australia. We swore that they had the power to pass a law covering Australian citizens who behaved appallingly overseas. They checked with, the Solicitor General and got their own advice and agreed. So our first Congress was held in Sydney in 1993 because it took a long while to get all this together after the 1989 challenge. It didn’t just happen overnight. So finally four years down the track, we had 850 people from 60 countries of the world came to Sydney and had the Minister for Justice announce the project we’d been working on, which was the passage of the child sex tourism laws in Australia. It had a fairly immediate impact in that two former Australian diplomats were arrested, charged and convicted. I think they ended up serving 24 and 22 years in jail for their appalling practices. Then it was picked up as a project by a number of the delegates at that first World Congress to take back to their home countries and there was sort of mirror image legislation passed by a number of other countries about child sex tourism.
That put us on the map because it was a spectacular sort of approach and we received a massive media coverage of it, assisted by the fact that, unbeknown to Stuart Fowler and myself, the United Nations flew in for the event. They were already a sponsor of it. We approached them and because it was conveniently the International Year of the Family in 1994, the year after, we were a wonderful lead-in for the UN. Anyway, comes the closing ceremony, this stranger hops up on stage and announces he’s from the United Nations and presents Stuart and myself with a United Nations award each.
How proud were you at that moment?
Well, immensely. I guess I’m probably more into man hugs as I get older, and I’ve got a son who I love man hugging, but that was the first time I think I’ve ever man hugged another person on stage, and it was Stuart Fowler. So that was enormously rewarding. Ultimately, I think it resulted in … well I know it did, result in our significant Orders of Australia as well. But more significantly, it gained us a kick-off to keep this momentum going. As it was entirely voluntary and it was Stuart and I with the help of a few mates who were doing this world-wide, we only could do it in our spare time. The Playfords’ partners, of course, weren’t entirely happy about me disappearing for lengthy periods of time so most of it was done during annual leave and an occasional otherwise period of grace they gave me. That meant my stoic wife was then at home looking after the children while I was off pursuing this passion.
Then we received our second huge boost when we secured this American/Canadian organisation called the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts (AFCC) to co-host the second World Congress in San Francisco in 1997. We needed four years to overcome the exhaustion of the last one and build-up to the next one. We had to secure sponsorship and speakers and put a program together and so it went. Anyway, the big coup for 1997 was that Stuart and I was in New York in 1996 for a pre-arranged meeting with the United Nations where they said they would continue sponsorship of this event. “You’re not getting any money out of us, but you can use our logo” – and it’s pretty handy to have the United Nations logo on what you’re doing – “and we’ll offer all sorts of logistic and administrative support”. The woman who was the CEO for the AFCC at that time, was married to a guy who was a former Democrat politician in Washington, so he had some connections. So we boldly asked if there was any chance he could get us in to see Hilary Clinton, the First Lady at the time, because she had quite a reputation as a child rights lawyer before she went to the White House. He tried and he tried and he tried and finally he said, “No, I’m sorry. Can’t do it”.
Anyway we were in the hotel room having seen the United Nations. It’s the night before we’re due to fly home. We’d dragged the Chief Justice of the Family Court along with us, Alastair Nicholson, who has an immense passion for human rights and children’s rights. He was a pretty handy sort of “big ticket item” to cart around with us. So anyway the three of us are in our hotel room again doing what you do – having a few beers after you’ve met with the United Nations and the phone rang. I pick up the phone and this fellow says, “Is that Mr Burr?”. “Yes it is”. “This is John Smith (?). I’m calling from the White House”. And I said, “Yes, of course you are, John. Yes, sure. Who is this really? Is this Bill, is this Frank? Come on, stop pulling my leg”. Anyway, this went on for a while and in the end he convinced me. So I apologised, and he said the First Lady wants to know whether or not we would be able to meet with her the day after tomorrow at the White House in Washington. We said, “Oh look, just let us look at our diaries. We think we can squeeze that in”. So that’s what happened.
We flew down to Washington and went through the most intense security check you can imagine. I still remember walking in through the gate at the East Wing - because, of course, the President occupies the West Wing and the First Lady the East Wing. After going through the gate, you walk along this amazing portico where all of the portraits of America’s First Ladies are situated. Then we went into this waiting room and announced ourselves and they said “we won’t be a minute”. Then an Official came out and she said, “Come with me”. We thought we’d go to another secure waiting area but we walked straight into Hilary’s office and there she was. We sat down with her for our allocated ten minutes because there were another forty people in the waiting room for their turn. In the end she became quite passionate about it and gave us half an hour and agreed to be the Patron of the World Congress. She said she would be there if she could, but that her daughter Chelsea was due to graduate at that time and that’s exactly what happened. She didn’t come because Chelsea was graduating, but she sent a video down for the opening ceremony, as did the US Attorney-General at the time. So thereafter, whenever we went on fundraising drives or whatever else, and we received the standard response, “Oh look, I don’t think we can fit this into our budget”, we’d say, “Oh that’s a shame because the First Lady of the United States has and here’s our letter of introduction”! The reply then became, “Oh, I think we can do something then”.
So she was a very powerful person to have on your side?
Absolutely. And then the tradition continued. The next World Congress was in Bath in England and we secured Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland, and the UN Human Rights Commissioner, as our Patron.
Were you still involved in the organisation?
All the way through. I only retired last year, 30th of June 2013, after the last one that we were capable, physically and mentally, of doing. So Bath was Mary Robinson as the Patron. Then we went to Cape Town, which is easily the best of them all in terms of what we were able to achieve and the feedback we got and the general “feel” about the place. We were incredibly honoured to secure Nelson Mandela’s wife as our Patron, Graca Machel Mandela. The next Congress was in Halifax in Nova Scotia and had Beverly McLachlin, the Chief Justice of Canada, as our Patron. The last one in which I was involved was in Sydney down here in 2013 and we had Princess Mary of Denmark as our Patron. So our reputation was sustained, but Stuart Fowler and I became too tired and I’m out of it now.
And the world’s recognition of child rights – you would have seen it change over that period of time from perhaps, people who didn’t care to people who now care passionately about the cause?
Absolutely. Again the timing was good for us because Hong Kong in 1989 was when we were challenged to do something. 1990 was when the United Nations adopted the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).. This was is a continuation of my lucky streak. We were able to embrace UNCROC and that was a vehicle for a number of the congresses right throughout. And I think to this day the only country in the world that has not ratified UNCROC is the United States. They stand alone. I have been told that they believe that if they adopt UNCROC they will not be able to physically discipline their children anymore; they won’t be able to spank them.
So that’s leading up now you’ve got your first out of the way and your second would have been …
Yes, at San Francisco. And then you get a phone call at some point about an appointment to the Bench.
Which will bring to you a different type of role.
Can you describe what that phone call was like and your feeling afterwards?
I had been approached once before and the time was not right for various family-related reasons. Darryl Williams was the Federal Attorney-General I had to say “no”. Generally speaking, the accepted wisdom is that you say “no” to the offer of a Judge’s job, you’ll never be asked again. However a year later I received a phone call from Darryl Williams again and he said, “Look Rod do I have to go through all this interview process again? We’ve already identified you as a candidate we’d like and subject to me interviewing a few other people who’ve come across our radar since then, and me interviewing you again and you assuring me that the family concerns that might have restricted your uptake last time are all resolved, we can probably do business” (or words to that effect). So I went home and talked to my wife and rang him back and said, “Yes, look I think I’ll give it a crack this time”. So I did and, again, it was another fabulous fourteen years of my life, although intimidating early.
Yes, what was it like on your first day, can you recall?
Oh absolutely. Not everybody might react to their first day in a Judge’s job like I did, but I was pretty concerned I think you can say. because you start with a very busy duty list of about twenty odd matters, or you did then. It doesn’t happen now. So yes I was a bit nervous but again, this is the nature of our profession. There were so many lovely people in the profession and one of the earliest phone calls I received after my appointment was from the dear old late Ted Mullighan who, of course, himself was a spectacularly good family lawyer, apart from being a spectacularly good lawyer at everything else he did too. Ted rang me and said, “Congratulations, mate”. He said, “Great appointment. I think they’ve picked the right bloke for the job”. He said, “One word of advice”. I said, “Ted, you can give me more than one word. As much as you can give me.” He said, “There’ll be days when you’re on the Bench and something crops up and you think, I don’t know the answer to this. What do I do now?” He said, “The answer is simple”. He said, “You get up and leave”. He said, “You’re the Judge. They can’t do anything without you. Just adjourn the Court, go out the back, look up a few books, speak to your mates, make a couple of phone calls, get an answer and go back in.” So it just made me feel so much better; that I didn’t have to respond instantly to a sort of in-court crisis; that I could always manage my time well.
Also, along with lots of other bits and pieces of advice from some very lovely people, I was lucky to have Hugh Burton who was a Judge of the Family Court at the time, a wonderful man, very, very helpful, mentoring me through those early stages. There is also this sort of belief that is often trotted out to all new Judges that the first two years are the worst and after that it gets better. I don’t whether I was then preconditioned but it’s kind of funny - two years ticked over and I thought, “I reckon I’m starting to understand this job now”!
I’ve no doubt there are a lot of incredibly capable people who just walk straight into the job and they are gifted from the beginning, but I was a solicitor appointment areas, even though I’d done quite a bit of court work, this was again something that made me slightly more nervous when suddenly you’re faced with a bevy of Silks and occasionally one would want to show off that they knew more than you do did. But again the nature of the family law profession made my passage a lot easier because they were incredibly supportive of my appointment.
I read that people who appeared before you said you did your utmost to make them relaxed and you tried to make the surroundings comfortable for them. Is that just your natural way of dealing with things or was that a conscious effort to put people at ease?
I don’t know that it’s especially conscious. Because I came to the Bench with that level of uncertainty about whether or not I was actually going to be good enough to do the job, I thought there was no way that I’m going to be a smart aleck bully because I could very quickly come unstuck. But it was also not within the nature of my family. My family they were wonderful people. My parents were very humble and always drilled into me that I was dealing with fellow human beings, “you’re no better than the rest of them, all that sort of stuff. It was lovely to hear from the profession at the end because it did come relatively naturally. But at other times I had to try hard because there were people that were very, very hard to be nice to in that jurisdiction. A lot of the litigants in person were very difficult to manage. And, you know, there’s a point at which you really need to exercise the discipline that the Constitution gives you and you do flex some muscle. But in a job where there have been some murders of judges and judge’s wives, I never ever had a moment of concern.
The Deputy Chief Justice runs a complaints file on judges. He told me that he’d basically never had a complaint about me and had never had to write long letters to anybody because of what I’d been doing or saying. My son was a very good junior cricketer and he had the vision of playing for Australia, but it didn’t quite happen. He ice-captained the Australian Under 17s at one stage, but then injury and form took its toll. I remember when he was climbing this cricketing ladder, a friend of ours in Melbourne said to him, “Congratulations, mate but remember to be nice to all the people you meet on the way up because you’re going to meet them again on the way down”.
That’s good advice.
So possibly it was also in part a conscious effort. I like people. I’m very gregarious and I like people to like me. I always remember Ringo Star when he was interviewed once at one of the Beatles concerts. They said to him, “Who are the people you like Ringo?”, and he said, “People who like me”. I think we all like to be liked.
You’ve just got to find the balance so as a judge. You can’t be liked all the time and you certainly can’t be loved when you hand down the decisions. Somebody has to lose, but there’s a way of framing your judgments so as not to absolutely assassinate their character. You can deliver a very strong message in humane terms most of the time, but there are some nasty people out there where you need to say it like it is, some of the abusers and violent individuals. Generally … you’re not dealing with … and this is a question that has come up at multiple dinner parties right throughout my practising career and as a judge really horrible people. I’d say. I’m dealing usually with totally normal human beings who are going through a very horrible period in their lives”. You’ve just got to try and do your bit to get them through that and then you hope they’ll come out the other side being decent people again.
At what point during your time on the Bench did you get handed - it’s called the Magellan List of cases.
The Melbourne Registry of the Family Court ran a pilot project which was very successful. It was introduced around the nation. Chief Justice Alastair Nicholson asked me if I’d head it up in Adelaide. The Magellan List is the case management list that deals with cases where there is an allegation of sexual abuse or serious physical abuse of a child.
We created a local committee of people who were going to be able to help us achieve our objectives. That committee met regularly and included the South Australian Police; Legal Services Commission; Department of Family and Community Services, (although it kept changing its name); the Law Society, the two major hospitals and the Family Consultants in the Family Court, so all of those who had something to contribute to resolving these sorts of difficult issues. One of the great problems facing Magellan was the Federal/State divide where there were various kinds of bureaucratic jealousies, that any information that one government department had in the State arena wouldn’t be handed it over to another Federal department. Family and Community Services either thought they were not allowed to give us anything or didn’t want to give us anything as we were a Federal Government department, being the Family Court. Magellan broke down all of those barriers and we established protocols which were signed-off as to how we shared information. That was incredibly valuable because it was rare and the Family Court or me as the Magellan Judge to encounter a family who hadn’t already had some exposure to the Department of Family and Community Services.
After Magellan was established we would ask them to provide us with a very quick report and they’d go through their files and write us a nice report, which gave me a far better handle on the matter. The object also was to try and get it all done and dusted and the trial up and resolved within six months so that it didn’t fester. Also a father who had been restricted from contact with his children because of the allegation, which was not then found to be substantiated, could resume his relationship with his children as quickly as possible before too much damage was done.
Of course, if the child had been abused, rather more importantly, you could put serious protective measures in place for that child permanently. We would call it on for a preliminary hearing within a week to two weeks of getting the notification or the Application being filed and then it would be managed by just the one judge thereafter.
Again one of the problems with civil litigation in our country where it’s under-resourced can be that people do not always have the same Judge throughout the matter. The parties then often have to repeat their story every time before another judge who has to “come up to speed”. There are occasions, of course, when someone is on leave or whatever else where somebody else would have to step in for a little while, but generally speaking, I did them all. We received a wonderful evaluation from the Australian Institute of Family Studies saying it was just a great scheme and it was good on so many levels.
For my sins, after a few years, I was asked if I could be the national coordinating Magellan Judge. We then had meetings with the Attorney-General’s department in Canberra and all the other judges from around the country who were doing the same job. Then occasionally if a judge, for example, in Hobart as a single Judge Registry, could not hear a matter because they had been disqualified for various reasons, I and others would have to fly down and do these horrible cases. It was both rewarding and a bit debilitating in the end.
Yes, you couldn’t completely remove yourself from that emotional arena when you had seen what some of these poor kids had been through, or occasionally when you saw what the parents have been through.
Are there any particular cases that still perhaps haunt you now that you think about?
I can remember the specifics of a number of them, but they don’t haunt me. I’m very lucky to have had a very stable home life myself. I’ve been married for 42 years to a wonderful woman who provides that very solid stable home base, but also I was very, very good at leaving it behind. In fact, there was kind of a symbolic thing that emerged between my wife and myself. Before we set this arrangement up, I would come home from work and I’d be a bit tired and open the door to be greeted by my wife detailing all the family issues she’d encountered during the day.
In the end we agreed that I just wasn’t emotionally equipped to deal with it immediately sometimes the children got the softest run, because I was just exhausted. So we had a 15 minute rule, which was that I’d come in the door, get my kiss and then I’d go into the bedroom and close the door. I’d take off my suit which was symbolic of my day job, hang it in the wardrobe, put on the tracksuit, the Ugg boots, read the mail, debrief, come outside, and “okay what’s happened today” then maybe I would do a bit of fatherly stuff that I should have been doing.
So yes, wonderful home support and also the capacity to completely switch off. I never had nightmares about it. I always slept eight hours a day. I’ve always maintained the same exercise regime just about every day of my life. I knew that on the occasional days when I hadn’t exercised in the morning before work, the day was a lot harder to get through. There’s certainly something in this endorphins business.
Were you running or walking in the mornings?
Well it started when I was young. I was running and then it became jogging and then it became a staggering kind of leaning forward hoping that my upper body weight would carry me along the path and my legs could keep up. Then it became very brisk walking and now it’s brisk walking. But yes I did it most mornings. A little bit of gym work and then I hit the Court.
I remember saying to my doctor once, “It’s a pity you can’t bottle these endorphins” and he said, “You can”. I said, “Well can I have some of that?” and he said, “Well if you want, but it’s called heroin”. It has the same effect. It’s the body’s natural heroin.
Well let’s go back to … we only just touched on your time of President of the Law Society in 1987, 1988. Can you recall some of the major issues that you were facing during your time as President?
I certainly enjoyed the Presidency. I remember the pleasurable moments because I was lucky to get the Australian Bicentenary. One of the good things about that time was Prince Charles and Princess Diana visiting us and my wife and I were part of a State reception that hosted them. Princess Diana was not unpleasant on the eye and so I had no trouble filling the ten spots for lawyers that I’d been allocated by the State Government to fill. It’s known somewhat widely that my wife accompanied me and that she was wearing an identical dress to Princess Diana on the night. I doubt that Princess Diana knew that Sue was going to wear that dress that night or she wouldn’t have worn hers.
I did notice you on record as saying that your wife looked better though.
Absolutely, yes, she out-did Diana. But they were the good times. There were, of course, certainly a lot of celebrations associated with the Bicentenary. It was a really good time.
But we had some serious issues on our plate. WorkCover was struggling at the time. I think it was already fairly obvious to those who practised in that jurisdiction that there was a significant unfunded liability building up and it was going to be a problem. The Government kept trying to limit the payments and awards that could go to the workers. That occupied a lot of our time.
It was also the start of the Child Support scheme when the child maintenance jurisdiction was effectively taken away from the Family Court and given to this bureaucracy, (which is now a huge bureaucracy), in order to increase the level of money that was going to children because it was appalling. It was about an average of $10.00 a week per child. There was a lot of work to be done to try and refine that Scheme and work on the legislation and the bureaucratic structure. That was very time-consuming, but probably turned out to be a world best scheme. There would be a lot of people who would disagree, depending on whether you’re a receiver or a giver.
But that was big in our time. We introduced institutional advertising for the profession for the first time. So we ran a series of television ads.
How were they received?
They were very well received, but I think subsequent market research showed, that it didn’t actually increase the amount of work the profession was receiving. We attacked some obvious areas where we were in competition. One was the land brokers. We needed to tell the public through television advertising that lawyers had actually been doing it a lot longer and we did it for the same rates. And then we could help you deal with any other problems that you had as well. Also wills and estates – that you don’t have to go to the Public Trustee. They say you’re getting it for nothing - well you might get the will for nothing, but let us tell you about what comes later. So those sorts of areas where there was competition.
I think the profession were very happy with the ads. They were very well done, but again, I think it was shown by research that it did not actually produce a lot of extra work for the profession and it wasn’t that cheap. We became engaged with the ABC in a series, “Living with the Law”. That was again very well received and helped demystify the law for us. In my year, we started the mock trial competition with the secondary schools which is now massive. I think it’s still run during Law Week. There are so many schools involved now. I think in the first year we had 32 schools involved. So that was very significant. The beginning of a discussion about contingency fees was undertaken seriously for the first time. It’s now, of course, in place in a limited form, but it has assisted some class actions get up that might not otherwise have seen the light of day. We had Howard Zelling, a former Supreme Court Judge, very kindly make a donation to establish a Trust. So we set that up. We launched a rural guide for the rural community and it summarised all of the law that might impact upon them. That was a wonderful product and very well received. I have no idea whether it’s still being published or not.
I’m not sure.
We were particularly worried, as I think the Law Society and the legal profession always will be, about how the profession is occasionally portrayed in the media. And so I said, “Well why don’t we have lunch with them?” So we hosted a media lunch where we had the bosses of channels 9, 7 and 10, The Advertiser, News and other organisations to a private dining room in one of the hotels and had a wonderful long and interesting lunch.
It became incredibly valuable almost instantly because I was misquoted in The Advertiser only about a week later. I just had been given at lunch the direct phone number of the Editor and I rang him and the next day there was a retraction and the retraction was bigger than the article. Well that never happens. You normally find a retraction on page 78, buried just under the ad for cheap auto parts. I was the President at the time the Law Society premises were sold at Gilbert Place. They made a big profit on that. That was very good for us financially and I then was involved in finding the next premises in Waymouth Street.
Did you move in to Waymouth Street during your Presidency or was that after?
I can’t remember. I think maybe during my Immediate Past Presidency. I think I probably signed both contracts, but I can’t honestly remember. Certainly, the sale but I’m not so sure about the purchase. It could have been, is the answer.
I think one of the other really big things was that I became a bit annoyed at the University of Adelaide Law School because when I was President they announced, or had announced the year before I think, that you could no longer go to the University of Adelaide and get just a law degree. You had to do a dual degree. Now a lot of the universities offered a dual degree, but they didn’t make it compulsory. So you could not thereafter gain entry to the University of Adelaide Law School until you’d done one year of another degree and then they, I think, selected you on the results of that. A combined exercise of first year other degree results and how you had performed at secondary school. And then you had to complete both degrees before they would award you the law degree.
There are a lot of people, I think, who felt that was a fabulous idea and certainly the university did, but I thought it was potentially unfair. I thought that if you wanted to be a lawyer, and you just wanted to do your law degree, you ought to be entitled to do a law degree. Why do you have to do an arts degree? Why do you have to do a science degree? Why do you have to do an architecture degree? That was just crazy I thought and I thought far too elitist. So I was at a lunch hosted, I think, by the ANZ Bank. You get all these lunches as the President and one of the great challenges is keeping your waistline.
Lucky you were doing that running in the mornings.
Absolutely, yes. And the Vice-Chancellor of Flinders University, Professor John Lovering was sitting alongside me at lunch and I said to him, “Look, I’m a bit annoyed about Adelaide University becoming precious and elitist and those people who perhaps can’t be supported by their parents for an extra year to complete two degrees or whatever it is or just want to be a lawyer, why can’t they just do a law degree?” I said, “Any chance your university would be interested in starting up a Law School?” He said, “What a fabulous idea”. He said, “I’ll go and speak to the council of the university and I’ll get back to you”. So he rang about two weeks later and he said, “You’re on.” He said, “We would love to have a Law School”. He said, “We’ve already worked out where we are going to position it”. He said, “We’ll provide all of the space, all of the lecturers, if you can come up with $1,000,000.00 for a law library”. And so I rang a few of the lawyers and some of the larger commercial firms and said, “We have to find $1,000,000.00 for a library”. I think we found that within about six months. I rang up Vice-Chancellor at Flinders, and said, “Well we’re up and running”.
So the process then took a while to get going and I wasn’t in the Chair at the time that it kicked off. I think John Mansfield might have been at the time, but the University was kind enough to remember my role and I was invited to the graduation ceremony for the first cohort and a few others after that. That was very exciting I dropped off the invitation list because I had to say “no” to every one of them because I was a judge and couldn’t just get up and go to a ceremony at Flinders. I remember it also because Scott Hicks, the movie producer/director, was the guest speaker at that graduation ceremony. I remember him telling a story – and I’ve used this in a number of speeches since – where he said that they had been in China trying to get permission to go and film in Tibet. And they’d asked and China said “no”; asked and China said “no” and he said, “We asked so many times we just knew what the answer was going to be and then one day we made the usual call and they said yes”. And he said, “The pain of a thousand nos was wiped away by a single yes”. I thought, “What a great line”. I remember that period in my life for a multitude of reasons, but I was very, very proud of having that conversation at lunch with John Lovering and getting the Law School at Flinders up and running.
You had little idea that it was going to evolve so quickly.
Indeed not. It was a very exciting response from him. I think the view might still be – and I don’t know whether this is insulting to every other discipline – but I think the view is among universities that you’re not really a serious university unless you have a Medical School and a Law School. They had always had the Medical School, one of the finest Medical Schools and hospitals in the nation down there. So this just filled the void for them I think.
Yes. So moving onto your retirement, your decision to retire in 2012 from the Bench. Mixed emotions when you made the decision or you were definitely ready to move on to the next phase of your life?
No mixed emotions at all. I was ready. Again, they say that you will know when the time is right to retire and I knew. I knew it a year out, so I was able to give myself a year to ease into the occasion, and so I was well and truly ready. It was absolutely the right decision for me and my wife and my life. As I said a little earlier before we went to air, that I was young enough and still healthy enough to know that I had plenty still to enjoy. When people heard that I was contemplating retirement, I received a number of very interesting and entertaining offers to do different things that you can’t do as a judge. And I’ve always loved travel and so I didn’t have to fit it in within annual leave and things like that. So, no I was well and truly ready. I have a daughter and her family in Auckland and a son and his wife in Perth and so it’s just opened up the opportunities to visit them regularly. So no, never ever a single regret. Again, one of those best decisions I’ve ever made.
When you were reflecting on your career, which I’m sure you would have been towards the end of it, were there highlights that you will always look back on? Obviously, the Flinders Law School is one of them, but anything that you look back on and say I was really proud of that part of my career… or that was my legacy?
No, I don’t … people might say I certainly have an ego, but not to the point where I would ever describe anything I did as a legacy. And I think it might have been part of my character that steered me through the job which is, I’d just leave it all behind. I’d just walk out the door and that was it. For example, I’ve almost never been back to the Family Court since I retired. I went to judge a family law most for the Law Council of Australia there and I might have been to one Christmas party. Otherwise, no, I’m gone. They don’t need to see me again and I don’t need to go back. Again I am not one for reflections. The only moment of reflection had to be when I had to prepare a speech for my ceremonial farewell. It caused me to reflect on all that luck I’d had and the things that I’d done. But no, I don’t anticipate I’ve left a legacy for anybody. Maybe the only thing is that I received so many lovely letters from the lawyers saying they had always appreciated the courtesy which I exhibited during my time on the Bench. And so perhaps the only thing then that I would reflect upon is that it seems the profession, at the time I left, remember me fondly. That will do.
You’ve got an Order of Australia that you received in 2005 that will always be at the end of your name.
Yes, it will be. And again, not that important. I think the United Nations award was more of a buzz for me than the Order of Australia. That really truly recognised what we had been trying to do and perhaps signalled to us that we were on the right track and that we were maybe getting somewhere and maybe saved a few children from some horrific abuse. Yes, certainly to be recognised by your country in the form of an Order of Australia is great, but my most treasured possession of those sorts of awards is the United Nations award.
On a personal level, obviously your wife, Sue, has played a huge part. And other interests – a golfer I heard somewhere.
No. I think it was mentioned during the ceremonial sitting that I had Polio in the epidemic when I was 5 in 1952. I missed a year of school because it’s a pretty awful disease. But again I got lucky. It only affected my left arm ultimately, although I did have it all down my left side. The only residual disability is my left arm and hand. So it’s a bit hard to play golf with one and a half wings. So no. I learnt to hate the game when my son, at age 11, was smacking me off the course.
Flying has been the great release, the great passion because it was so incredibly different from the law and required physical coordination. I then had to really knuckle down and understand physics principles and principles of flight. Suddenly all this maths was involved in various calculations of flight planning and fuel loads and centres of gravity. That really took me away from the law. It was a wonderful addition and I’ve made so many great friends through flying. I have mates all over the world captaining jumbos and all sorts of things. So that’s fantastic.
Football is a great passion. I love the Sturt Football Club and the Adelaide Crows and I love being involved with the Adelaide Crows as a player mentor. That’s a very rewarding job. And cricket I adore cricket and I adored the fact that my son was so good at it. That was a real buzz when he was growing up. First cricket bat at 2 and then up to the point of playing second eleven for the Redbacks and playing State cricket for the underage sides and vice captaining the Australian under 17s. That was an enormous buzz for a cricket loving father and my father loved that fact about it too. That generated another different circle of friends through all the other parents and players.
And travel. Travel’s been a big part?
A huge passion, yes. We will be travelling widely overseas as often as age and health will permit. We just returned from ten weeks now which included such exotic places as Morocco, which was wonderful.
And colleagues from your legal profession that you keep in touch with?
Every Friday, if we’re in town together at the same time to go to have lunch with the old Playfords partners. And we’ve roped in a couple of others, or a couple of others have invited themselves. - Tony Abbott, for some reason, decided he was an honorary member of the Playfords group, and an accountant friend, Russell Heywood-Smith, brother of Paul Heywood-Smith, the QC. So we currently go to the Kings Head every Friday, about six or seven of us and have lunch and catch-up. So, yes, very fond memories of my partnership and the friends I’ve made through that.
The other thing that occupies my time in retirement is lunch. It’s wonderful. Yesterday I had a past Presidents lunch. There was a group of us who were going through the ranks all at the same time and we became very good friends. So Terry Worthington, Brian Withers, Peter Herriman, John Mansfield, Bruce Debelle and myself all became good friends and we have a lunch every two to three months to catch-up and see how we’re going and occasionally we’ll plan another social event.
I have an Adelaide Crows lunch every now and again and I catch up with a player I’m mentoring regularly and his lovely partner and their baby. I lunch with other friends with time I’ve never had before. It’s just nice to have two hours instead of three-quarters of an hour.
When you catch up for your past Presidents lunch, do you talk a lot about the law or other things?
Yes, because normally somebody is still doing something associated with the law. Bruce Debelle did the Education Department Sex Abuse Inquiry. He’s now, I think, writing a book on a deceased High Court Judge. John Mansfield is still a Judge. Brian Withers is still a Judge. Terry Worthington recently retired and still does an occasional guest speaking spot. So there’s plenty of law spoken, but also lots of extra-curricular pursuits are spoken about as well – cycling, Adelaide Crows, Port Power, travel.
Well it’s been an absolute delight chatting with you this morning.
It sounds like you’ve had a lucky streak all throughout your life and maybe the Crows will give you a win on the weekend and it might continue.
Well they rewarded me handsomely last weekend with the Showdown. But no, I acknowledge that you have to make your own luck in part, but luck has had a significant role in what has been a fabulously enjoyable career for me, rewarded beyond my expectations, my cohort’s expectations and my lecturer’s expectations with the judicial appointment which was just a wonderful sort of exclamation mark to a fabulous time in the law.
A fabulous career. Thanks very much.
Pleasure. Thanks for having a chat.
And just continuing Rod Burr’s interview, some extra information you would like to share.
Only very briefly, which is that when Darryl Williams rang me the second time and asked if I now wanted to be a judge, I said, “Sure”. One of my questions was, “When do you want me to start?” and it was on a Monday sometime into the future. Well that Monday happened to be the 1st April in 1998. So I said, “Look, I don’t know whether you’re doing this to me deliberately, Darryl, but there’s no way I’m going to be sworn in on April Fools Day because people will make a meal of that for the rest of my life. “Here comes the April Fools Judge. Nobody can take him seriously, it wasn’t a serious appointment”. So I was sworn in on the 2nd April 1998.
So it was a Tuesday?
Yes. I think it must have been. I just can’t remember. But I was going straight off to a baby Judge’s school interstate so it didn’t matter.
Right, well that’s a good anecdote.