It was always Dad’s idea of a good time and his favourite way to catch up. When my family and I used to travel up to his hobby farm at Cooran he would always say to me, “I thought we might have a couple of beers tonight” – as if there was any doubt in the matter.
I remember a time when Dad collected me from hospital, following shoulder reconstruction surgery. My arm was in a sling and I had an IV drip connected to a pump that delivered morphine into a catheter inserted into my arm every 15 minutes or so. As he helped me into the car he said to me, “I thought we might have a couple of beers tonight”. I just looked at him then looked down at the IV drip and pump. He then said, “Maybe tomorrow night”.
Growing up I came to see Dad’s couple of beers as his way of switching off from work each day. He was an extraordinarily mentally tough individual but I think he had developed some good coping mechanisms for being able to sustain the sort of pressure he was under. He would never have heard of the concept of “mindfulness” but this was exactly what he would “practice” from time to time: shining shoes and sitting on a tractor were his forms of meditation.
I used to study in the spare room next door to his chambers. One day I was lamenting the fact that I had to balance studying two degrees at two different uni’s and playing rugby at the same time! (Embarrassingly I was living at home at that time). I remember walking into his room and looking at the different “sections” on his desk – he was nothing if not pathologically organised. In front of him he was writing his Reasons for Judgment from a recent trial he had presided over. To the left side was a paper he was delivering as President of the AIJA (Australia Institute of Judicial Administration). To the right of him, he was developing the curriculum for family law for one of the Universities, whilst adjacent to that, he was writing a journal article for another. He had the usual pile of “personal” papers behind him – requests from godchildren and mate’s kids for references; a eulogy for our late next door neighbour “in draft”; letters from family members and old friends seeking advice. Stunned by the sight and magnitude of the differing roles he was playing, I said to him, “How do you sleep at night?”. Confused by the question he replied, “Fine”.
As was set out in the Eulogies at his funeral and the various articles that followed, his contributions to the Family Court were extensive. (Always preferring honesty over humility, no doubt be would have noted a few of his achievements that were missed!).
Far from being a judge in the mould of a classic intellectual or academic Judges like a Justice Lindenmeyer or a Justice Warnick (although he did use to bang on about his role in the full court decision of Figgins v Figgins), his contributions to the Court were more from an administrative and organisational perspective. From 1988 to 2004 he was a Judge Administrator of the Court, initially responsible for the judicial administration of the Court in Queensland and the Northern Territory, later New South Wales and eventually as Senior Judge Administrator for the whole of Australia.
In 1989 Dad was appointed chair of a working party to review the administration of the Family Court. The result was a two-volume Report which provided a basis for the Court’s administration. It was said to be instrumental in influencing the way the Court approached the management of its increasing workload and it culminated in the rewriting of the Court’s Rules in 2004. The revision to these Rules included the “pre-action protocols”, which set out the obligations of parties to make a genuine attempt to resolve their disputes before starting Court proceedings.
All through his career he was committed to a concept of what was “fair”. He was involved in a lot of cross-cultural and gender awareness programs, both in his capacity as a Judge and as President of the AIJA. He was a consultant to various developing nations who sought to introduce a family law system, including the Law Reform Commission of Fiji.
He was also committed to judicial training. He was said to be a pioneer in the development of judicial education programs, including social context education involving both gender and cross-cultural issues. He was a member of the Commonwealth Judicial Education Institute which facilitated the delivery of education programs to judicial officers in Commonwealth countries.
He also fitted in a lot of travel, a hell of a lot of fly-fishing and finished each day with a couple of beers.
Dad died a year ago today. We miss you old boy.