ORAL HISTORIES INTERVIEW
The Honourable Christopher Legoe AO QC
This is an interview with The Hon Christopher Legoe AO QC by Lindy McNamara. The date is the 7th of July 2017.
Christopher, can we start with your full name, and date of birth?
I'm Christopher John Legoe, born on the 26th of May 1928 in the Wakefield Street Hospital, Adelaide.
What are the names of your parents?
My mother was Mary Isabel Barr Smith before she was married, her maiden name, and my father was Richard John Legoe.
I believe you have some quite strong connections to people who shaped the history of South Australia - the Barr Smiths obviously, and the Elders family.
The Elders were related because my great grandfather Robert Barr Smith was married to Sir Thomas Elder's older sister, Joanna Elder, and they married in Melbourne in 1856. The Elders came from somewhere in Scotland, but the Smiths, as they were called, came from Lochwinnoch in Renfrewshire in Scotland, they're all from Scotland. Whereas, the Legoes came from Cornwall. So, I've got a lot of Celtic blood in me (on both sides).
What about your early years? Where did you grow up? Where were you living?
I was born when my parents had a sheep and cattle property at Virginia, Virginia House. They lived in Virginia House on the banks of the Gawler River. I don't remember that, because I know that at the age of 18 months or two years, my parents bought Callendale Station, a 20,000-acre property, largely virgin scrub, but some of it was cleared, and there was an old house. They were two cottages really, but my parents, as I understood it, built on a lot of more modern extensions in 1929 and '30. We moved down there when I was about two in 1930. I was born in 1928, and my first memories of course were at Callendale when I was very small.
So, you had lots of room to run around when you were a child?
That's right, and it was a lovely life down there. Of course, during the years of the depression we had our own meat and milk and everything like that. I had a very - well a spoilt, I think I would call it, upbringing and I think I owe a lot to my parents. I was very close to my mother. She was a very well read, interesting person, although she never herself had a university degree. She was a very keen botanist, and loved everything to do with the garden and nature, and my father was a very successful sheep farmer. His family came from Cornwall. My great grandfather Legoe was a sea captain of the Orient Line, and he brought the family out here in the early 1870s. My grandfather Legoe was actually born in Cornwall, but came out here with his family on the three masted clipper ships, and they used to anchor off the roads at Semaphore. There's a Legoe House in Legoe Street just off Hart Street in Semaphore, still going today, it has Legoe House written on. I went down and took some photographs the other day.
What about your early schooling? Where did you go to primary school?
Living in the country, I started off correspondence school. My mother was my teacher. She loved history, and so I got a lot of history, which I've always been interested in. And later on, legal history too. Although I don't claim to be a great scholar in legal history, I was very interested in it.
Then I went to a boarding school. It was a little school called Wycombe, and that would have been round about 1936 or '37, Mr and Mrs Hutchinson, he used to be a teacher I believe at St Peters College, and he ran this boarding school. It's where the Belair Primary School is today.
I remember coming up in the steam train from Naracoorte, and getting off the train at Belair, and then walking to the school, which is only less than a kilometre from the Belair Railway Station, the other side just south of the Belair Railway Station. Mrs Hutchinson loved cats, and we had to sleep out on the balcony in the winter. These retched cats would be sleeping on our beds, and we used to throw them out - we were quite vicious with the kittens and things, but cats are pretty tough.
That's pretty exhausting for a young lad to be away from home.
Well, I was with my older brother, Tom, who was nearly three years older than myself. Tom unfortunately died a couple of years ago. I, of course, was very close to Tom, and he used to look after me. I suppose there were only about 30 or 40 of us at the school. It was a primary school.
So, then for secondary, what happened then?
In 1938 I was sent to Geelong Grammar School. My brother Tom went into the junior school and I went to Bostock House, which was a big building and the headmaster there was the Reverend Wiseworld. I always remember that name; for a schoolmaster, it's right. He was an Anglican clergyman, and he ran the Bostock House, and I have rather fond memories of that. My friend Bill Panckridge, who wrote a book about his life including the time at Bostock House. The story he tells in his book is that I had a photograph of my mother behind my bed, and he always knew when my mother had written to me, because the photograph was turned around facing me, but when I didn't have a letter, it was turned the other way. The idiosyncrasies of a funny child.
Yes, a child away from home.
I had two years at Bostock House. We had to get there somehow, either my parents would perhaps come up to Adelaide because my grandparents both lived - the Barr Smiths and the Legoes both lived in Adelaide, and, we'd get the night train to Melbourne, and then the train down to Geelong. But, again Tom always looked after me.
Were you a good student in high school? As in, good grades - you were quite academic?
I don't think I was particularly academic. Funnily enough my best subjects were physics and history. My English was all right, but I wouldn't call it brilliant, no. I did go through in the senior school to what we called in those days leaving honours. I think they're called final certificate now. I did two years of leaving honours. I also did Latin, and I got on very well with my Latin master, Chauncy Masterman - he ran the scout movement, and I was a scout at school. I was not particularly sporty. My brother Tom was very sporty, but rowing was my sport. I was only a cox at school, but I've always been interested in rowing, that's been my sport all my life. I find rowing and music are very compatible, and very important to each other.
In what way?
Rhythm for rowing. If you're not all together, and you don't have a musical feeling. When I was coaching a crew at Walford after my daughter left, I used to get them to listen to music before they go out; classical music, which is my love. And, my other great interest at school was the piano and music. We had a very good music school at Geelong Grammar, particularly in the senior school. We didn't have so much access to it in the junior school, but we did have some access.
So, you're quite an accomplished pianist?
I wouldn't say that, but I've played. I neglected it when I went into the law, because life became too busy, but I've still got a piano, and I'm not particularly accomplished now, but I love music and I can read music, I understand music, and I do know a bit about it.
Why the decision to study law?
That's a very good question. My mother wanted me to go to Cambridge, where my grandfather Barr Smith was a student. He did a law degree actually, at Trinity Hall Cambridge, which is a law college. My mother wanted me to go to Trinity Hall. My headmaster at school, Sir James Darling, as he later became - he was just Mr James Darling in those days - said that I wouldn't be good enough to go, but my mother was just firm. So, she sent me over there, I went over. I left school in the end of 1946. I was just too young to go to the war. Well, I suppose if I'd put my age up I could have gone. My brother Tom was in the navy. He was in the Battle of Lingayen Gulf. He got a DCM (a medal for the lower ranks) in that battle.
But, I went off to Cambridge. My classics master Chauncy Masterman said, "Well, you'd better do something useful, and as you've studied Latin, you'd better do law." So I enrolled in the law school here at Adelaide for a term-and-a-half and I was at St Mark's in 1947, the first term and a bit of 1947. I was resident in a little apartment in Brougham Place, but actually enrolled at St Mark's College. I had what we in Cambridge terms would call digs outside, or accommodation I suppose the Australians would say.
At St Mark's I met Don Dunstan, and Don of course, was very interested in the theatre, that was one of his great loves amongst many. He was organising a performance of The Importance of Being Earnest. Don was Lady Bracknell and I was to be Gwendolen - he thought I'd be a good Gwendolen - but we couldn't get any female shoes big enough to wear. And, so I said to Don, "Oh, we'll go and see Aunt Mabel Rupell, she's got big feet." We went up, and she was rather offended why we came, but we found two pairs of shoes that fitted us. Anyway, that was great fun doing that.
Was that your acting debut, or had you been in productions before then?
No, I hadn't been. At school, I played the drums - the timpani in the school orchestra, and I finished up when we did Bach's B Minor Mass playing the double bass. Double bass has always been the instrument of the orchestra that I'm interested in because it's both jazz and classical music, the double bass, it's a very versatile instrument. Anyway, getting back to my academic progress, which is not a particularly good one, but I enjoyed it, and I got a lot out of it, and I think it taught me a lot in the long run. I guess you'd call me in some ways as slow developer, perhaps that's my background.
When you got to Cambridge, did you flourish then?
Now, I wasn't actually enrolled. I got hold of the senior tutor, Charles Crawley, who was having a holiday down in London. I somehow found out where he was, and I went out to this house where he was staying. He'd just had an afternoon nap, and I went to ask him, "Well, are you going to admit me? Here I am, I have enrolled, you see." Apparently, I heard many years later when somebody gave a eulogy at his funeral, that he had a choice whether to admit me or admit Lee Kuan Yew, who later became the prime minister of Singapore. And, Lee Kuan Yew was a lot cleverer man than I was. He decided to admit me, and Lee Kuan Yew went to Trinity College. Anyway, he went on to be a very successful lawyer and politician in Singapore.
You obviously enjoyed law once you got into it, you were interested in it?
I found some of the law subjects rather boring. Criminal law - well I suppose it was new to me. But, public international law by Professor Lauterpacht, who was the professor of international law, his lectures were absolutely fantastic. I've always been interested in international relations and public law in that sense. And, of course, in present day, what's happened to international relations with what we heard on the news this morning, but that's interesting anyway.
During your studies, did you always have in your mind that you wanted to be a barrister, someone that would be appearing in court? Did you think that was your niche?
No, I didn't, not while I was studying at Cambridge. I did my law degree. I was very interested in rowing. Trinity Hall was a very good rowing college, we had lots of crews. I got my oars in my first year in the fourth boat. I was a lot heavier in those days, and I rowed in the middle, the heavyweight part of the boat. We had a very good rowing club.
I was also interested in music, and Benjamin Britten used to come and do performances with Peter Piers at Cambridge. He lived at Aldeburgh, over in Essex I think, the east of England, but not far from Cambridge. And also, we had very good orchestras, and choirs and things. King's College Choir was just next door to Trinity Hall. We could go in there to the choral services, it was one of the things you never forget.
Studies - yes, I was interested in public international law, the law of contracts, and the law of torts or civil wrongs, as it's otherwise called.
Life in Cambridge is fascinating. Of course during the holidays, we’d go out to ski in Switzerland with Australian friends. We were the only ones who could get currency, we could get £50 or something to travel overseas. £50 in Switzerland would last quite a long time in those days, a couple of weeks skiing. It wouldn't go anywhere today.
What else was I interested in in Cambridge? Well, travelling around England of course, going down to Cornwall to visit my relations. I remember I'd go down and stay with some of my cousins down there. Cornwall was quite separate from England, and when I'd go be going back to Cambridge for the start of the next term, they'd say, "Ah, you be going back to England tomorrow."
Like, you're going to another world.
Exactly. So, life was very good.
But you knew you were going to come back to South Australia?
Yes, I did. I did my three years degree, and I did finish up just scraping into an ordinary bachelor's degree. But of course in Cambridge, when one paid $5, five years later, you got a master's degree. So, I've actually got a master's degree. Probably that is quite unjustified.
I then went and did my Bar exams in London, because some of the subjects like the law of contract - not public international law, because that doesn't count for the bar exams – but law of torts, and I think criminal law, if you've got a Cambridge degree, then you didn't have to do the bar exams in those subjects.
I was at Cambridge in 1947 and I came down in June of 1950. I then went overseas for a trip with my friend, motoring around Germany and Austria. I had also studied German at school, that was one of my best subjects, I'd forgotten about that, and I could speak a reasonable amount of German. I wasn't all that good, but I could make myself understood, anyway.
And, when I came back, that would have been about September 1950, I did my bar exams in 1950 and I think into '51.
I've got here that '51 you were admitted to the English Bar, does that sound right?
Yes, that does sound right, because once I finished my bar exams, I was then admitted. I had by that stage got what they call a readership with Colin Duncan. Colin wasn't a QC in those days, but he is the one that really got me interested in the law in practice, rather than the academic side of it. Colin had chambers at 1 Brick Court in the Inner Temple. There are four Inns of Court, the Inner and the Middle Temple, Lincoln's Inn and Gray's Inn, and I think Colin was the Inner Temple. Lincoln's Inn is the chancery barristers, they do equity work, and Gray's Inn is the common law as opposed to the chancery law, they're common law. Colin a very interesting man. He specialised in defamation cases and unusual cases. He was a very good barrister.
So you learnt a lot from him?
I learnt a lot from him, going on circuit with him. He was also the recorder of Bury St Edmunds, which is up in Essex - what we would call a district court in Australia; the equivalent of that. He only did that really when there was a circuit on, and that involved criminal cases and civil cases. I went up with him on a couple of occasions when he was the recorder, and in effect acted as his associate.
He really got me interested in court work, and how you do it, and what the difficulties are. I did learn a lot from him on the practical side.
But, then you came back to South Australia?
That would be in the end of 1952. Yes, November or December of 1952, I think.
And you became an Associate?
That's right to Sir Geoffrey Reed, who was one of the senior judges in the Supreme Court. He had gone out on his own in the 1930s and did only court work, and he was in effect really the first one to practice as a barrister only in South Australia. But, it's never been recognised. Because I did it officially, he just did it on his own, and then he was appointed an acting judge when Sir George Murray went back to Cambridge in the late 1930s. It was after he'd been on the Supreme Court that he went back to practice on his own, simply because he had a partner before he went on the Supreme Court.
And, that year with Sir Geoffrey Reed and we went on circuit, I got on very well with him and he encouraged me to think about doing court work. He didn't specifically say, "Go out on your own," because nobody ever thought of it in those days.
I think in 1955, according to the Law Society records, you wrote a letter to Frank Piper QC, who was the Law Society President and you said you wanted to set up practice solely as a barrister.
Yes, have they still got a copy of that letter?
I'm not sure. Actually, I don't think they did, because I think it's someone said that it was never kept on record, which is a pity.
Tell me what happened then. It sounded like, back then, it wasn't that well received by everyone.
It certainly wasn't, the majority were against it.
Yes, there were a couple of heated arguments, and meetings I believe too. There was an AGM.
Yes, there was. I can remember all that.
All right, well we'll just go back a little bit, because I was with Sir Geoffrey Reed for twelve months, and then I went into the Crown Law Office as a junior prosecutor for two years, and that would have been in 1954 I think, and the start of '55. Then I got a bit of experience in the lower courts, in the Magistrates' Courts. I remember going down to Port Adelaide and doing drunken driving cases, and those sort of cases that we did in those days.
I think you said, besides having obviously good mentors back then, it was very much learning as you went - it was practical experience, the more experience you got in the court room, the better you got at it?
Very much, that was it. There were certainly senior people, even in the Crown Law - I remember Ralph Hague, who had of course a great knowledge, and has written a great deal about the legal history of South Australia, as you probably know. John Emerson has recently published the whole of his legal history work on South Australia, which I think is a classic. Ralph was a great influence on me too, in a very gentlemanly and quiet and masterful way. I have great respect for Ralph. And, he never did any prosecuting himself, he was I think the assistant crown solicitor, he had quite a senior position in the Crown, and of course very much my senior.
Anyway, I was with the Crown Law for a while, and then I thought no, I'll retire. I went up to a sheep property at Port Hedland in the north of Western Australia, where my mother and my uncle and my aunt were the chief shareholders. It was there that I learnt about how the aborigines really understand the land, because the man who was our manager up there, a very nice man, he employed only aboriginal labour. They would go out on horses or motorbikes, and they knew exactly where the sheep were by the - they could read the soil, they literally can read it. I've always had a great respect for the aborigines ever since, and that really taught me something else quite outside the law.
Was it during that time that you really mulled over whether you were going to make this move?
Yes, I did. I decided when I came back, and I spoke to my mother about it. My father had died before then, because that was in - no he hadn't, just a minute - he died in 1958, but he was very sick. Anyway, I then rang up Frank Piper, who was the President of the Law Society, and took him to lunch, and I said, "I want to practice as a barrister only." I told him about Colin Duncan, and the influence he'd had on me. And, I said to Frank, "Well, how do I go about it?" And he said, "You write to me and say that's what you want to do, and that you're only going to accept work from solicitors, and that you will never have clients directly into your office."
And, a part of that was getting an exemption from having a trust account?
Exactly, and so I got an exemption, and I never had a trust account, that's right.
So, this is 1955?
And, the profession is still reasonably small at that stage, so you would have known just about everyone within the legal profession?
I wouldn't say everyone, but I certainly had seen all the ones who usually went into court, and they were usually the senior ones - either QCs or senior solicitors. In the criminal court there were people Jack Elliott, who in those days didn't have silk, and there were several others, junior ones.
What was the feedback that you received from some of those within the profession when you made that decision?
My first brief was an all-day sucker! I had a little room. Bob Fisher's father was a friend of my father, and Bob said, "Look, we've got a room on the third floor of Epworth Building that we can rent to you." And, it was about the size of this area here.
So, not very big.
I didn't have many law books or anything, but I started there, and Bob used to send me a few small briefs up to the Stirling Court - he lived in the Hills, and he'd get a few small things. Bob was by that stage already doing a lot of probate work, and he used to go into court for Fisher Jeffries. I never actually went into court with him, but he'd give me small briefs. And, then the Bednalls - Maurice Bednall, who's the father, and David Bednall, the son - they were on the second floor I think of Epworth, and they started briefing me. And, then a few other small solicitors started briefing afterwards.
So, you were getting some work?
I found out why afterwards, because they didn't do court work. They were too busy looking after their clients in the office, and Maurice Bednall didn't like going into court anyway. If they had a court case, they'd send it to Alderman or to Finlaysons or one of the big firms who had a QC or a senior lawyer who did go into court regularly. And, what they found was, their clients didn't come back again, they stayed there. So, they started saying, "Oh, this young Legoe there, he'd be a lot cheaper."
And, you were quite young, weren't you? You were only about 27, I think when you first -
Let me see now, yes, a little bit older than that, maybe 27, 28, yes around about then.
Can you tell me about the AGM that was held by the Law Society that year?
I don't remember which year it was, but David Hogarth was the President of the Law Society at the time. It must have been a few years after I started practicing on my own. I was still the only one who was practicing only as a barrister. David called a meeting of the Law Society, a general meeting for discussion as to whether the profession should divide, separately, like in New South Wales and Queensland, by Act of Parliament. Victoria has never had an Act of Parliament separating it professionally, they did it voluntarily way back in the 1880s, '90s or something - I don't remember, whenever it was. Anyway, this discussion took place.
I think it was 1959, according to the records from that AGM.
Yes, well that'd be right, that sounds right anyway. I would have been in practice then for about four years. I elected on the 15th of September 1955, that was my election date.
Anyway, there was a lot of discussion and people like the late Bob Irwin, who was a very senior solicitor - he didn't go to court – was dead against it, spoke vehemently of the stupidity of this, and how it was quite wrong for South Australia. Even Len King, who was my Chief Justice - I got very friendly with Len when I was at the Court of course. Len was in Wallman and Partners in those days, and he did all their court work, but he was only a junior. Len was a few years older than myself, not much, I suppose he was five years older. But, he told me when I was at the Court, he said, "You know Chris, I voted against dividing the profession, because I thought it could never become a reality." And, he said, "You know, you were right, and you were the one who did it." Len was very generous about it, and when I retired, he made very generous remarks about me, which was I thought very generous of him. But, anyway, that's just an example of the sort of discussion. Then there was a couple of others. I remember the late Frank Potter, who was a senior solicitor, spoke graciously in saying, "Well look, we have now reached the stage Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria all have separate bars." He didn't put in those words, but that's in effect what he said.
Howard Zelling, of course, voted in favour, and he later joined us, and Jack Elliott, who was a busy criminal lawyer, he was the first one to join me, seven years after I had elected. And, as I said, those seven years I was longer in the wilderness than John the Baptist, which was my motto.
Did you feel isolated and removed from the profession?
Not really, no. I still had friends like Rod Matheson, who I met at St Mark's College, and Peter Morgan who I'd known through family connections for a long time. They were both very active solicitors at that time. They were both in the Crown Law when I was there. Peter, of course, went on for many years as the parliamentary draftsman, that was his section in the Crown Law Office. Whereas, Rod was doing the same sort of thing as myself, in Court work, and that's what Rod always did. Rod never went to the Bar. He was one of my best friends in the profession, and I still have lunch with them, Peter and Rod, and Brian Cox is another one. Brian did later join the Bar, but that was much later. He was in a firm for many years, and he then became the Crown Solicitor. You know we lost poor Brian a few years ago, he died a few years ago.
I didn't really feel isolated from the profession, no. I didn't.
Did you feel courageous going out by yourself? Did you think it was a courageous decision in hindsight?
I sometimes wondered. I was surprised at the amount of work I got. I don't think I ever thought about it a great deal, as being something, well whacko - look what we've done, you know. I didn't feel proud of myself at all. I never have. I feel that it's what the younger ones who came after me, and even the senior ones who came with me at the beginning, what they built up. They deserve some credit, just as much, if not more than me, that’s what I think. I really feel quite humbled about it to be quite honest with you.
But, history will show, you were the first.
I was. The late Dick Blackburn, who was a great friend of mine, and a great friend of my wife Jenny's - Dick had a case against me, when I was a young barrister. He had been the professor of law at the law school. Dick was very academic, and a very good lawyer, a much better lawyer than I was, and he and I had a case up in the country somewhere. And, he once said to me, "You know Chris, you were the first one to courageously" - that's what Dick said - "go out as a Barrister only, and they can never take that away from you." Which is just what you've said.
Yes, that's what the history books will show.
So, as you said, in 1962 Jack Elliott came out, and joined the Bar. And, then Robin Millhouse and Howard Zelling.
So, you started to get this bit of support there, and in 1964, the South Australian Bar Association was formed. Did you feel at that stage a bit more comfortable perhaps, that others were following your lead, and this was where the profession was going to go?
I had the comfort of some very well-experienced lawyers, and very competent lawyers. Michael Detmold was another early one. Michael Detmold, of course, stuck to the academic world, but he was an early one with Robin Millhouse, about the same time as Robin Millhouse and Michael came to Bar Chambers. What happened was, after I'd been in the room in Epworth Building, I then after a few years found another room in Cowra Chambers, off Currie Street.
That's okay. So, you were at Cowra Chambers, and then you set up Bar Chambers with -
That's right, with Howard Zelling. Howard and I bought the building for £10,000, and we shared the cost of that.
That was a lot of money back then.
It was, yes. I had to borrow the money from the bank, and I think we had a bit of a mortgage on it to begin with. But, anyway we paid it off very quickly. Howard was a good financer and kept me in tow.
But, you were getting plenty of work though even before this happened. I noticed that you were one of the junior counsel on the Stuart Royal Commission, is that right?
Yes, that's right, I was junior counsel to Jim Brazel. That was certainly a big step for me, and I must say I learnt a lot from that. There's books been written about it, and it still goes on, the controversy about the Stuart Case.
What were some of the other major cases that you might have been involved with in the early days, even the later days, when you were obviously making a name for yourself? In 1972, you obviously were made a QC.
Yes, '72, that's right, that was the same time as my daughter Cici was born, and the Advertiser had, "New QC is a proud dad," and a photograph of Cici as a baby.
That was good timing.
Yes, the big cases I had. Well, I did a lot of tax work in those cases, but the only time I think I went into the High Court were mainly all for the tax commissioner in a lot of my cases. I did very few for the tax payer. Although Jack Cornish briefed me, from Finlaysons, which I was rather surprised by. That was in my very early days, and I think I was still on my own. I did quite a lot of what we call accident cases. They were mainly from the Bednalls.
Other briefs I received - I remember there was an interesting case about a farmer down in the southeast, or a workman rather who was working for a doctor up here in Adelaide, who had a sheep property down in Mount Gambier, and it was before Mr Justice Ross. his man hadn't been paid any wages. And the doctor was blaming him of letting all the sheep die, and they died of pulpy kidney, and they'd been brought down from the north, and sheep that are brought onto the land at the southeast, lush grass, get pulpy kidney disease if they come from Broken Hill or somewhere in the drier north. I knew about this, and I got evidence to support this, and it was through the solicitor who briefed me I think. I think it was - was it, Scorbe Adams? He was a solicitor up here in Adelaide, he briefed me. He didn't know anything about this, but he said, "Oh, you'll never win this." And, we had a settlement on our terms, and our man got paid up, we got our costs and everything. I mean, I suppose that was just a bit of luck that I happened to have knowledge myself about sheep, and pulpy kidney; well I knew that from my father.
There was another case I had. Derek Abbott, the late Derek Abbott briefed me in a will case, it was an ademption case where a piece of property had been left to a relative or a child or somebody, but the property had been sold before the will maker died. And, that means that that gift is adeemed. I came before Chief Justice Napier, who was very good on will cases, and he practically took it over from me. Cleland, who was one of the senior QCs was arguing the other way, and he was grilled by Napier and the judgement came. I said to Derek, "Well, there you are." It wasn't really an important case legally in many ways, but it's the sort of lesson, I learned how to handle cases, and how to handle witnesses.
What did you enjoy most about being a Barrister?
Learning about the differences in human behaviour and human idiosyncrasies and even human passions.
You should have been an anthropologist.
You used the word enjoyment, and I use the word enjoyment as a matter of fascination and interest. And, it's almost like reading a good novel sometimes.
The study of people.
Yes, I've always been fascinated by people. Not just what their outward appearance is, but what makes them tick, and what they get out of life.
What music they chose to - maybe that dates back to your rowing days, with the music, and -
It could be.
We're going talk now about your appointment to the Supreme Court bench, in 1978. Tell me how that unfolded - was there a phone call, a tap on the shoulder? How did you find out that that was coming?
I was arguing a case before the Full Court. David Hogarth was the Acting Chief Justice. John Bray, the Chief Justice was away in Greece on sick leave, and I can't remember who the other two members of the Bench were, but during an adjournment, a lunch adjournment or something, David Hogarth called me into chambers, and I thought, oh dear me, have I done something wrong with the argument or something? And, he said, "The Attorney General wants to speak to you, will you go down and see him?"
Now, the Attorney General at the time was - he was a young man, and it was the Don Dunstan Government at the time. I went down to see him, and he said, "We want to appoint you to the Supreme Court." And, I said, "Why on earth would you want to do that?" I was very happy, getting lots of work, and had two young daughters at that stage. He said, "Oh, we regard you as a small L liberal." And I said, "What does that mean?" Because I'd never taken any part in politics, I'd never jointed a political party, I'd always kept right away from politics and still do, although we get it forced upon us of course.
I then later thought about it. It was just the time of the Salisbury Royal Commission and Michael White had been the Royal Commissioner. He'd been brought up from the District Court to the Supreme Court just shortly before – well, I say shortly before, perhaps six months before. And, I think it was something to do with that, that they wanted to get somebody who wasn't associated with any political party and whatever. But, I thought that was a strange remark, that's all.
Did you have to think about it for too long?
I said, "Well, I'd like to think about it." So, I went and spoke to my wife Jenny of course, and my mother. And, Jenny said, "No, no, no, you'd do much better going on.” We still owed a bit of money here and there, and as we all do. I spoke to my mother and she said, "Yes, of course you should accept it." So we then had a conference with both my mother and Jenny together and myself, and my mother said, "Well, you must let Christopher go." So, I then about three days later rang him up and said, "All right, I'll accept." But, that's the funny story behind it.
What was life like as a judge, as opposed to being a barrister? How did you find that transition?
I found it in many ways very little difference. I don't remember feeling either uncomfortable or awkward.
One of the first cases I had, about three months or four months later was about an injunction to stop somebody keeping bees next door to their house up at Gawler. I had been an amateur beekeeper for many years, that's one of my great interests. Ever since I was at school I'd been interested in apis mellifera mellifera - more particularly in the Kangaroo Island breed, apis mellifera ligustica, the Ligurian bee – and I said to the barristers when it came on, "Look, I'm a beekeeper, I perhaps shouldn't be hearing this." And, the one who was for the plaintiff asking for the injunction said, "Oh, it's good to have somebody who knows something about bees. No, we don't object."
So I went ahead and I wrote a long judgement on it, it's been reported, Stormer against somebody or other. Stormer was the name of the plaintiff. I'm afraid I gave judgement for the beekeeper. I refused the injunction.
They might not have been so happy then, to have you.
I don't think they were, but it was a fascinating case. One of the lecturers at Cambridge was a professor who talked about the law of animals. And, I had his work. Bees under English common law are regarded as wild animals. Dogs for example, are only allowed one bite, otherwise it's imposition of damages for the injury caused. I looked into all the law of animals, and there were fascinating cases in Western Australia about camels. I decided, and it's the first time it's ever been decided anywhere, that apis mellifera in South Australia is not a wild animal, but it is a tame animal, and therefore it is to be treated by the law as a tame animal. Because Kangaroo Island has been declared by a Minister of Agriculture, who was a beekeeper in the South Australian Parliament in the 1890s, as a bee sanctuary for the Ligurian bee. And today Ligurian honey is one of the biggest honey exports - pure Ligurian honey - it's the only place in the world where you get pure Ligurian. We bought queen bees back from Italy of the Ligurian bee.
Well, I didn't know that.
It's a very quiet bee. This is one of my other interests. If you start me talking about bees, you won't stop me.
And, so you're on the Bench until 1994?
Nearly 16 years, I did.
I believe you had a short stint as the Chief Justice in 1993?
Yes, Len King went away on leave, went overseas I think, and I was then the senior puisne judge. Michael White, who was my senior, as I mentioned before had sadly died a year or two before that I think, so I was the senior puisne judge. I'd been presiding a lot in the Full Court, and particularly in criminal appeals, because a lot of our work in the Supreme Court these days is criminal work – well, it is in all courts I think, sadly. That was not my particular field of either expertise or experience or interest, but I was later exonerated on it after I retired. I'd given a dissenting judgement in a case where a man in a drug case - they'd used what's called an agent provocateur to go in and buy the drugs from him. In other words, somebody put in there by the police.
Right, under cover.
Yes, under cover, that's right. He came from Malaysia, the agent provocateur. He gave evidence at the preliminary hearing in the Magistrates' Court, but he wasn't called at the trial in the Supreme Court, he wasn't brought back from Malaysia. The trial judge tried to get over this, and I said, "Well, you know we should allow this appeal." And, my two colleagues, Rod Matheson and Kevin Duggan, I think it was said, "Oh no, we'll dismiss this appeal. The evidence was too strong, so the jury were entitled to come to this verdict." And 12 months later I was at a bus stop, waiting to go home in Victoria Square, and a law student came past and said, "Aren't you Legoe?" And I said, "Yes." And he said, "Well, you should be listening to the High Court, they said you were right in that case last year." And, the High Court allowed the appeal.
So you should have stuck to your guns.
I was exonerated on that one! But, anyway getting back to it, I was Chief Justice for a short period while Len was away on leave, yes.
I believe towards the end of your time on the Bench, you were involved in the courts rules committee, so you were sort of helping to set up guidelines and policies.
That's right, through Howard Zelling. The main thing really that I got interested in and did while I was at the Court was in 1976, two years before I was appointed to the Court, the government passed Section 12(2) of the Wills Act, which is the admitting to probate informal wills if the judge is satisfied there was a proper testamentary intention in the informal document. Because, the formal will requires, as you know, the signature of the testator or testatrix and the two witnesses, and no alterations and that sort of thing. I'd always had a few will cases in my practicing career, and I became interested in this when I was on the Law Society Rules Committee, because one of the things that Howard was dealing with was in the old Law Reform Committee. I was also on that with Howard Zelling.
In the Law Reform Committee, before I went onto it, Howard and others including my friend Peter Morgan, had recommended this particular provision. That was I think some years before I went on the Bench, that they recommended it. It went through Parliament in 1976, and I went on the Bench in '78. I worked with the registrar of probate Aliance Faunce de Laune, who really had a dedicated knowledge of probate, and he put together the rules for the administration and application of these informal wills. I finished up writing about 20 or 30 judgements in my 16 years, in cooperation with Faunce on that one section of the Wills Act.
So, that was your real area of expertise?
Well, I wouldn't necessarily say expertise, because I got a lot of it from Faunce but I worked with him, and I of course wrote the judgment.
I remember one fascinating case I had, an old Russian down at Port Adelaide. He was a bachelor, he was an immigrant from Russia, and he worked at Port Adelaide on the wharfs, he was a stevedore. He made quite a lot of money, he bought houses, and he had quite a large estate. He went to his solicitor to find out about making a will, and he gave the solicitor the names of his two nieces in Russia. He wanted to leave his estate to his two nieces. And, one of them worked on a community farm in Ukraine, I think it was, which was then part of Russia, and the other one was also working somewhere in Russia. And she said, "Well, you'll have to get the details of your two nieces and the addresses, and everything."
He went home, and he got sick, and his two neighbours, husband and wife, they were Greek and used to look after him and bring him meals. And, he was sitting up in bed and this was some time later, a week or two later I think, and he said, "Look, I've got to make a will." So he turned around in bed, and wrote on the wall in Russian, his informal will. And, the question was -
Was it legal?
Well, the document has to be presented to probate. What do you do? Well, okay, Faunce and I didn't have any difficulty about that. In my judgement I said, "I order that it be properly photographed, and the authentic photograph duly witnessed, et cetera, et cetera, be lodged for admission to probate." And, there it was, I had to consider whether that shortly worded document in the circumstances in which it was made - the Greek husband signed his signature, but the wife couldn't write, so she just put a cross.
But they'd witnessed it for him?
Well, that's what I said, it did have two witnesses, but it was pretty informal otherwise. I wrote a judgment, and I started off (and I always got into trouble with this from my colleagues) starting - because I'm a great lover of Shakespeare and Shakespeare's words - started off by quoting from Pyramus and Thisbe who make love through a hole in the wall. It's the last scene in Midsummer Night's Dream. And then I went on with my judgement.
Now, just going on from talking about being on the Law Reform Committee, to your time with the Law Society. According to the records, you became a member in 1953, when you first came back from England.
Yes, I think I did, early on.
Then you were a Council Member from 1969 to when you were appointed to the Bench in June 1978.
That's right. I was Chair of a Property Committee.
You were also on the Executive of the Law Society for four years by the looks of things.
That's right, with my friend, Peter Morgan, who later became President.
There must have been some interesting things happening at the Society at those times.
Yes, there were, and particularly in the Property Committee, I enjoyed that, and I had Charlie Brebner I remember was on that Property Committee, and David Wicks, who later became a judge. They were very good property lawyers, both of them. They were both in those days, practicing as solicitors. David later went to the Bar, Charlie Brebner never did.
Even though you were an independent barrister at the time, you still felt it was important to be a member of the Law Society?
I've always thought that. In South Australia, you are admitted as a barrister, solicitor, proctor and attorney at law. The disciplinary committee of the legal profession in South Australia is the Law Society, so they have discipline over everyone. The Bar admittedly now is an incorporated body, but it's an incorporated body, in my view, within the Law Society. I always took the view, after I left to practice as a barrister, that we are working together. We're practicing as barristers, but we were receiving our work from solicitors. We've got to help them, they help us. And, sadly that's deteriorated a bit in Victoria, it's become recently quite – well, aggressive I think is one word I would use.
There's animosity between the two parties.
Yes, animosity, that's a better word, thank you. But I think relations are still pretty good. I like coming to the seniors luncheon they have every year. I didn't come last year I'm afraid, for some reason I couldn't make it.
In 2003, I think, you were appointed as a senior member.
That'd be about right, yes.
And, nice to catch up with people from days gone by.
We're all in the same profession, we were all trying to achieve the same thing, which if you like to put it in one word, it's justice or fairness, or whatever. And, I think it'd be a pity if either the Bar or the solicitors or the Law Society rather, regarded one another as being separate. I've quite strong feelings on that as a professional. I think it's unprofessional if we don't work and give each other help and assistance and advice as to how we go about our practice.
Well, that's very good words coming from someone who did make a name for themselves coming out separately.
No, I really feel that quite strongly. And, for many years, members of the separate Bar were still being elected as President of the Law Society. It's no longer the case today. Whether that's because the Bar are not taking interest in Law Society matters, but there's no legal reason why a member of the Bar shouldn't also be a member of the Law Society Council or executive.
Just leaving the law to one side, because that was obviously a very big part of your life, you've had lots of other interests along the way as well. One I found out today was beekeeping, which I never knew.
Yes. Finally I've given up my bee registration last year.
So, you used to keep bees at your own property?
Down at Aldinga, not in Unley Park, although I probably could have. I didn't do much honey extracting, because I didn't have the time. I did a bit. But, my wife said I, when I used the extractor which we bought in Switzerland, it went all over the ceiling! Which is untrue, but never mind.
On your jacket today, you have a badge there, that's your Order of Australia. That was bestowed upon you in 2015.
For distinguished service to the law and to the judiciary, and to the development of professional standards and legal education, and to historical, artistic and environmental conservation groups. So, that covers a pretty broad spectrum of interests. How did you feel when you received that award?
As my Swiss wife would say, "Over-helmed," which in nautical terms means near disaster.
No, look I felt that it was a real recognition of the separate Bar. I know it was given to me personally because I was the first one, and I'm very conscious of that, but I do think it's because we have now established a separate Bar. The other thing that Len King said to me at the same occasion was that he as Chief Justice has noticed the considerable rising of standards for presentation of cases by those who are doing court work all the time; in other words, members of the separate Bar. And, Len was encouraging people to join the bar, and one of the ways he did it - he was the first one.
We were just talking about all your extra interests beside the law. Chair of the National Trust at some point, Chair of the Royal Adelaide -
Oh yes, that was the Collingrove Committee. I was friendly with the then CEO of the National Trust, and he asked me to take over. Collingrove was a property out of Angaston, which belonged to the Angas family, and it was left to the National Trust. So, we had to get a committee together to run it. It had been run down a bit, and it's now been taken over, it's a sort of bed and breakfast these days. But, in those days we were just using it as a National Trust property that you visited and had the volunteer guides to show you around. That's when I got to know Peter Heuzenroeder at Tanunda, and later his son Henry who I have known ever since Henry was at law school.
I used to lecture at the law school too at one stage, and that's why I've always been interested in legal education. One of the things I still do is give a Moot Prize. I started the moots at the university, at the time when Norval Morris was the dean of the law faculty, and, he asked me to start the moots. I remember going over to see Professor Zelman Cowen, who was then the dean of faculty at Melbourne, and he gave me a lead as to what they were doing in the Melbourne Law School, and I modelled our moot system in those days. That would have been 1958 - '59, '60 or something. Or, perhaps '61, somewhere around about late '50s, early '60s, when Norval was there. Norval was there after Dickie Blackburn was the dean.
Now, getting back to my other interests, okay.
Carrick Hill, has been a big one.
Carrick Hill, yes.
And the Coorong.
That's right, because Carrick Hill belonged to my Aunt Ursula Barr-Smith and Uncle Bill. Uncle Bill was another one I consulted about going to the Bar, because my father was very sick.
Did they live at Carrick Hill?
Yes, they lived at Carrick Hill. Uncle Bill went on living there after Aunt Ursula died in 1970. When they made their wills and Aunt Ursula told me about their wills, because none of the family - she offered it to my cousin, Bobby Barr Smith, who lived in Victoria, but he was a sheep farmer and a keen race horsing man, kept race horses, and things. Bobby said that he couldn't take it on, but he's the only one who possibly could have afforded it, and not even he could, afford to do it. It was the solicitor, he advised them to leave it to the people of South Australia, and they would haven't to pay any federal estate duty or state succession duty, if they left it to the State.
A pretty nice gift for South Australia.
It was. It belongs to the people of South Australia. And, I remember Aunt Ursula once said to me - and that's why I've got a love of art, because she was an artist herself; amateur artist, and I've still got a lot of her flower paintings in our house. My Swiss wife is very interested in art, and knows a lot about art. And, so there's been interest through the art, through the garden, and the house, and the antique furniture. I was very fond of Aunt Ursula, and she was very good to me, and she said that the solicitor had advised them to leave it in that way, and that's what they did. When Uncle Bill died, Jenny, my wife, became a guide there.
I have fought three governments against subdividing Carrick Hill. The first one was, the Labor Government wanted to subdivide a little bit by the way of research, and I just wrote letters to the government at the time. The second one was a big one in the mid-1990s I think, and they had a Select Committee of Parliament. I organised environmentalists, like Darrell Kraehenbuehl, and I went up personally and did a survey of the bushland. Darrell found out that we had a number of eucalyptus macrocarpa, which is recently - more recently since our report has been declared an endangered eucalyptus species. And I fought that. I gave evidence myself, and I remember there was an independent there - I wasn't allowed to ask questions while other witnesses were giving evidence, but I would feed questions to her, that independent.
You never stopped being a barrister.
That's right! I attended all those committees. Diana Laidlaw was the chair of that committee, because the Liberal Party were in office then. She was dead against my views, but they got an even vote not to subdivide. Because, they would subdivide what is now the car park and the land above that up to the hill's face zone, and that's where some of our most valuable eucalyptus microcarpa are.
After that, I then had an argument with the Labor Party again. They wanted to put in with the History Trust. The History Trust is not an art gallery, and the art collection is quite unique. I know from my aunt, the Stanley Spencers there are quite unique. The sculptures of Jacob Epstein are quite unique anywhere in the southern hemisphere - there are 12 Jacob Epsteins at Carrick Hill. The Art Gallery has an exhibition of Rodin sculptures, which were given to them by a Mr Bowman. They call it Versus Rodin. Do they have one Danila Vassilieff, a wonderful Russian sculptor who started modern art in Australia as a sculptor? Do they have one John Dowie? There are John Dowies at Carrick Hill. There are three John Dowies in my house.
Obviously you're very passionate about art, it has been very much part of your life, and history.
Obviously, those lessons that your mother gave you back in the early days when you were a little boy.
That's right, I've always been interested in history, and Australian history in particular. I think it's fascinating. South Australian history, the Cornish migrants.
My great grandfather Legoe, as I think I mentioned, was a sea captain on the Orient Line, and I'm now doing a little bit of research into his history. His name is on the anchor down at Semaphore, there's a street named after him in Semaphore. My grandfather George Glen Legoe, his son, who I knew well, started the meat export trade from South Australia in the 1920s through Wilcox Mofflin who were really hide and skin specialists. I'm trying to write this up a bit, but I'm finding the time a little bit restrictive.
Just looking back on your life to date, what do you think will be your legacy? What will people remember of you, besides a bowtie? I'm very disappointed you didn't wear a bowtie today, but that was almost your signature trademark, wasn't it?
Yes, it was, yes. It's curious, I've still got all my bowties but I rarely wear them these days - I've been 23 years in retirement now because I retired a bit early.
Well, not really retirement though, because you've been very busy in those 23 years.
Yes, that's true.
You haven't slowed down at all.
But, you're not wearing your bowties as often, is that what you're saying?
Yes. I do wear it when I go out for formal occasions sometimes, but I don't go out so much now. Jenny has got a lot of rheumatism.
So, your wife Jenny, and two daughters, is that correct?
Yes, that's right. Two daughters, Justina and Cici. They were born exactly two years apart on the same day. So they have a joint birthday.
What is going to be your legacy to the legal profession?
Well, I suppose it's got to be starting the Bar, hasn't it, I suppose.
Did you ever think when you went out by yourself back in '55, that the Bar would grow to the point it is now?
No, I didn't, because of the opposition from the senior people. I didn't think they would ever allow it.
And now it's quite large.
I think over 250. I call them all my grandchildren. Perhaps I should call them my great grandchildren, should I?
Do you get people coming to talk to you about those early days?
Yes, I do. Not so much these days, but I still go to the Bar dinners that they have every year, I try to go to that; they very generously invite me along.
I think Ian Robertson's the President of the Bar at the moment, isn't he? I know Ian quite well, and I've been meaning to have a chat to him again, but I find it difficult to get the time.
At Carrick Hill, I started the Bush Care volunteers, looking after the bushland. I started that in 1998 with Jerry Smith and I'm learning all about looking after bushlands, mainly getting rid of the olives. The present head gardener is also interested in the bushland, Neil Waters, and I've just been talking to Neil the other day about what we can do about getting more workers, because they've cut off the green army or people working for the dole. But we've found another way round that, of getting the dole workers up there, if we pay for a supervisor. It gets people working who can’t get work, and although they're not getting paid for the work, they do get the dole, because they're working.
I've been up there a couple of times with them. I still go up there and cut and poison the olives, but at 89 I find myself - my daughter Caroline by my first marriage, she's the only one who still lives here. I've got three by my first marriage, Georgina, who lives in Sydney, she's 62 now, I think, she's an environmentalist planner. My son, Dominic is a civil engineer, and he has had difficulty in getting work after he was retrenched a few years ago, but he's now working for Pacific Bank or somebody - he specialises in jetties and breakwaters and chipping - the coastal path chipping. So, he's making jetties and things at Tuvalu, which is the smallest nation in the world, right up on the equator. He lives in Brisbane and he flies up there, via Fiji. And, Caroline, she's lecturing at the - she's a film maker.
She took up your interest in the arts.
Yes, that's right. She's lecturing at the Uni SA, partly on filmmaking, and documentaries, but also partly looking after students who are trying to get into the university, giving them a bit of tuition. She was a schoolteacher at one stage, so I think she's got a permanent job there now at the moment.
Well, I have to say at 89, you've crammed a lot into your life so far, and it sounds like you've still got plenty more to do, there's no slowing up.
I seem to be cramming more in, my diary looks like a dog's breakfast.
Well, on that note, we might call it a day. Thank you so much for sharing all your memories with me, it's been very interesting.
Well, Lindy, thank you for putting up with me. I'm afraid I'm a great talker, aren't I?
I think it was very interesting.