Australian Biography: Barbara Holborow
Barbara Holborow (1930–2012) served for 12 years as a magistrate in the Children's Court, where her compassion and outspokenness were legendary – perhaps because of her own beginnings.
Barbara married young. It was only after the death of her first child and subsequent split with her husband that she found a job as a legal secretary and resumed her high school studies.
She went on to study law and started practising as a solicitor, specialising in children's cases.
In this interview, Barbara talks openly about the formative influences on her life, the kids she has fostered and adopted and her ongoing commitment to reforming the judicial system for children.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
This is a transcript of the complete original interview conducted for the Australian Biography project.
I was a very happy child, but I was a lonely child, because I was an only child. Pretty naive. Like at 14 I was still spitting on lucky stones, throwing them over my left shoulder and saying, "Please God, send me a baby brother or sister". When you think that my mother was 45 when she gave birth to me, it was highly unlikely. I was - my piano was my best friend. I used to - I was never told, ever, to practise. I used to spend hours at the piano, yeah. But I had a very happy childhood.
Oh, she was unbelievably gentle, kind, very fearful that something would happen to me. Because she had lost two sons, and in fact she didn't know she was pregnant with me. She thought it was change of life. And so when I came I was the most precious little object in her life. And I remained that all her life. And she worried over me, she fussed over me, but she was nothing like me, nothing at all. I think she often thought, you know, I must have come from under the doormat, because I was outgoing, I was talkative. Not like her.
Stubborn. I adored him. We used to go - I was the son that didn't survive and I was going to the football with my dad when I was seven, every Saturday afternoon. And by the age of nine I knew every footballer who played in Sydney. I knew their position. I knew what the numbers on their back meant. Yeah. And I could really talk football with my dad.
Yes. But, but more sensible I think. Mum fussed too much. And I never - as a result I never fuss. And also as a result of Mum I really cry. I cry at, I cry when I hear Waltzing Matilda, I cry when kids sing, you know, it just all wells up. But Mum really needed to carry a tea towel around with her. She could cry very easily. And those sorts of things stayed with me and I made a mental note very early in life I won't do that when I grow up. Yeah. And that's why I'm not as stubborn as my father was. He was incredibly stubborn. And sometimes he'd know he was wrong, and he'd still stick it out, he wouldn't change.
No, no, no. I don't.
No. Didn't get a chance. I really didn't. Be naughty - I was watched 24 hours a day. No, I didn't get a chance to be naughty.
I escaped into my piano. And into bits of a dream world myself. I used to have flights of fancy in my mind. And I used to pretend a lot. Played a lot of games, talking, talking to imaginary people. I used to have a favourite spot in the plum tree here. Because I've lived in this house for 70 years. And I used to climb into that plum tree and pretend.
Right. My first real friend was Wilma, and my birthday was on the 29th of June, and I started the next Monday at school, when I was five. And Wilma's birthday was on the 7th of July. And she started the next Monday. So that when she arrived I was already an old girl. I remember Mrs Bolton [Boland] saying to me, "Come on Barbara, you will look after Wilma". And Wilma and I remained very good friends right through to only very recently when Wilma passed away. But her father was the local Methodist minister. And parents were much stricter in those days, particularly if your father was a Methodist minister, and she had certain chores she had to do. So she wasn't here as often and I wasn't there as often as we would have liked.
Just down the street, down the street. And I used to come home for lunch every day. And have lunch with Mum and sometimes Dad. And then back to school. And my mother was always here of course when I got home from school. And when I talk to people now about the importance of being at home for your kids - and that's why I believe a lot of kids get into trouble, because they come home to a house, not a home. And the first thing I ever said was, as I walked through the first door, "Mum" - I used to call for her. And I don't know what would have happened if she hadn't said, "I'm out here" or "Yes", because she was always here.
Your relationship with your father, how would you describe that relationship? You've said that you - he treated you a little bit like the boys he'd lost, but what, what was the nature of the connection between you and your father?
We respected each other. He was very proud of me, even if I - I did achieve musically, and he was very proud, very proud, but never said anything. And I remember when I used to get honours in my class, in my musical exams, and he'd give me two shillings. My God, that was so much money, two shillings. And that was a big thing for my father to do, because he and Mum had gone through the Depression and they were pretty mean days. And he always looked after his money. Never - never bought anything on time payment or a lay-by. If you couldn't pay for it, don't get it. I wished I could say the same.
No, no. No. It wasn't that relationship. The relationship that you had was Mum and Dad and a child. I didn't know that you could have that relationship really with your parent. I mean kids now expect it. But I didn't know you could do that. No. I talked to my dog a lot, Socks.
No. No, I didn't.
I always felt a little bit different. Just a little different. I think, looking back, I think I was very perceptive as a child, and I used to - I'd see things in the children that I really didn't like that much. Because there were no raised voices in this home. There was a lot of music. And there were no raised voices. There was never any arguments or fighting of any - well there was no need to. We lived in total harmony. And when I'd see some trait in a kid, like this, I really didn't like it and I'd be mortally wounded if they said - and crushed - if I, they said anything unkind to me. And you know, I was a skinny, straggly kid with skinny plaits and - yeah, no, I didn't get on with a lot of kids.
Wilma. Wilma and I, we used to - oh golly Moses - she did so much for my education that girl. Every Friday we would have a, a times table test. And Wilma and I got first and second every Friday. We'd be within half a mark of each other. And what a challenge it was. And we pushed ourselves. I mean after school, we'd go and do things like maybe in third class we were up to our ten times, or nine times, whatever table, but we pushed ourselves that we were up to our fifteen times table. We'd do that after school with each other.
I did well until high school, when I got my diabetes.
That was just awful for Mum and Dad. Dad's father had died with - ah, brother - had died with diabetes, and I think it was his favourite brother. And so I was very - I had chicken-pox. And I was very, very ill with chicken-pox. So ill that they had to soak my pyjamas off me, da, da, da, da. And I - then after that had 99 blind boils. And they all had to be lanced. And I was in bed for months and months. And I just couldn't get well. And I was drinking copious amounts of fluid whatever, you know, that I could lay my hands on, water or orange juice, anything. And thinner and thinner. And so it was 1943, the war was on, and they sent me to Bowral with my Nanna to see if a holiday was what I needed. And of course we stayed on a dairy farm there. And they were trying to fatten me up with Milo - it's a wonder I didn't die - and of course all the things that were just so bad for a diabetic. And when I got off the train at Strathfield with my Nanna, Mum met us and Mum looked at me and burst into tears. And I thought - I felt guilty, I felt so guilty that I couldn't look well for her. Because I - it was a bit of a role I had to play in life. Because I was their only child, and it was a big responsibility being an only child. So she took me from that station to the doctor's. And it was a Friday night, the doctor looked at me, we'd never been to this doctor, ever, and we - he put me immediately from his surgery, we walked across Liverpool Road into Western Suburbs Hospital where I stayed, and of course it was diabetes. And, no I'm sorry, I'm wrong. He said, "She's to go to hospital tonight, immediately". And Mum said, "Well I'll have to go home and get pyjamas, etcetera". We came home and Dad was sitting at the table. And it was the first time - I only ever saw my father cry twice - and it was the first time he put his head down and sobbed. But of course, I reminded him I think of his brother. And I think he thought that I would die also. So I went to hospital with the biggest guilt trip you could imagine. I'd made both the people, who I loved most in all the world, cry. And I'd let them down. But I responded almost immediately to insulin, and I was 13 and that's been it ever since.
Oh, it was the war. Our doctor and all - there was only - had gone to the war, our own doctor, the family doctor. And the only doctor that they had was servicing an enormous area, was old Dr Walker. And he came to the house a couple of times and he just yawned the whole way through the examination. But I think when he saw me standing up he realised, you know, I was a pretty sick girl. And had been for about 8 months before they detected it.
Different. And at 13 you don't want to be different. And I'd always been a bit different. Because of the piano and all of that. And now, when I'd go to any function, any social function, to a birthday party, to fellowship at church, whatever, I had to go along with two Sao biscuits and all of that. It was just awful, just awful. I didn't care very much - I didn't have a death wish but I just wasn't too sure that life was worth that much.
I suppose I was. But that wasn't a word I'd have used in those days.
I did after that, yeah. I would have wanted to. I was five stone four. And I was tall. And I was like a skeleton. I looked terrible. And, and the sugar, of course when you've got sugar you're very emotionally, you cry, all your hormones play up. I was very teary.
Yes. And this didn't help.
My Nanna, the indomitable Nanna, whom everybody was frightened of. I wasn't frightened of her, I just didn't like her. Because of my perception I could see how she manipulated people. And I used to be able to say how she would act to something, and how the person she was dealing with would act. I'd see my poor mother, you know, apologising because for some reason when really she should have said to her, "Tough, make it yourself". But she didn't, she ran after her. I was in the bedroom crying and she came in and she said, "What are you crying about?" And I said, "Because I'm a diabetic and I don't want to be". And she said, "Well you are, and you can sit down there and cry for the rest of your life, or get up and live your life". And walked out and left me with that little pearl of wisdom. And I thought about it, and I thought, well I don't want to cry for the rest of my life. So I got my act together and went on from then. And I - from that day, I have to say, this awful woman - I have never allowed my diabetes to get between me and where I'm going. Ever. And if people say to me, when I'm out, and I say, "I have to have my fix now", and I have my injection of insulin, which I have at the dinner table. I make no excuses, I don't go into lavatories to shoot up, I do it at the table, and they say, "Oh, dear, how often?" I get so angry. I don't want their sympathy. So angry. I'm a diabetic, I shoot up. Simple as that. And I've been one now for, for 57 years.
Well I have very little sight in my left eye as a result. And I think I know that my eyesight's fading. It's, it's - there are no haemorrhages as such, but it's, it's fading a bit, mmm. Other than that, no, no. If you think it's normal to walk round with a packet of jelly beans in your, in your pocket, that's the only precaution I take.
I was lucky. I used to attend a church, local church, and we had the best group of friends. There was about 16 of us, 18. And I really stepped into that, into that group of people. And I loved them and they loved me. And you know, when I celebrated my 70th year, most of them came, with - it was really wonderful. We'd go on picnics together. We'd take up almost a carriage on a train. Of course nobody had motor cars in those days to drive. And we'd walk miles. We'd go hiking with all our picnic gear and we belonged to the choir and we'd sing in the train. They were good days.
Oh, well I was a Brownie. And then I flew up to Girl Guides, I was in the Guides. But that petered out. Because then my diabetes did get in the road with Mum. Mum let it get in the road. Mum felt that to go away with the Guides was a no-no. And so it was easier for me to leave the - for me personally to leave the Guides than to be having to listen to this, that I was an invalid. Which I knew I wasn't. And that was why I left school when I did. Because...
I left school the moment I turned 15. Because Mum thought I was an invalid and study was too much. And I was a year ahead of myself in school, and that sort of probably could have added to the early onset of my diabetes, because I was studying a lot and...
No, I didn't get the Intermediate.
Middle of the year.
Off I went to business college, and did the shorthand, typing, bookkeeping. I was never very good at bookkeeping. I was good at typing. Ruined my touch for the piano, absolutely ruined it. So after that, it was buying records. My, my appreciation exceeded my ability to play. I could feel the difference. And from there I went...
Can I ask you to put yourself back, and there you were, a kid who'd done well at primary school, missed a lot of school through your diabetes, and then in a sense was withdrawn. Did you have any sense that you were being sort of pulled out of something that maybe you could have been good at if you'd got back into it? What was your state of mind at the time?
I was so used to being a good kid and doing as was asked of me, I did it without question. I told you, I was never naughty. And Mum thought this was the best, and so, so be it. When I look back now, I wished I'd had a bit of the fire that I've got in me now, to have fought for it.
Yeah, except that wasn't what was planned for me. Wasn't what I had planned for me. I was either going to be a nurse or a solicitor, I was going to be one or the other. And by what happened to me I was going to be neither. And I think really I thought that maybe this is what happened when you were a diabetic, that you didn't ever have your dreams fulfilled. But I'd learned to live with that.
Well I never knew it, but my great great grandfather was a magistrate. Now I did not know that at that time. And when I look back now he and I are, I believe, so alike.
My cousin who decided to do - there'd been rumours about it - and I never took much notice, neither did I take much notice of the family tree, until this cousin started to do a lot of research, and there it was. And he was a much loved magistrate in the Dubbo, Wollombi, Wellington area. Used to go round on horseback. And in fact last year, in November of last year, I sat on the very bench that he sat on in 1853. Incredible.
As his great great granddaughter. And the women who keep the museum where it is were just so thrilled, because he's still loved in that area. And, and the bed and breakfast where we stayed was his old home - Mulla Villa. And on the doors they've got his name - David Henry Dunlop - and on the other bedroom his wife, Eliza. And they still have articles that were there when they were there.
Dad was on the jury. And he'd come home and tell us about the case and I thought, "Oh yeah. That would be so exciting". And I was good at debating. So I got a taste for it.
He was a painter decorator.
Well, I was born in 1930, and so I don't remember any of it until I was about - just before I was four and of course it was waning then. But I know the way they acted was as a direct result - with money and with the deeds. You never gave the deeds to the bank. They never trusted the banks again. The deeds of the house were always kept in the kitchen drawer.
Oh God, yes. Yes. And he, he built this house. Yes. And the one there too. We - well I don't ever - we were never poor, but I think they - well not in my time - but they certainly had to manage their pennies. But they'd both come down from Cobar. They weren't city people at all. In fact, until my father and mother went into a retirement home, the key was left in the front door every night in case a friend needed a bed. And you know, I'm talking late 1960s here, when people were starting to put bars on their windows. That wasn't for Mum and Dad.
It was open house. The door was hardly ever closed. And when it was, it was never locked. Never. Windows weren't barred or locked, never. And the moment anybody came the kettle was on. Always. And Mum was always - she was noted for her scones. And she could whip up scones with the blink of an eye, and there was - it was warmth and friendliness always.
No, I don't think so. No, I don't think there were any other blights. That was a hell of a big enough one thank you very much. Yeah.
Before we leave your childhood, just looking at it now, with the benefit of hindsight, do you see anything that was happening there, when you were a child, that were seeds of things that came out later?
Oh, everything. My, my childhood moulded me for what I am now. I mean there was so much love poured on me that I've had enough love to hand out to other kids forever. That's where it comes from. I mean it was just too much for one kid to handle. I mean I don't know how I didn't grow up the most neurotic person - maybe I am neurotic, but I think I'm pretty sane for what I now know happened. And really you'd be saying to a parent, "Look I think you better back off a little. And not put a cardigan on her every time she goes out the door". And it was all this coddling. I really was coddled. That's the word. And I now feel so uncoddled, and I make sure I'm uncoddled. And I only cry when I hear Waltzing Matilda. Yeah, I don't need a tea towel to cry. And I, and I saw at a very early age Dad's stubbornness was wrong, I knew that before I was about six. I think it was not the way to go. You ought to be able to say sorry. I can think of someone else who should say sorry too, but at that time it was my, it was my Dad. And so that's moulded me now for what I am. And when I've been doing the research in my books, in the last book in particular, I know that your life is moulded in the first three years, and then up to the fifth, and if you don't get it right by then, it takes 27 years to undo the harm. So I didn't have 27 years of violence to undo. Or a life that was just full of hate and distrust. I had 27 years of too much love to overcome. And I've been able to share that around. There are very, very few kids that I've ever come across that I can't put my arms around. Very, very few. There were some real tobies that would come before me in court, and I'd think this is sad because I can't see a nice thing about you. But always, didn't matter how, how, how bad they were, I could always - there was something about them.
Oh, pretty late. Pretty late. I think I was about late 16. We, we - no one was sort of pairing off really. There were some. I mean I used to - there was one boy I used to like to be with, Ron. But that was it. And only - out of the whole crowd, three of the couples ended up marrying, but I don't ever remember them being that particularly close to each other. And I had a couple of, couple of boyfriends and then of course John Holborow, who I'd known since I was eight, and wasn't in this group at all. He was on the fringe of it, but he wasn't one of our group. And the Fort Street Ball was on, and the girl he was taking was away, and the boy who was taking me was away. And we were both 18 and it was on the fourth of May, and we went together. And neither he nor I ever went out with anybody else after that. And then of course we ended up marrying.
Oh everything, absolutely everything. He'd been raised in a family with two uncles and an aunt that had never married. And a cousin, lovely woman, whose husband after three months of marriage, was killed at the fall of Singapore. That was the household he was brought up in. He was like no other boy I'd ever met. He was so polite. He stood when a girl entered or left the room. He was just so attentive. I loved him from the word go.
I was different. He, he said - he just thought I was great to be with. Because I was just about everything that had never happened in his family I think. They were very, very old world. Beautiful people, but nobody had worked. And he lived in this 13 bedroomed mansion that was, needed a lot of repair done because the money had run out from the family. And - see I used to - I suppose I was still pretending - when I used to go there I could just imagine what it was like in the old days with the carriage - it had a circular drive - and how the carriages would have drawn up in front of this. And I just loved it, I loved his relations, I loved him, I loved the atmosphere of his home. And I loved the way they accepted me.
I worked in a solicitor's office. And he was a solicitor, a young solicitor who came back from the war, passed his exams and they put you through very quickly after the war, because they'd started their studies, gone to the war, came back. And he opened up his practice, I remember at 54 Hunter Street, Sydney. And I was his first secretary and he was my first boss. And I stayed with him until I married. And I loved the work. It was just what I wanted to do. I couldn't be a solicitor but it was like being a solicitor, and I took pride in, very much, in my work.
Oh, that was long after that.
Yes, no, that was long after that. Yes.
Yep. Yes, we were. Except I guess - we moved into a lovely, lovely home, that was owned by John's Mum, it was a terrace. And John had had nothing to do with his mother really from when he was about three. And she left him with the family to raise. And I got him back with his mother because to be separated from your mother was so foreign to me. I couldn't understand that. And so I encouraged him to visit with his mother and we bridged what was a bit of a gap. And anyway, she - I was not her favourite person, marrying her son who was a prince, I quote. And when we came back from our honeymoon, and we, we had the most wonderful wedding. Everything I asked for was provided and no expense was spared. We went to Hayman Island in a flying boat. It was when it used to leave Rose Bay. And we came back from there. I mean, this is 1953, and it was pretty adventurous. You flew all day. We came back and she'd moved in downstairs. A so I think really the writing was on the wall then. And I found after about six weeks of married life that I was pregnant. This wasn't planned. We'd thought we'd go overseas, but anyway there I was pregnant. And we were both very excited. And she just made our life hell. But we were trapped. We'd invested everything in upstairs. And of course the inevitable, I was not that far from Mum and Dad, who, I was still their only child. And who didn't move away from me that much. And Mum would ring every day, etcetera. And then I just wasn't well. I really wasn't well. And it was a horrific eight months.
Mmm, yeah. And none of these were being addressed. None of them. And I had lots of complaints and kidney - anyway...
Oh, no. No. No. And anyway I'm - the night that - I knew I was having a son. If anyone had told me anything different I wouldn't have believed them. And his name was Kim Anthony. And the night that Kim was born - he only lived a little while - and I remember seeing - the first thing I said was - and I suppose this says it all, I said "Poor Mum and Dad". Not poor John, not poor me, poor Mum and Dad. I just felt I'd once again let them down. So anyway I saw this woman wrapping something in newspaper, and I thought it was my son. Oh, sorry.
Mmm. And anyway I struggled to get out of the bed I was in to grab him. So I wasn't strong enough to, I was weak. Anyway, then they put me into a ward with all these unmarried mothers, because they felt that if I didn't see the baby I'd get over his death. And that wasn't so. And I was crying one night and this sister came and she said "What are you crying for?" And I said "I'll give you three guesses". And she said "Because he died. Well at least you know where he is. None of these girls will ever know where their babies are". Because they were all going to be adopted. So I've remembered that always, and when I mourned, as I did, for the first 41 years of Kim's life, on the 11th of May every year, I thought I wondered how Bourkey was feeling. She was a girl from Bourke who was in the next bed to me. And she'd had a boy. And I thought, I wondered if Bourkey's fretting too, like I am. Anyway, so I came home from hospital, in fact I rang John and said "If you don't take me home I'm walking home. I've got to get out of here". And I got home and my mother of course - and I really needed her - she moved in with us for the five days, and then she would go home at the weekend. And John's mother, who was a renowned pianist, played Chopin's 'Funeral March' for the whole day. And they found me that night, just before John came home from work, I was clawing the wallpaper off the nursery wall. I was in an awful state. So my mother, who'd never ever interfered, nor my father, my mother said to her, "You must stop. She'll lose her mind if you don't". So John suggested to his mum that maybe she could move away. Which she did. And she went off and taught music at some private school. And so then we sort of picked up our lives up again. Now, you know, we were two pretty naive kids of 24. I mean we'd be equivalent to about a 15 year old today. That was the first year of our married life. I didn't get over Kim's death. I was never counselled. There was no grieving or anything like that. And then I was pregnant with Louise, and went - immediately I went to a diabetic specialist. And - where I should have gone for Kim of course. And I spent five months in hospital, St Lukes Hospital, for Louise to be born. And that was when I lost the sight in - well I lost it in both eyes actually, but it came back 100 percent in this eye, but not my left. And then she was born. And that's it.
Look, I know this sounds absurd, but when these things would happen, I used to think that's part of being a diabetic. But Fred Hollows years later was able through laser treatment to give me 40 percent sight back with laser.
No, I knew I would. I knew. I, no - she was, she was going to be - they wanted to terminate and I said, "No. No way".
God, she was ugly, but she was healthy. [laughs] She was so ugly. They said to me that - she was a Caesar baby of course, and this is what should have happened in those, with Kim, it's those last three weeks of the nine months when all the damage is done. And so they take diabetic babies at eight months. And that's what they did of course. Everybody said to me, "Oh, she'll be beautiful because there's no stress, strain of childbirth". Oh, cripes, here she was, this wizened up little black-haired thing. [laughs] And of course, she grew into the most beautiful fair-haired girl. And now a woman.
Yes, except we had a live in nurse, because I was still very, very weak. And I wasn't - because of my eyesight, I wasn't allowed to lift Louise. She had to be placed into my arms. I couldn't lift anything heavier than a knife and fork.
Oh, terrified. I was terrified. I didn't think I could be so lucky as to have my own baby.
Oh, that I'd go in and she'd be, she'd be, you know, she'd be a cot death or I really - you know, and when we got past that stage, it was only then that I could say I really enjoyed her. Because I wasn't frightened any more.
Well I was out to it, and I didn't see her until she was three days old. She went straight into a humicrib, and they took me from the general part of St Lukes down into the maternity section. And this was - [laughs] I can laugh now, but they were so proud of her, because this was the first baby that had been born in the general part. They were always born in the maternity section, so it was their baby. And I'd been there for five months. I knew every nurse, all their boyfriends. I, you get to know them, they were all lovely girls. And so the matron held my hand and the deputy matron pushed the wheelchair to go down to see our baby. Now I'd chosen the name Louise with John, we'd chosen that name, and we couldn't think of a second name. And it turned out that the matron was Louise Elizabeth and the deputy matron was Elizabeth Louise, so there absolutely no doubt then as to what her second name could be. So they both pushed me down for the grand viewing of this baby in the humicrib, and when I looked, I wanted to cry. She was so ugly. But they said, were all saying, "Isn't she just beautiful. Look at our Louise Elizabeth", and I'm saying, "Oh yes, she is". And I didn't want to let them down because I was so disappointed. But when they pushed me back up and took me back into my bed and I got into my bed and there were three other women in the room. And they're all saying to me, "What is she like?" And I burst into tears, and said "Nothing like I expected". But anyway, that soon changed.
Oh, he, he was with Dalgety's. And he was in the insurance department, but for livestock. And he would travel all over to farms and to properties, and I used to go with him often, to make sure that everybody was happy with the insurance for their livestock, their farmhouses or whatever. And come the Royal Easter Show, he was so old world with his wonderful manner and bearing, that all the old darlings would want to take him to the Australia for lunch, or bring your wife for dinner at night. And the Easter Show for us would go for a fortnight. That was, that really was a big event in our life. Yeah.
With his work taking him away, and with you not being well, and the - during your pregnancies and so on - how had he coped? Had he been able to be supportive of you or was he preoccupied as a young man with other things?
He was totally supportive. He visited me every night, or day, in hospital. He did not, in that five months, miss one visiting. He was totally supportive.
It - I guess it was a little bit unnatural having a person living in with us, who of course ate with us, and we were never really on our own. And, unkindly I say this, I mean the demands that were put on us by family were just unrealistic. Luncheon on Sundays always with his family. Thursday night dinner with my family.
Oh, until John and I separated.
We never had a fight, we never had an argument, we never had a fight. We just knew that we were both going in separate directions. I was intellectually going crazy. I was reading a book a day - with the nurse there was very little for me to do. And I one thing I wasn't going to do, and that was to fuss over Louise and coddle her, like I had been. And I had - used to go for long walks with her, talking with her, etcetera. But I just wasn't being intellectually stimulated. And I said, I thought I might like to go back to work. Well that then was just not heard of. And there was no need. And John said he would like to travel and I, I just, I just couldn't see us doing that. And so we - I joined a choir, the Royal Philharmonic. And yeah. And it was good. And musically I was being a bit stymied. And so we were both developing in separate directions.
No. No. We had this terrible divorce. It was called 'restitution of conjugal rights'. And I'd moved away. There was no need for a divorce for a long time, because neither of us - and I never did remarry. He did three times, but I didn't. Anyway, there was a need for him to get a divorce. But we couldn't get a divorce, because we had no grounds, because we'd never had an argument. So we had to go through this rubbish of restitution of conjugal rights, where he wrote to me and asked me to return, and gave me 14 days or 28 or something. And gave me 10 shillings, which was my fare to enable me to return. So when I was served with these divorce papers, he and I went out to the Australia and drank the 10 shillings that he'd given me to go home. I mean it was absolute farce. And then I wrote a letter saying, no I'm not returning. And then that could be treated as desertion and then he could get his divorce. Except I nearly, I nearly stymied it, because the judge said to him when he read my letter, "Is your - do you think" - that's right - "Do you think that maybe your wife didn't return because intellectually she's superior to you?" [laughs] That wasn't quite what we wanted. Anyway. We got the divorce.
Certainly not home. No way. Because my mother hadn't stopped crying from when we had very gently told her that we just wanted to separate, which was what we did originally want just to do. And my father said that if it came to a divorce he would be asked to leave the Masons. And I, I think the only time I've ever rebuked my father, and I said, "Well Dad, why do you go? If that's what the Masons are going to do over your daughter's divorce. It's got nothing to do with you. Why are you a Mason?" Anyway, so I went to stay with some deaf mute friends, who had moved in downstairs when John's mother moved out. And I spoke on my hands, signed, as well as any deaf person because of my association, and, in fact, I'm godmother to both of their children. So, and they had bought a home and they'd moved away. So Louise and I moved in with them. And so I didn't have to listen to anyone say "You're making a mistake".
Yes. See, Louise was 18 months. And I couldn't lift her. But she was manageable without that then. And I stayed there for six months. And then eventually I had to come home of course, because Mum had taken to bed with what I call the vapours. And Dad came down and said "Please will you come home, because it's almost - your mother is fretting". And I said I would come home on the condition that John and I, our marriage was not mentioned. That there was just was not to be the topic of conversation. So I moved home, and Dad was reading the local paper and there was a solicitor asking for a secretary, for two afternoons a week. And Dad said "Do you think you'd like to do that?" And I said "Yeah". So I got that job and I worked there for 13 years. And that was where I studied law from there.
Well, the two afternoons a week grew to five days a week and two people - we ended up with a magnificent practice with a staff of eight girls. I became a managing law clerk, which is identical now to what they call a paralegal. You do all the work of a solicitor. And I was at a hearing in Penrith. I had done all the work for this case, no solicitor would have done more. I briefed counsel. And it came morning tea time and the judge invited the lawyers to morning tea, and I started to get up to go and my barrister said, "Oh you're not invited, you're not a lawyer". And that was it. So - and I went off and I studied for my - it was the last year of the Leaving Certificate as we knew it, before the Higher School came in - and I sat for that and got that and then studied law.
I went every night to Burwood evening school and studied at home.
Mum did. Louise went to pre-school. She used to go off each morning in a little hire car that took her and two other little girls. And in a way I guess, when I look back now, Louise and I have talked about this and she's told me her memories, I let her down during that time. I had always assumed - because I wanted to - that she was really happy there, with all the other kids etcetera. But she said she wasn't happy there. They - she said she didn't have that many happy memories of that pre-school, nor of the hire car driver, she said, who was always very strict with them. And she was only three and then four.
And what about your - how would you characterise your relationship with her at the time, because you were living here with your parents, and they were like parents to her too. So where did you fit into that?
Big sister. That's what it was. And it's so wrong. You know, anyone can have a sister. But they only have one mum. And it was very wrong. But I capitulated. I mean I would put Louise to bed, and like all children she'd want to get out, and Dad would take her out. And so I capitulated.
Mmm. Yeah. My role was never to upset them. And I'd given them the biggest upset. I was the first divorce in the family. Not on religious grounds. Just the first divorce. I'm sure half my relations would have been happier divorced, but they all stuck it out.
Looking back now, and looking at your divorce in the context of the rest of your life, and with that hindsight, if you had to say honestly why you think it happened, why, why do you think it was really that that divorce occurred?
Oh, there were many reasons. John and I had no mature supports. We had no one to turn to and say "Wow, we're out of our depth with these emotions". You know, we've lost a baby, I must have been bordering on a breakdown for so long, and just hanging in there and holding it together, that - it just wouldn't happen now. [INTTERUPTION]
Oh they were.
Oh yes, you see, as I was brought up coddled, even in our married life John's Uncle Billy, who loved him as much as my mother loved me, would come down every afternoon, take John's shirts to go to the laundry, and his handkerchiefs, go into John's wardrobe, and make sure that his shoes were shining, make sure that his suits were brushed, and if there was a cloud in the sky, would meet him at the railway station with an umbrella. And we were never allowed to grow up. We never were. But I guess, you know, a sign of our love for each other is that it's - we still love each other.
Oh no, we never fought. I never blamed him. It wasn't his fault. It was part of me being a diabetic. I took that on.
So, although you didn't blame him, you felt that the only way that you could go forward was to leave him. Was that why - how it really came about - that it was a sort of sense that everything associated with your problems was wrapped up in that relationship and you had to get out of it?
I, I think that it was my childhood back again. We were just being coddled. You couldn't breathe, you couldn't move. If - we didn't have air-conditioning in our home and it was - Louise was born in November. And I remember it was February and it was exceedingly hot. And they were there every day to come and take us to their home, where it was cool. And it was - it was all kindness, but every time I looked up we had his relations or my relations, through love and kindness, there. It was suffocating. He was at work all day. And John was a very, very placid person. Never saw him lose his temper. Never. And he used to say, "Just be patient". I was almost screaming with impatience. Leave me alone. And I was escaping.
No! He didn't want to escape. John just wanted a quiet life. And I questioned things. And I started to push boundaries and yeah. Look to - this will explain it - on the day I was married, I said to my father, "Dad, do you mind if I smoke?" I'm 23, about to be married, moving into my own home with my husband. "Dad, do you mind if I smoke?" My dad said "No, you'll be married and you're leaving home. Don't let your mother see you smoke. It'll break her heart". "Fine", I said. "Mum, do you mind if I smoke?" Mum said, "Oh, well I won't like it darling, but don't let your father see you smoke". I mean that's it. That was my life. Pleasing them. Now I look back and I laugh, and I think don't let your mother, don't let your - please. Yeah.
What was it about the law that drew you to it in the first place? When you actually started working and discovered, in that solicitor's office, what the law was all about, could you say what it was that really drew you?
I think it was the judgements. In, in our office it all looked so simple. We were acting for somebody, so of course they were innocent, or of course they should be compensated, whatever. And maybe they were found guilty, maybe they weren't compensated, and when I read the reasons why and the judgements, I just wondered at the wisdom of these people. I loved every aspect of it. I loved the wigs, the gowns, the repartee between, between the barristers and solicitors.
Oh yes. All of that. I used to find it so exciting if I had to deliver a document to the court to give to a barrister. Oh, it was just wonderful.
Through the Solicitors' Admission Board. I went to university two nights a week for lectures and I still of course had my shorthand skills, so I took down all my notes in shorthand. Then I came home and I transcribed them on to my typewriter. Then I had my dinner and then I studied for a little while and then I went to bed, and I used to get up at two-thirty am and study till five. And then go to work the next morning. People used to say to me, when it was all over, that there were times I was almost green with tiredness. I think they were right.
No. No, no. And I started to study with two friends, and I - I don't mean - I left them behind - I don't mean to boast. I just know I needed that degree. And I just kept going.
No, no I just did SAB.
I did my Leaving Certificate when I was 34. And I studied, started law at 35. And I had my certificate at 39.
Spending a lot of time with her dad. Because - like all of the weekends she would spend - because there was animosity between us, there - that was no problem at all. And Louise and I shared the same bedroom. And I used to spend time sitting with her at night before she went to sleep, talking to her. And I did delay actually for a couple of years, until I believed - she was nine when I started - that she was old enough then to cope with my not being in attendance all the time.
Well, I had to put all my social life on hold. There was no way I could have a social life and study. And I think one of the most difficult things is, it's harder to retain. You may understand better, but it's harder to retain just some of the quotes that required - you were required, you know. Well my advice is, put, forget social life for the next four years. You might get Christmas and Easter in if you're lucky. And nothing replaces hard work.
No, not really. It did for subjects like conveyancing, but I didn't do any constitutional law at Burwood. And oh well, divorce, that helped me. Because I understood it. I didn't, there were no mysteries there with any of the terminology, etcetera.
He was my mentor. If it hadn't been for him I wouldn't have got it. He, he spent hours with me, coaching me. He was wonderful.
Because we had a 13 year relationship.
Yeah. I think it was more than a suspicion. Yes.
I'll never forget the day that I went to the Supreme Court with my father, and Louise, in her school uniform, to receive my Certificate to Practice. It was just the wonderful day, wonderful. Wonderful day. And then I did something which you can no longer do. The next week I looked around for and found an area where I thought I'd like to open my own practice. You see, you can't do that any more.
Yes. Yes. I've finished, got my my law degree in the November, and the day after the long weekend in January, I opened my door for business, in a tiny little office in Glebe.
None. None. The first January I earned - and February - I earned three dollars for witnessing a 5A lease. I had a thousand dollars in the bank, I had a daughter at an expensive private school. And I thought I'll give it six months, and if it doesn't work, well then it doesn't work. So that was when I ran for a bookie to help a bit more. I made more money doing that than practising law.
You - he offloads his big bets and you put them, put them on with another bookmaker.
Oh, all over. Dapto, Richmond, Wentworth Park.
Oh, just a client. I was very good at it. I was very quick. I was very - and I had wigs. Because once the bookies got to know you, you were no use to him. You had - because they knew what you were doing then. You had to be offloading without them knowing. I knew the name of every dog that was running around the tracks.
No, no. I did not tell anybody what I was doing. Oh, it was legal. It was legal, there was nothing illegal, but it was just totally inappropriate for a solicitor to be seen at a dog track running for a bookie, especially one in private practice.
It sure did.
I went along to Jones Lang Wootton at Edgecliff, because I had seen advertised a shop for ten dollars a week in Glebe. I went along - I always seemed to have kids with me - I went along with Louise who was then fourteen, and two of her school mates, and I think a local - I know I had four, three or four kids with me. And I wasn't very dressed up, but there I was in Edgecliff and I said, "You have an office advertised", and well she wasn't impressed, let me say. And she said, "Well what were you thinking of having in this shop?" And I said, "Oh, I'm a solicitor, I was thinking of running a legal office". And she [laughs] - her attitude changed, let's say. And I got better service, too. And so I signed a lease, ten dollars a week for a year, and my father had an old friend who was a sign-writer, and he wrote the sign for me. And my - one of my best friends, very good with a sewing machine, she made me curtains to hang in the big window. And there I sat in this shoe box, with a typewriter, a desk and no clients...
That was all. Except the crossword.
Oh, it was magic how the clients came, just magic. Next door to me was an estate agent with lots of promises, you know, "I'll do this, I'll do that". So we got to really hard times, and I thought I'll give it another month. All I'm doing is witnessing 5A leases and not much more. A little bit of court work, but nothing much. And it was June, and I remember it because it was my birthday. And I came back from lunch with some friends, and there was a man sitting in my office and I'd never seen him before, and I was very interested and thinking here comes a client. And he said what his name was, he'd lived in Glebe all his life and that a distributor was going through Glebe area. And the Main Roads Department were buying all of the houses. And he said, "They want us to use their solicitor, but we said" - and he represented about eight residents - "we have our own solicitor in Glebe". Now I never realised that they'd even seen me there. So I then acted for all of these people, eight people, they all, the houses were old system which meant a fortune in fees, conveyancing fees. And of course they all purchased, because they moved somewhere else. And that was when I financially was established. [INTERRUPTION]
Magic. They were the salt of the earth Glebe-ites. It was before it got yuppie. And most of them worked on the railways or the wharves. And so many of these people lived in housing commission there and they really couldn't afford to properly pay a solicitor. So they were always very grateful if you went to court for them or did something legal, witnessed something for them. And they'd pay you with a cake or with scones or a pound of peas and beans. And they'd pop in and tell me where the bargains were. They were wonderful people.
Oh, I'd done some when I worked as a managing law clerk, and became very interested in it then. But that was pre free representation for children. So we didn't do that much. But I found that they were unique really, the way the law - see the criminal law applies. There's no special criminal law for children. So the adult law applied, and I saw a lot of injustice in that. A lot was expected of children to act like an adult, or they were guilty of a crime. And then when I was in Glebe, I was asked - because the kids got into so much trouble in Glebe and the police were pretty hard on them - I was, I went to Albion Street, that was our only court then. Yasmar but that was for younger kids. And I really then that here were kids who needed representation and never had it. The kids whose parents were well off, they could afford representation. So when the Law Society communicated with me and said that it was proposed that free legal aid for children was to be introduced, I was in it from the word go. That was on the 10th of May, 1973.
Absolutely, for children. So that every child, from the moment they're born, till they turn 18, is entitled to free legal representation.
It did. And often it meant they got more. Because no one was constrained by fees. The parents weren't. I mean they didn't hesitate to bring the child in. And because the parents weren't paying us, we were able to reach the children. Whereas if the parent was paying you they felt they had a right to sit in on the interviews. And your kids - the kids would never open up to you. So it was, it was good that you could say when you'd take a child into the office, you could ask the parents to wait outside.
Now when you were getting established in Glebe, you hadn't specialised at that stage in children's work. How did, how did that develop? How did it come that you eventually ended up a specialist lawyer for children?
Because it was what I wanted to do. There was no other aspect of the law that satisfied me like this. I, I couldn't give you a toss about conveyancing or probate. And so I employed a solicitor and they were her expertise. And so I concentrated on kids. And of course, from that I ventured into family law. But I soon got out of that too.
I hated it.
Oh, the practitioners turned me off for starters. Very closed shop. Very. And I remember I was at Parramatta Court and the practitioners there - I mean that was - they were there every day at Parramatta. And you'd walk into the solicitors' room, they'd have their, almost their breakfast some of them, with the Herald spread out right across the table as they sat there and read the Herald. No one would move over to give you a chair to sit on. Oh it was just awful, I hated the whole thing. There was no camaraderie at all. And so the first thing I did I decided I wouldn't go to Parramatta, I'd go into town, I did. And then I just had a couple of cases where I saw these incredible prejudices of these judges, incredible prejudice against fathers, that I thought I'm not practising in this jurisdiction any more. They can keep this, there's - oh, I felt so sorry for these people.
Yes, yes. And I will never forget the case with this man who, who'd really been wronged by his wife. And she left with a neighbour and left him with four little children. And he'd worked for seventeen or nineteen years in the one job, never had a day's illness, da da da da, right? He gave his job up to look after his children. He didn't farm them out. He didn't seek help. She came back a year later and said, "Right, I'm established now, I'll take the kids". And this judge gave this woman not only the kids, but this man had to be out of the house within 24 hours with all of his belongings. And he was sitting in the gutter when I came out, crying. I sat - I didn't cry, but I sat in the gutter with him, and shook my head and said, "I don't understand. I just do not understand". Now this judge was noted for his prejudice against fathers, well noted. And I asked - said to another solicitor that was there, "Was it me? Did I cause this?" He said, "No, could have told you before you went in". And at that stage you could change the list a little bit and get before another judge. I don't think you can do that any more and that's what I should have done.
The resilience of kids astounded me constantly. They're so brave. They're so loyal. More loyal to parents than parents are to them, let me tell you. They never dob their parents in. Parents can't dob them in fast enough, by saying, "You know, I never knew he was doing this, I've done everything that I could ever do for him in my life, look how he repays me by doing this". They've got a great sense of humour. And they bounce back. They really - and they don't hate you, they don't hate you when you've got to be firm with them and when, as a magistrate they'd have to go inside. They knew it. They knew they'd had every chance. And I, I remember going to Kariong which is very tight security and lots of buzzers and everything else, and all this electronic nonsense, and going in. And all these kids that were there that at some stage had come through my court. I hadn't sent them all there, but they'd call out "G'day, Barb". And it just made me feel good. I know made one other juvenile magistrate very angry that I allowed children to call me Barb, but that was amongst the nice things they called me. They called me a lot of things that weren't that nice.
I don't think you really want me to say. [laughs] It'd certainly put a question mark over my mother and father being married, and - yes.
In the Children's - I can remember the first one I did, but it wasn't in the Children's Court. I couldn't even tell you what my name was I was so frightened. I didn't know if I acted for the defendant or the plaintiff I was shaking so much. The first case that I did in the children's court was for a local family who had five boys and one sister. And they were notorious. They were always in trouble. They hated the local police and the local police hated them. And they were always appearing in Albion Street. And in fact I, you know, I should have paid them because they helped me to hone my skills on my feet in court, actually. Because I can't think of a charge that I didn't appear for them on. Yeah.
Well I was on the corner of Glebe Point Road and Parramatta Road. And when they got off the bus they had to past my office. And I remember the first time they came into my office, the two boys, the two middle boys. And they were larrikins, let me tell you. And I said, "Right, I will appear for you, and you will pay me, and I know you can't pay me know, but you will. And I drive that old blue Cortina, okay, that's parked round the corner. I want to be able to park that Cortina anywhere in this area - Newtown, Redfern - and I don't want it touched. Because I don't always remember to lock the doors. Do you understand?" They told all their mates. I could park my car anywhere and it was never touched.
Not always. Mainly. If I didn't, you know, the sister who was the one who paid, she'd, she'd say to me, "It's okay, Barb, it's okay". Great family. There's only I think only two of them still alive. One was killed in a drive-by shoot, the sister died of a drug overdose, and I was sitting as a magistrate and both their children at different times had appeared before me. So it goes on, generation after generation.
Dickensian. And I don't know why, it always seemed to rain. It mightn't rain anywhere else in Sydney, but it seemed to rain in Albion Street. It was a structure added to this awful building. And it was wooden. The stairs were wooden, I don't know how they didn't all collapse. And we would sit - solicitors and clients alike - crammed into this long verandah, closed in verandah, and the magistrate who sat there had sat in Albion Street for 17 years. He knew their grandparents. He knew every kid.
The whole system was wrong.
Oh, yes. The whole system was wrong. Absolutely. It was stamped. They came in like sausages, had a stamp put on their papers, and out they went. It was like that. No one was talking to them. No one - they had reports I know, but the kids didn't know what was in the reports. And the magistrates didn't know what that kid was like. The kids never spoke. They weren't invited to speak. And neither really were the solicitors. Only what the magistrate would allow them to say. Yeah, I didn't like it at all. Not at all.
Your name - the child's name was called by a police constable. The police constable would say to the kid off a clipboard "You represented?" and the kid would say yes or no. Wasn't too sure what that meant. In we'd go. And you'd sit on a chair, on a wooden chair, with your client beside you. And the magistrate would just say "You stole a motor vehicle. This is the second time you've done it. Told you what would happen next time. Do you want to say anything, Mrs Holborow?" and I'd start to say "Well, Your Worship, Gary was, has lived in Glebe..." "Oh, I know all that. He's been before me, is there anything new you want to tell me from when he was here last time?" It was just awful. I wanted change. Right from the word go I wanted to change. I didn't think they were getting a good deal.
That they should get the same fair deal as an adult. They were entitled to that. And they should be listened to. And not only listened to, but heard. Because if you listen to kids, you'll hear, you'll hear the truth. Parents don't always, the kid will. I've had a four year old tell me the truth.
Twelve and a half years.
I spoke on every radio, every TV station, I was in the newspapers. I wanted people to know.
While I was still a solicitor, yes. Wasn't for self glory. Things had to change. They weren't good enough. Yeah.
Apart from that first case of the, of the notorious family, were there any other cases that really stand out in your memory as exceptionally interesting cases or cases that illustrated some of your problems from that period?
There were many. There really with - dealing with every aspect of law. I remember a girl who was 17 who used to baby-sit this little fella. And the mother was hopeless. The mother I think was 18 or 19 herself, but she'd go off and she'd drink. And this 17 year old - and they, they came from Redfern, and it was a pretty poor part of Redfern. They weren't Aboriginal. And this girl, the baby-sitter, decided that she'd had enough of this mother, and she took the baby, and took her to a relation's place in Newcastle. Of course, they said she'd kidnapped her. But I understood why she did it. The authorities should have done it earlier. Anyway, got her off and that was the first time I was written up as a - with a win as a solicitor. That was pretty important. That made Mum and Dad pretty proud. That was one of the case - but there were many. And, and I learnt to get a bit cheeky, not to just stand up represent - but to have a go at the prosecutor. And I remember a girl who was found sleeping in Canterbury Racecourse in the stables there. And she was exposed - the charge was exposed to immoral danger. And I said, "Well Your Worship unless my friend can show Your Worship that these horses were immoral and had immoral intentions, surely his accusations must fail". And this fella - everybody laughed - he was furious with me this fellow, because he was a police prosecutor, he hadn't studied law. But it's different now. I'm going right back. And he was so angry with me that everybody laughed. And he did - I paid for that I can tell you. Every time he got a chance he made me pay for it.
Really well. I had nothing to prove. I never had any trouble being female. I was the only female in my year at law, at the university, I was the only female in that year. And I had no trouble. I, I didn't go along acting because I'm female of being helpless, "Oh please help me, please help me big Mr Policeman", or going in there punching out lights because I was a female and I'm as good as you. That didn't happen. I just went in and was myself.
[laughs] Funny you should ask that. Not really. And, and it wasn't helped by the fact that of course my parents were now two octogenarians who needed 24 hours a day nursing. And I had to find a nursing home for them where they could be together in the one room because they'd never been separated in their lives. And that was costing at that stage, $600 a week. And by the time I'd paid the staff and paid the bills and Mum and Dad, no, I didn't make any money.
[laughs] Oh, well, yeah, we managed.
No. No - they - what they did of course, they were very sensible about this - they just said, "Look, leave it to us. You don't bring enough money in. You only made eight thousand last year. Let us run the office. We'll make the money". I just found it very embarrassing to send out account rendereds and ask for money before I'd done a job. I hated it.
Yeah, and ask for money. And I just concentrated on the kids.
Yeah, I'd got to the stage where I really was ready to give it all away, and do something else with my life. I didn't know what. But I just felt I can't go on championing a cause that's going to go nowhere. I'd made representations to politicians and it was all so easy and simple, but because it's kids they're not interested. And I just, I just got sick of banging my head against a brick wall.
Well, there was, there was a wonderful house. It was a very large house. It'd been used for English migrants in Annandale. And it became vacant and it wasn't ever going to be used again. Now we had a lot of trouble with girls who came from the country to work in Sydney, or to go to school in Sydney, or to be educated in some way in Sydney. And they'd get themselves into trouble - alone in the big city. This was wonderful hostel accommodation. So you know, I went to the Minister of the day for children. "Oh, that's owned - it's a federal body who owns it". So I got in touch with the federal body. And you know, after ten months, nothing, absolutely nothing. And the fed - when I'd ring the federal people they'd say, "Well we've told your people that, the state people that they can lease it from us, no problem". Then the state people didn't have the money. And I thought "Oh". It just made no sense to me, at all, that if you were the Minister of these children, who were your responsibility, surely to God you'd give them somewhere to live. And this could have, this could have had a matron there. There was - it was set up for them to do their own cooking if they wanted. If they didn't - oh, anyway, it remained vacant for years.
Saying to politicians - if they'd stay long enough in a room with me to let me speak - that really we needed to divide the system up into crime and care, because there are two distinct sections for juveniles. One is the neglected children, and the other is crime. And I would be sitting - later when I became a magistrate - I would be sitting dealing with an attempted murder, and the next case would be a three months old baby with cigarette burns. Very difficult to turn your mind to that. And we weren't investigating enough as to why these kids were neglected. And as a solicitor I saw this.
I took eight of them home as foster children, I know. [laughs] Oh, gee. I, I, I used to bleed for those kids. The pain, the suffering. I used to remember my childhood and the love. These kids had never had a kind word spoken to them. You never could understand why they were born. And when they were, why weren't they given up for adoption. At least there'd be somebody who wanted them. They were so unloved. And you could, you could see it. They were just failures to thrive, in every sense. Intellectually, physically, emotionally. And they never would. That made me very sad. And I wanted a court even then, before I was a magistrate, where we could hone in on that.
Right, well, if the baby - if the child wasn't old enough to verbalise, but I was asked to represent the child, well I really was like a guardian ad litem. You'd go in and you would read all the reports, and I would observe the mother, the father, I may speak to them. Might get a feeling about it. Particularly if the mum and the dad were intellectually impaired, because frankly they weren't always treated - those parents weren't all treated fairly and ,I thought, properly. Because that didn't make them inadequate as a parent. They needed support, sure. And they might need a hand. But it was never there. And they were always being, I felt, victimised.
Yes, but there's one place a child should always be if it's possible, and that's with the natural parents. Not to be taken away. Those people didn't love that child any less because of their, their lack of intellectual brightness.
Well, those parents who themselves had been so ill-treated and they'd just carried on the tradition. Terrible, terrible injuries that they would inflict on their children. You know, I remember one fellow who, who beat this boy that you could count the criss-cross on his back, with a stick, but a very fine stick. I think the pain. And right down the backs of his legs. For some trivial thing. You know, some - oh.
Of all the cases you dealt with as a solicitor, before you became a magistrate, ones where you were actually down there representing the child, was there any that you particularly remember as particularly upsetting you?
I don't think that there's - now in time I don't think that there is one, but I know that there were so many, so many of heartbreaking ones where the mother walked out of court saying she didn't want the kid. And the kid was three, four, five. And the child is calling out "Mummy" and she's still walking.
I found it, and I still do, impossible, and impossible to bear, just to think that your mother didn't love you.
Well, because, Jacob came into my life in 1975. He came into my life. And so my home life totally changed, because I - he became the absolute pivot of my home life.
Jacob's mother was in Elsie's Women's Refuge, the first women's refuge in Australia. And I used to do free legal aid for these ladies who'd left, for whatever reason, and were there, to get them maintenance maybe, to have custody of their children. They used to come down to give me instructions. And they started to bring down this Aboriginal child. And the very first time that this woman brought him in, he put his arms out to me. And he put his arms - he left her, and we'd never seen each other - and he put his arms around my neck, and his feet around my rib-cage. And I took instructions holding him like this and writing. And I, I called him my little koala. And they used to bring him down to get him out of the house. And...
He was nine, ten months. And he was mute through neglect. He didn't utter a sound. And his, his - hadn't been out of a cot. And his, he was muscle-wasted, his legs. And so anyway they came down this day and they said "We'll give you - koala a goodbye, because his mum's going into rehab, and his two brothers and sister are going down to Bomaderry, but he's too young. They can't take him". And I said, "Well how long will that be?" And they said, "Six weeks". And I said, "Oh, I'll take him for six weeks, that's nothing". And that was 26 years ago. [laughs] So. Yeah.
Me, I took him to work.
Into my office, yes. And of course, I had four girls working for me. Yep.
Well I put a locum in for the first month while I taught him to speak. The first word he said was light. Every time I walked through a room I'd switch the light on and point. And I walked through one day and he pointed and he said "light". That was the first words he spoke.
Well, he was one, about one. And I went to the Spastic Centre and I got all these implements and toys to develop his muscles. And for that month, just did that. And - well he went to England playing cricket, so he came on alright.
Till I had somebody come and mind him here. Because Mum and Dad then, thank God, they were able to go into another nursing home where they just took their pension, and I had to pay $25 a week, that was all it took. So - and it was even better than the one he was in - they were in. So then that enabled me to get somebody to come here to mind him. [INTERRUPTION]
Well I was a bit worried as to what I was going to do, because it wasn't going to be six weeks and I could see it was going to be long term. When he was three, we were staying on a horse stud property and he was kicked in the head by the horse. And there - he wasn't expected to live. And there was a frightful dash in the ambulance from Nowra to Sydney. And when I got to Sydney - I wasn't in the ambulance, they couldn't wait for me, they went - when I got to Sydney he wasn't expected to live. But they were going to operate that night. And they took me in to intensive care, and he was just rolling his head from side to side, making this animal noise. And they said to me, "Put your finger in his hand and see if he'll clutch it". And he didn't. And they said, "Just sit there and see if there's any sign at all that you think he's aware that you're with him". And when he turned his head once, our eyes met. There was only a split second. But I said, "He knows me". And of course, they were patting me on the shoulder saying "Yes, yes, yes". I said, "No, this is too serious. I didn't imagine it. He knows me". And the next day the prognosis was hideous - the next day was intellect impairment, permanent paralysis down his right side - oh all sorts of terrible things. Well then both Jacob and I went through the worst custody case that you can imagine. And I was so torn. Had I done the wrong thing? Should I return him? But I knew what he was going back to. And the tragedy was that it wasn't his mum instigating this, it was white activists who kept saying to me with anonymous phone calls, "Black children belong in black homes". And that was so traumatic. And the judge at the first appearance in the Supreme Court ordered that Jacob, that his mother was entitled to a day's access. It nearly killed him. He didn't know her, had no recollection. And he would go with these strangers and he'd be screaming "Mummy, Mummy, Mummy". And then it would take me a week to get him right. He'd be soiling his pants, he'd be - he was - and he wasn't well. And then he'd see us coming to the park where I used to have to hand him over and he'd start screaming again. And the estate agent who was next door to me - I would then go into my office, because the park was opposite - and he came in to me and said "Look, I don't know if you've done the right thing by taking that kid or not. I don't know. But I do know this. That kid is in total pain and this has got to stop. You can't do this to this kid every week. Either give him back to his mother or don't give him to the mother at all". Unbeknownst to me, the next week, he with a photoscopic lens, took these fantastic photos of the mother coming. She didn't have her hands out to get Jacob. And then taking Jacob. And Jacob hanging on to my leg. And you could see the anguish in his face. Then he let go of my leg and he ran away from them. And his mother was standing there laughing. I'm running after him, this busy road. Got him, and I handed him over and he's clinging round my neck. He's got his arms out. And he developed those photos and gave them to me on the Monday morning, and Monday afternoon we were in the court with them. And then it was given an early hearing, and no more access till the hearing, which was to be in about two weeks. Now I felt guilt ridden about that, I didn't want to deprive his mother, but I knew that his mother and I could have worked this out, with all these white activists. Mama Shirl, who's worked so much came here to my home and said "Now I won't get in the witness box for you because you're white and I'm black. But I'm just telling you. You keep this kid. He's got no life if he goes back".
So when we turned up at court the next - in the fortnight, his mum didn't turn up. There was nobody there. Only us. And the judge made him a ward of the court. And full care and control to me till he was 16. When he got to 14, there was a lot of water under the bridge of course, but when he got to 14 he said, "Are you going to adopt me?" And I said, "No. Because you're black and I'm white. I'm in a position of authority. And all the good books say that I shouldn't adopt you. That it's not fair to you or your mum". And he said, "Well give me the name of a good solicitor, because I'm going to adopt you". So I gave him the name of a solicitor and about four months later we were sitting in the motor car and he said "Oh, there's a big envelope in the letterbox". So I remained in the car and he got out and got it and came back and sat in the car. And he said, "It's got my name on it" And I said, "My gosh, I think you must have won something". So he undid it. And it was the adoption papers. They were approved. And he burst into tears. And he said "Now I belong". So it was a good story.
She didn't. She had nothing to do with it. Nothing. Nothing.
No, it was just - no one could have foreseen. He just, he, he was standing there one moment - actually he wasn't with me, he was with a group of other people. But they were reliable people. And he was standing there one moment and as a little two and a half year old he just ran behind it, it was a colt. And the colt kicked him.
It would have been. I'm quite sure it would have been.
They weren't. It was a - the woman who instigated this was Kay Bellair, who is herself married to an Aborigine, and herself had adopted Aboriginal children. And I'd known Kay for a long time. And this was the stand she took on it, that black children belong in black homes. In fact her attitude was very cruel. She caused both Jacob and me a lot of sadness, a lot of stress that we could have done without.
Yes, and his mother never communicated with him. And - for over 20 years. And then I located her three years ago and I rang her.
Because he needed - I hadn't been able to find her. And these people knew that I'd wanted to know where she was, because I felt that he should meet his family. He met his sister, Sarah, about six years ago. And it was a wonderful meeting, a wonderful meeting. They were so - and they're so similar in looks physically. And then Sarah disappeared too and I couldn't find her. Then I found his mother. And I spoke to her. And there's no animosity between us at all. And he visits his mum now a couple of times a week, speaks to her almost daily.
Like any mother, she loves him. Yeah, she loves him.
[laughs] When she's sober I think she does.
He is - you've seen him at his very best. He's, he's particularly shy, particularly shy. And there's, there is an ingredient that I know has been missing in Jacob's life that I was never aware of, until I see him now after he's visited his family. His mother is, has a relationship with a man, and they're - all their relations and extended family come there, and they all sit round and talk. And sure, they drink, but they sit round and talk and laugh and talk. Jay's missed that here, because we live alone. And although we - Mary came to us, an Aboriginal girl, and lived with us for eight years, nine years, it was never like Jay's home would have been and Jay loves that company. Loves a joke. He slaps his leg and throws his head back and laughs. And I know that's something that he's been deprived of.
Tremendous challenges. He went, he went to a GPS school, and again, I was just so wrong. So wrong. I blame myself for this, too. He went to school every day. Now you know, kindergarten mind you, and they made him repeat. Repeat kindergarten. Have you ever heard of such a nonsense? And I went to them and I said, "Look, he's made all these friends, he's so popular. He loves it. What does it matter? What does it matter?" And they said, "Oh no, we'll give him the grounding". Of course it didn't and he got it into his head from then on, I'm dumb. And that was from the age of six. And he's dyslectic. But he's a beautiful person. That's all I care. I don't want a nuclear physicist to live with me.
It must have been a period of great anxiety though when he was actually in hospital and you were wondering what the residual effect of the brain damage was going to be. When did you discover that he wasn't going to be paralysed and that he wasn't going to...?
Well again, I, I took three months off work, and again, I just, I just worked at it. In fact, Jay as a result of it, now is ambidextrous. And the only way that you can pick that there's anything wrong with his right side - and it's probably have to be someone like me that can detect it - is that he gets a little bit clumsy. But other than that, well you don't play for Schoolboys Australia, do you?
If you're totally uncoordinated, no. When you were making the choice - in those days we're talking here the late seventies - when he was a littlie, and you were having to work out what kind of childcare to arrange - you know, when you couldn't keep taking him to work all the time - what were the choices that you had then, in the late seventies? What could you have done?
I then took him to a pre-school, where they trained pre-school teachers, at Macdonaldtown. And it was, it was a great pre-school, except it was - I had to pick him up at four-thirty, and you were an absolute total failure as a parent if you weren't there at four-thirty. And I'd be in court till four o'clock, and I'd be ringing through to one of the girls, "Grab a taxi, get over to get Jacob". And then it was like different people are picking him up. All of that hassle. Yeah, it was a hassle.
Well, school holidays were a nightmare, absolute nightmare arranging for him. I used to have to get somebody in. I actually remeber - he had the chicken pox and I had a court case on that I had to be there. I couldn't get, the woman who very kindly used to mind him for me, Auntie Rose down the street, she couldn't mind him. So I rang up Dial-an-Angel. And yes, they could send somebody out. So I said to him, "Now, Auntie Rose is going to mind you for a little while, then this angel is coming. I've dialled an angel, she's coming, she will look after you all day. I promise you I'll be home as soon as I can". So I got to court, I'd been on my feet about five minutes, I get a note put in front of me, 'Please ring home urgently.' So I said to the judge, "Your Honour, I've just received a message for me to ring home. May I?" "Certainly", the judge said, "Certainly, Mrs. Holborow". So, oh God what's happened? Raced out to the phone. It's Jacob, floods of tears. "What's the matter? What's the matter with you?" "You said it was an angel. She's a fat old lady. She doesn't even have wings". [laughs] So yeah. I just remembered that of Jacob's childhood and being cared for. I don't know how the fat old lady felt, what she thought about it.
The first one was a little girl who was a truant from school. And I was acting for her. And in those days, if you were a truant you were put into a detention centre, where they had these teachers and you were made learn. And she just wasn't detention material. And so I thought that if she came here to me that I could get her into the habit of going to school, it'd be fine. And that's what I did. And she used to come here Sunday nights, and she'd go to school Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and then Friday she went home with Mum, and then came back Sunday night. And we did that for a term.
Oh, she was too - she wasn't a knock around kid. She wasn't streetwise. She - the parents were living - it was a new stepfather, and they were living up the other side of Campbelltown. And there were these terrible arrangements from some estate agent. And the parents used to pay this incredible rental, which would come off the house if they bought it at the end of a year. And they had to travel from the other side of Campbelltown into Sydney to their work every day. And nothing like it is now. There was no freeway at all. Terrible roads, single road. And they used to have to leave quarter to six in the morning, didn't get home till half past seven at night. So that this kid would be left sitting in front of the TV in the morning, and was still there when they got home at night, with all her mates. They, they all used to come and watch TV. Well, where's the crime? And in my book you've got to commit a crime to earn going to detention centre. And she was a nice kid.
Oh, she didn't want to go to school. It's much better to sit with your mates and eat your lunch, and eat a lot of Sara Lee, sitting in front of the TV. So she came here.
Well I - the principal of the local high school, he'd gone to Fort Street, we used to go to dances together. And I went up and told him my problem with this kid. And he said, "Fine. I'll keep my eye out for her". And I organised her each morning, and then she got into the habit of organising herself. And got herself off to school. Came home. And everything went really well.
Well, we did a term and I thought that may be enough. But I think that - and I could be wrong here - but that Mum and Dad were enjoying the freedom from the stresses of this 13, 14 year old who was really giving them the hurry up. So we did another term. And then she, she went back and she did quite well.
No, because they couldn't keep up the payments. They lost that house. They moved back into the inner city. And she, she went to another high school in the inner city.
Yes, and that's all it took. Yes.
Oh I had... No, I didn't. I had no emotional commitment to her. I mean I knew when she came it was Monday to Friday, and she was a nice kid. But there , there was no attachment there between us.
Oh yes. Yeah, yeah.
They certainly did. And then I had another one like that, somewhere in that number eight, I had another one like that. Then there was a lad from a local say boys' home for want of a better word. And I really felt, I appeared for him a couple of times at one of the courts. And his mum had died when he was eight. And he was now 12. And I thought he needed his mum. He was - it was a big family. The others were older. He was the baby. And I met Dad and he was a pretty cold fish. And I thought if I could give this kid some TLC we might make it. And I did. But he was - oh it didn't do any good. He needed more than TLC. He...
Oh, he needed a father who cared. And I couldn't provide that. He needed a mum and a father who cared.
Oh, he got into trouble while he was here, twice. And...
Oh, it could be your own child getting into trouble. That made no difference. He wasn't mine. But we - I just knew that I wasn't getting anywhere. And I think we'd outgrown each other, our - the purpose for each other I think was gone. And...
Mmm. Another one was the son of a friend, of friends of mine. And they'd married, and he just hadn't settled into this - his father had come into this marriage and he hadn't settled well into it. And they went overseas. And I minded him in their house while they were overseas. Louise and I did actually. And when they came back, they could see the tremendous difference in him. And they - he asked if he could come and stay with me and they asked, and I said "Yes". He was a lovely boy.
Oh, he was here when Jacob came. He, he was here till he left school.
No. No, he's moved on.
No, it doesn't. It doesn't. I'm here for them if they, they wanted me, I'm here. But no. Doesn't worry me.
Not enough! Not enough. No, no. I didn't. There was a need there. And I could, I knew I could provide it. I had - you know, I, I was single, I was committed to nobody. I didn't have to say to anyone, "Do you mind?" It was my decision. I had no problem with that. [INTERRUPTION]
Mary was typical of a state ward, what can happen to them. She was fostered - she was an Aboriginal baby - fostered at three weeks by a white family. They had two children. Had Mary brought home to them, then they had another two children. When Mary was seven, they decided to separate and get a divorce. Now Mary knew nobody else. That, that was her family. She was entrenched in that family, she was part of it. She called those brothers and sisters. Right? So she was sent on a plane to Sydney to say - and was told she was coming to Sydney for a holiday. They telephoned the Department that they were returning her - after seven years. And she went to this establishment which was run by these friends of mine. Now Jacob was seven. And it was a beautiful establishment where they - foster children went, state wards went. It was in Woollahra, it was run magnificently.
So this friend rang me, and said, "I'd like to come over, have dinner one night and see how you and Jacob are going". Now my daughter Louise had told me about this child, because she'd been teaching the kids to swim. And the penny dropped immediately. And I said, "Are you bringing anyone?" He said, "Well I thought I might". And I said, "Mary". And he said, "Mmm". And I said, "Well you're very welcome to, but when you leave I want to see a little brown hand clutched in yours. I have one child, I cannot have another. I am too busy. I can't do it". He said, "Never entered my head". I said, "You lie". He came over for dinner. Well within moments Jacob and Mary are playing as if they'd known each other all their lives. He said, "Goodbye", she said, "Goodbye" and off they went. Ten days went by. Had to pop in and see me again. And I said, "I know what you're doing. Stop it. I am not taking another child. I'm not". "Never entered my head." Over they came Jacob and Mary as if they'd known each other forever. Jacob and I always went out to dinner together every Friday night, just the two of us. He chose one Friday night, I chose another. So we're sitting there eating our meal and he said, "What's going to happen to Mary?" And I said, "Well some lovely people will foster Mary. She's a beautiful little girl. She'll have no trouble at all finding a lovely home". He said, "I don't have a brother or a sister. And everyone else at soccer's got a sister or a brother". And I said, "Well that's cute, I'm very happy for them". He said, "I get lonely". I said, "Jacob" - and then of course that rang bells - my childhood - I said, "Jacob, you've never had to share me. Ever. You would have to share me with Mary. She's a very troubled little girl. You might get jealous". He said, "No I wouldn't, no I wouldn't".
Needless to say, within a month we picked up Mary and Mary came home. For the first two months, six weeks, two months, I nursed Mary to sleep every night as she sobbed, "Why me? Why me?" So I couldn't tell her that these people had really never made a commitment to her. She said, "Why didn't they leave the others?" So we then went on, we went through the stealing, everything. Then one Saturday afternoon - my mother had beautiful Royal Doulton - she started dropping them all over the place. And I got the two last saucers and I put them down and I said, "Break them. I don't care. I will never send you back. If you're doing this to see if I'll send you back, you have failed. I will never send you back. I love you. Do you think I could nurse you the way I did every night when I was so tired and I wanted to go to sleep? Do you think I didn't love you?" And we kept those two plates, because she never broke them. And I never sent her back. And she and Jacob were great for each other. They had their fights of course. She was much quicker than Jacob, quick, quicker witted than Jacob. She was very funny and she would quick as a flash she'd come back with an answer. She always had to have the last say. Which used to drive him to distraction. Because he'd think of his answer an hour later. Then - I knew Mary was very different to Jacob. And I knew Mary, I knew Mary's mother. She had been in Glebe. And she'd been in a spot of bother in Glebe. And anyway, Mary - I came home from work one day and Mary was 15 and a half, and she'd gone. And I walked like any other mother, the streets of Sydney. You know afterwards - I mean I was sitting on the bench - and afterwards any mother that came and said, "You've got no idea what it's like to go looking for your child" and I used to think, "My God, don't I?" And we couldn't find her, anywhere. And then quite by chance a friend saw her on a railway station. And spoke to her. And it all sort of happened because - and I, I wasn't wrong but I was wrong - she wanted to stay in town at the pictures. And it meant she was coming home on the train at midnight. And I said, "No, no don't do it because I'll arrange to pick you up next time". She'd met by chance her sister. And anyway she stayed there in town. But unbeknownst to me, she'd snuck in home up the tree and got in upstairs without me knowing and I sat up till six o'clock in the morning sick with worry. And when she came down the next day I was just so angry with her, so terribly angry. And I, I didn't speak to her. I just couldn't. And I don't think I spoke to her for about 36 hours and she just packed up and left.
Now I didn't see Mary again until the showing of 'This Is Your Life', and they found her and I couldn't. And...
Oh yes. Mmm. I love Mary.
Oh commitment, total commitment. With the first little girl I was committed to her from Sunday night 'til Friday night. That was it. Mary was 24 hours a day for 9 years.
Probably, probably. Probably. I was so angry.
Well, we communicated again. And she came over and she stayed. But she's gone again. And I invited her, of course, to my 70th. She said she was coming but she didn't.
Do you think it's possible that if somebody early in your life that you depend on doesn't commit to you that that creates a problem for commitment forever for - will that be a problem do you think for Mary always?
Always. Mary will never - I believe, and that's why I said she's typical of a state ward - she wanted her family, and if she couldn't have them, or her mother, if she couldn't have her, she wanted someone to love her enough to make a commitment and she thought that family had. But they betrayed her. And that's unforgivable. I don't know how you could have a child from the age of three weeks to aged seven and send her on a plane and say, "You're on a holiday". She was too damaged when she came to me. Yep.
Same as me, he didn't. And then he, he was full of guilt. He felt it might have been him. Then he was angry with her, because she'd hurt him, hurt herself, hurt me. Mmm. He's still angry with her. And we both know that drugs are now playing a part in her life.
Yes. She left here, but it - she lasted less than 24 hours with her mother. She doesn't speak to her now. She doesn't speak to her sisters.
She'll have nothing to do with them. I've found them. They located me through the magazine I write for. And I gave it all to Mary. And we'd been asking them to give her the photographs from when she was little to aged seven, because she felt that that was a part of her life that was now missing. And when she came here after 'This Is Your Life', I communicated with them and they did send that to her. So she's, she's got that now.
They said it was a misunderstanding. That the Department misunderstood.
Of course. Of course. But it's yet just another child. Another state ward whose life's been ruined forever. Mary will never have a long lasting relationship.
Oh yes. Yes.
Commitment. They're treated as their own. I've seen foster parents with children who are so disabled, so disabled, and they've taken them on as their own when the natural parents of those children couldn't do it. And they've made a lifelong commitment to those children.
Very difficult. That's why they're extra special people these foster parents. Because I've seen them in my court when they've had a child for three, four years, with maybe just let's say an alcoholic or a drug mum. And they've fostered long term. And they've put a lot into that child. Love, care, attention. And mum comes along and says "Well, here I am, I'm cured. Now I'll have my baby back". And most times they get the baby back. And I disagree with this.
I think the system should be you've got 12 months to show that you are getting your act together. If you're doing nothing in that 12 months, well let that child get on with its life by being with someone who's made a commitment to them forever.
Yes. I'd have an open adoption. Open adoption, yes.
Where the mother can, can have access.
By receiving a phone call from Mary Gaudron, judge of the High Court. And Mary wasn't the judge of the High Court then. And she rang me and she said, "Did you see the advertisement in the paper on Saturday?" And I said, "No, what is it?" And she said, "They're looking for a children's magistrate". And this was at the stage where I thought, I'm sick of this. I'm going to do something else. Buy a coffee shop, anything. So I applied and I got the position.
No, they all went on strike when I did it. [laughs] Yeah.
You just came up through the ranks. You started as a dep clerk, taking depositions. You worked behind the counter. And then you became a magis... - can't think of the term. Sorry... chamber magistrate. Then you were a chamber - sorry about that - then you become a chamber magistrate. And then you have to wait for somebody to die or retire. Then you became a magistrate. And in those days you didn't have to study law.
Well they knew it, let me tell you. There - from working in the courts behind the counter, in the court as a deposition clerk, then as a chamber magistrate, yes, they knew the law alright.
Yes it was, yes. But that's changed now. So they advertised this position within the public service, because magistrates were public servants then. And there was nobody with the sufficient qualifications. Then they advertised outside and there was, there was truly nobody as experienced as I was.
Yes. I was appointed to the Children's Court Bench. And we got less salary than other magistrates.
No. No, I was the first. I was the third woman to be appointed to the bench, and the first in the Children's Court.
I was a threat. I'd been appointed from outside. They were all saying, "We've got no tenure. What do you mean you're just going to appoint people from outside and we've done this terrible apprenticeship and waited for people to fall off their perch or retire or whatever? And now you're going to bring people in from outside".
Absolutely nothing. I kept sitting. I sat in chambers. And then they saw I was no threat. I only - it was all I wanted to do. I didn't want to sit in the Adult Court. I just wanted to sit in the Children's Court.
No. No, they thought it appropriate I sit in the Children's Court I think.
Oh, really well, yeah. Because they all knew me. Because as a solicitor we were all on first name basis. Yeah, very well. But I'll tell you, the day I was appointed to the bench, the magistrate I spoke about who'd sat for 17 years in the Children's Court, he retired that day, the day I was appointed to the bench. And there I was, first time I'd ever been to a magistrates' dinner, a bit nervous, because these were people who put the fear of God in me because I appeared in front of them and I was still a bit frightened of some of them. I still am. And he stood up to say thank you for his present and said, "It is my belief that magistrates should be appointed from within the court system". Oh, I felt really good, it made my night, I tell you. I said, "Thank you".
Only that if it had been a magistrate in the Local Court I wouldn't have applied. This - to be magistrate in a Children's Court, I could bring about change.
Oh, gosh. I would get my Care Court separate from the Criminal Court, I would talk to kids, I would talk to parents. I would have - I would never, ever send a kid to a detention centre unless I had a full report, school report, family report.
None. It was like taking on my foster kids. None. None whatsoever. I knew I could do it. I knew I'd make a difference.
Because I was dedicated. Absolutely and totally. I live a very ordinary life where really my work with kids has been top priority. I've never remarried. My social life it's - I've got very close friends, but that's it. And so I was able to dedicate myself to my work. And I did.
I thought that my experience as an only child who'd been loved almost to death, a married woman who'd gone through the loss of their child, a mother, a working mother, a woman who was divorced. You name it. I'd had everything that life could throw at you. A diabetic. Octogenarian parents that were sending me loopy trying to care for them and visit them. Yeah, I'd had all of that.
Of course. Of course. Constitutional law's got nothing to do with sitting in a kid's court. But by God, knowing who won the grand final does. That's far more important. Yeah.
Well let me tell you, the day I sat, the first day I sat on the bench, I looked at a million forms in front of me and thought, I know why they're going on strike. I know why you should go through the public service. I don't even know which form to fill in. There were forms everywhere. So we still got, soon got that under control. And at first I was overwhelmed by the cases and the lack, the lack of alternatives that I had for kids. That they needed - and it wasn't there. I couldn't put things into place. And the best experience was when they sent me down to Wollongong. And I sat down there.
Wollongong is like Newcastle. There is a great community spirit. And down there was a district officer by the name of Morrie O'Sullivan, who is now the head of the Public Service Association. And he was the best district officer I'd ever come across. And he wrote these magnificent reports. And he and I were exactly on the same wavelength. He thought I was the best magistrate since sliced bread. And I thought he was the best district officer. And that experience of his knowledge from that side, and mine from the other side of the bench, and now sitting on the bench, was just so helpful to me.
Oh, no. That's why I resigned in the end.
So could you tell us this - we had yesterday the picture of this optimistic woman, accepting this appointment, and feeling that there were certain things that she didn't like about the system that, if she were a magistrate, she could change.
Well when I was given my own court then I was able to set down what it was I wanted. Now I went into a court - Minda - it had no interior waiting room for the families. When it rained they had to stand in this courtyard and get wet. There was nowhere to go. And when I mentioned to the people who ran Minda I couldn't understand how this could be. And they said, well the court's for the young people, it's not for their parents. So that was like a red rag to a bull. And so I communicated immediately with the Law Society and said that, "I'd worked tirelessly for children and their families. So could they come to the party financially and could we furnish an indoor room?" Well the moment I did that of course the Attorney-General and every one of his departments said, "But we're prepared to do it". And I said, "Well that's great, do it". So we were then - had this internal waiting room where people could come in out of the rain. We were given a roof over the courtyard. All of those things that don't seem very important, except that the people who came before me at that court were people from a low socio-economic area. Most of them had been victims all of their lives. And here they were being victimised again even waiting to come into court. And not being treated with dignity. And I insisted that they be treated with dignity. I didn't care that they were an unmarried mum with a complaint of neglect on their baby. There was a reason for that. Many reasons. And we will treat them with dignity until we find out that they should be treated otherwise. If we do. So the atmosphere of the court changed. And very soon it was a happier atmosphere. Because you didn't have wet children and parents coming in. And truly, they stood in water and the solicitors got the feeling, and they donated indoor plants. And it really became a great spot. Then I got in touch with a local church, and they sent women along who sold cups of tea and coffee for ten cents, and soft drinks for the kids. So we had a happier atmosphere.
At the same time I conducted the court differently.
I spoke to the kids and called them by their first names. I spoke to the parents. And a lot of times - and there were solicitors who hated this - a lot of times I addressed them without speaking to the solicitor, because I just felt that solicitor didn't have a grasp on what this case was about.
No, no. And I know that a couple of solicitors went off the roster because of it. But I didn't care. It was my court and I was going to run it as I thought it should be run.
Hardly ever. Hardly ever. We then had a Chief Children's Court Magistrate called Rod Blackmore. And he and I worked hand in hand. We changed it that police did not wear uniform in our courts. Because kids felt intimidated by police with their gun and everything else. People didn't stand in our court, except when we came onto the bench. But after that solicitors didn't have to stand, they could sit and talk.
No. I found I got far more respect, also from the parents. I had thank yous from the parents as they went out of court. I got letters saying thank God we've got a magistrate who understands our problem.
No. [laughs] I certainly wasn't, no.
There was a certain age group of girls who I knew exactly what to expect from. They were 14, 15 and they would slouch down in the seat, fold their arms across their stomach and look down at their feet. And if I got a, a nice word or even a glance I was scoring well, because it was the "Harumph" and you know, "What do you know you old tart?" Yeah.
I won them over.
Well, some mothers would say to me, "You're getting more out of her than I've got". But there were other kids I couldn't win over of course. And I'd have to try another tactic until I did. And I didn't care if I brought them back to court five times, I would win. Some I never did. But mostly I did.
So you remember these sulky 13 and 14 year old girls. The stereotype is of course for the boys of that sort of age to sometimes be aggressive. Did you ever encounter any aggression in the boys in court?
Yep. Oh yeah. Yes.
Well, some of them became physical and one boy threw this typewriter at me. This little runt of a kid. I had a microphone thrown at me. I've had the Bible thrown at me. None of them connected. I, I was pretty nifty at that time on my feet, I could dodge but I never allowed them, not even a hiccup in mid sentence as this came flying through, I just went on and said, "I hope tomorrow's a better day for you". Yep.
[Laughs] It was unbelievable. I couldn't have lifted it. It was an old Royal typewriter. Had no ribbon in it, hadn't been used for 50 years and they never threw anything out in the public service of course, so they had it on - in the witness box but at the side, and this kid, he was a little 11 year old. Skinny, scrawny, you wouldn't have thought he could have lifted much more than a toothpick and he picked it up as if it was nothing and hurled it quite a distance at me, and it came through the air, in slow motion, yes.
Let me take you through some of the physical changes that happened in other courts as well that you were involved with, the structural sense that you were involved in. You altered Minda so that it was really unrecognisable to a lot of people. How long were you at Minda and what happened that made you move on from there?
Well, I went to Minda from '82 to '84. Then Yasmar was in a terrible mess. Now Yasmar was a court that dealt with crime and neglect, but mainly neglect, up to the age of 15 and the older ones came to us at Minda. And I moved over then to Yasmar... [INTERRUPTION]
Well, when I went to Yasmar - which was a glorious old home, previously owned and built, I think, by the brothers Grace of Grace Brothers fame - we, there were no amenities there. If you needed a cup of tea, if you needed, and, something for the kids - and remembering people were there from nine in the morning, sometimes 'til five at night, with little children. It was pretty austere. So, communicated again with the local church and got the ladies auxiliary to come in but there were no drinks or anything of that kind. So I was president of the local junior soccer club and we used to buy for our canteen in bulk, so I took cartons of soft drink to sell and the profit went back to the soccer club. So who was going to sell these drinks? So I went over to the shelter and asked for their most trusted kid. Now the most trusted kid was about to be released next month, had a pretty horrendous record and they said, "Wll, no he's our most trusted. You've got to be joking, he'll rip you off, he'll do this, he'll do that". And his name was Jim. I called him James. I gave him some respect. Set James up with drinks and chocolates and stuff, made up bags of lollies, and James never ever diddled me out of a cent. If he had a can of drink for himself, he'd come in and say, "Is it okay if I have a can?" He'd come in and he'd say, "Don't buy any more of that ginger beer, it's a bad seller". He was just wonderful and only last year I received a letter from James inviting me to his home to meet his wife and his four kids. It was just lovely. And he said to me then that was that the break he needed. That somebody trusted him because up till then nobody had. So. And then the changes came that because it was mainly care more than crime, I was able to make one day that I did nothing else but care matters, then the next day defended care, the next day criminal matters, the next day defended criminal matters, and the last day a hotch potch, and then that was how I got it back into some semblance of order. And that's when I knew I needed to get a Care Court where I dealt with nothing but neglected babies, because we needed to research.
You'd noticed that there was a real difference in the way these things should be handled even back when you were a solicitor and, and campaigned a bit for it. Now you were in charge of a court that had both, what did you do to get your Care Court?
Well, firstly I spoke to my other fellow magistrates. The juvenile magistrates met once every three months and we had two days together. One day communicating with each other and one day visiting institutions and what supports we had. And so I suggested this to them and they said, "No way, there will be no way that any magistrate could sit full time doing nothing but care. It's too draining". And I said, "I can" and they said, "Well, you do it. We don't, we don't want to do it, you do it". And I said, "Well, will you give me one day a week?" and they said, "Yep". And I said, "Well, I'll do a list in a Criminal Court one day and somebody gives me a day off". [INTERRUPTION]
I think it's the difference between being male and female. I, I think that I had an empathy with a lot of the mothers. I could see where they were coming from because but for the grace of God goes every one of us. I mean rarely can a magistrate understand why a woman snaps and shakes that baby to shut it up. She loves that baby, she doesn't mean to hurt it but in a fraction of a second she can lose it with a baby that's cried all day, all night and she can't stop it from crying, and yet there is nothing wrong. She's fed it, she's - it's warm, it's clean and in the end she just grabs it. [INTERRUPTION]
Because I knew that those littlies that I saw in that care jurisdiction, I saw when they were criminal age in the criminal jurisdiction, so you didn't have to be Einstein to know that if we could correct what was happening in those first few years, even months, this child, this family, would have a chance in future. But if we just let the neglect go on and continue then again history would repeat itself and this child would be in the criminal jurisdiction in a few years time.
Absolutely. Absolutely because there's no book anywhere, there are no laws anywhere defining what you should do with a child who is neglected. In crime I can look up, you get six months, you get nine months, you get nothing, you get probation. But that's not there in the, in the Care Court and that's where it needed someone to investigate, to research, that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to set up a court where we could research and become some authority on post-natal depression, schizophrenic mums. Could heroin addicted mums ever be good mums? Could a prostitute be a good mum? I wanted to do all of this because these were matters that came before me every day.
Oh yes. I got my Care Court.
It took years, it took years. I went, I, I sat through four different ministers in that jurisdiction, Minister for Family etcetera and whenever they saw me coming they used to disappear, they just went. Now Minda was closed in '91 and through an error all the children's courts except one were brought to Burwood Local Court because they had estimated wrongly how many courts they could fill and at great expense they had two empty courts. So some bright spark who knew nothing said let's move Minda and Yasmar into those two courts. Now the outcome was, we were taken there screaming and yelling, the outcome was that the perpetrators who'd sexually assaulted a 13 and eight year old, whatever, were in the same area waiting for the case to be called as the victim. It was impossible, absolutely impossible. We had uncontrollable kids climbing up stairs and threatening to jump off balconies. It was awful.
Yes, but it was built for adults, not children. It wasn't child-proof, at all. And so I had made an order for this little guy, he wasn't quite three, and when I made those orders, I always used to give them something. I used to sit them on my knee, talk to them, while I wrote out the order. I'd written that out and this little kid and I were getting on fairly well, so that was that. I was going down to have my morning tea and I got into the lift to go down to morning tea. This little fellow saw me and ran towards me just as the doors were closing, and I, he would have been, he wasn't heavy enough to keep the doors open and so there would have been a terrible accident. I ran forward and I got him before he got to the door and I then didn't go down to morning tea. I got on to every radio station, TV station, newspaper and told them. We told all these people not to bring us here and today we nearly had a death on our hands, and of course that was just fodder. So that night at home here I had a phone call from the then Minister and said, "Barb what can I do to shut you up?" And I said, "Well it's funny you should ask me that, give me a Care Court". He said, "What's a Care Court?" And I told him. So he gave us two courts. He gave us a Care Court at the Local Court at Campsie that had been closed down so they could come to Burwood and they gave us Lidcombe old court for the crime and I said, "And besides this we want to have input into the design", which they gave us. First time in history they allowed a magistrate, they allowed the people who worked in the office and solicitors to have a say and it's a glorious court. The only court of its kind - it's certainly in Australia and we don't know anywhere else in the world.
It concentrated on neglected kids. We had Laura Ashley prints half-way up the wall. It was painted in Federation pinks and blues. We had a crèche for the mothers, we had a kindergarten for the kids where the kids were entertained all day with toys and we got them, we had some play things outside for them, swings and stuff. And we had a very special room which nobody could understand I wanted. It was a room with bars and big thick locks and that was for the prisoners who were brought from jail to be part of the statement that I made about their child's future because I thought it was wrong that they were never there. And when I did get them to come they would have to sit in a prison van and they wouldn't allow the kids into the prison van because they were frightened it could be a hostage situation. And so I said, "Right, give us this special room from which they can't escape and you can feel satisfied". And that's what we did, and the prisoners were able to have access to their children all day if they wanted to. Worked very well. I have to say I went out, and this is against myself, I went out and bought a clock for the courtroom which was two Friesian cows nodding as the minutes went by, nodding, nodding. It lasted 48 hours before it was knocked off, so I didn't buy another one [laughs], yeah. And I remember one of my very first cases and this mother from whom I had taken five separate kids, she kept having a child and I had to take the child away because she was totally incapable of caring for a new baby. She never blamed me, she always blamed the district officer and she came into this beautiful court. We had little chairs for little people. We didn't have, you know, they didn't sit right up and I wasn't sitting up like Her Majesty, I was almost at eye level with them and nobody who spoke to the children was allowed to stand up. All my court staff, knelt down so that they were at eye level and the kids didn't feel as if they'd been disempowered. And so this woman came in to these beautiful chairs that we had, sat down, looked around, she looked at me and she said, "Geez, Barb you've done well for yourself this time", [laughs] and I laughed, and then I took her baby away, but that was okay. She hated the district officer but not me.
She was a drug addict. It wasn't that she didn't love them, she loved them, but we tried. Oh, golly we tried, and when I suggested to her maybe if she went to a woman doctor and explained her predicament that the woman doctor would be able to assist her with birth control if she wasn't prepared to go the full bit and - so she said, "Oh no, Barb, I love feeling pregnant. I love those babies". The tragedy was all these babies were given away to different people and these babies, well, I don't know if they ever knew who their half-sister or half-brother was.
Oh yes. Oh, you can look back and see it. In 1982 it was big to blow up letter boxes, big. You wouldn't get a kid who would bother to blow up a letter box today. They'd blow somebody else up but they wouldn't blow a - the crime, the violence increased, when I left violence had increased. I, we had any violence in '82.
I can't say. Everything, everything. Videos, TV, working mums, dads out of work. Oh, so much. It's still going on. The violence is still going on. And a lot of ethnic groups felt threatened and so they ganged together and then another ethnic group would gang together. We had some terrible gang warfares, really, really fatal gang wars which I'd never seen before, with one ethnic group against another. But of course you weren't allowed to say that because you had to be politically correct, and I was called in, there was an enquiry by a parliamentarian and we were all asked to go in and make a statement. Well, when I went in the room was full of TV cameras and everything else, because being outspoken they expected me to say, say it as it was, but I couldn't because if I had I would have been asked not to sit on certain ethnic races because I was prejudiced. But if I had told it how it was, maybe some good would have come out of it. But I just, I, I had to be politically - God I hate that expression - politically correct.
Well, I, I can't single out one race, but I could have singled out three that were giving me gip in my court and they were three distinct races - there was no use arguing that it wasn't, they were - and they all had different problems that just weren't being met.
Well, it wasn't. It was a failure on their community, that was the terrible part. Their community was so busy being established themselves that they didn't have time for the kids who were off the tracks, like, well, my kid's alright, let them get their act together. But as with the Vietnamese kids, so many of them came out here without parents, came out here with total strangers, a mum or a dad had said to a stranger who was able to come, "Please take my child with you to give them, the child a chance", and when the child got here, they were on their own.
I saw the gangs and the drugs and by golly it was, it was frightening, it was frightening.
Ten year old on his way to school, selling - I don't know what you do - heroin - I don't know what you do with a, a pusher aged ten, I've no idea. Take him home I suppose. I don't know. I couldn't send one to a detention centre and I was asking for, and not getting, assistance from the community.
I communicated. I'm patron of Nguan Song, which is the South East Asian Youth Homeless, and so through them and their contacts I was able to ask for help, but it was getting too big. These, these whoever these people were that were supplying to these babes in arms they would then use another ten year old kid. I mean, there was no stopping it.
Absolutely and the kid had never been in trouble and who would expect, in our society, to see a ten year old pushing. And yet when I saw these kids, it, they were just like any other ten year old. They were just - it was an abuse, a terrible abuse.
No, wasn't my role anyway, it was a police matter. It was big business, very big business.
I adjourned it. I adjourned it to another magistrate. I, I truly had no answer. This wasn't where I came from. I, I couldn't work with a ten year old pusher, what do I do? Say "Darling, this isn't what you do at ten, you do not push drugs on your way to school"? Couldn't do it. And there is such a high work ethic with the Vietnamese. It was very difficult for me to get mum and dad to court because they, they're such hard, diligent workers and it was a cultural thing that I, I had to learn. I was on a big learning curve. I'd learnt with other kids from other ethnic groups but this was a new one to me, altogether. But I had the same difficulty with Moslem kids because I was female and their father brought them to court. The father didn't want to see their son dealt with by a woman. That was another problem I had but I didn't pass that one. I dealt with that problem head on.
Adjourned the matter so that the mother could come to court. I wanted her to hear what I was saying as well as the father. Only to be told that she doesn't come to court. But she did, because I said what the consequences were if she didn't. And I don't know that that did any good, I really don't. But sometimes I dealt with it alright, sometimes I didn't.
You said that there were three groups that you noticed had particular and different difficulties. You've described the Vietnamese, you've talked about the Muslim communities and the problems there for you. What other problems were associated with the Muslim group? What sort of things were the kids coming in for?
A gang of them were on the trains taking gold necklaces, gold watches, gold chains. We just couldn't get the ringleader. Everyone knew who the ringleader was but he was never arrested.
Because there is a very closed community when it comes to the police. There's no co-operation and no respect.
Oh, again - and I've seen it working now and it's working very, very well - the Arab Muslim community now look after their own. They're, they're teaching their young, they're there showing them better ways. Yep, and helping the parents. It's very difficult for parents and I found this in relation to the punishment that they would deal out to their children when I was in the Care Court, very violent punishment, and yet when I would be saying that we would not tolerate that type of punishment, I would be told by the mother, sometimes through an interpreter, that I didn't know what I was talking about, that that type of punishment had been going on for thousands of years and that it was traditional.
Not in this country it's not. We'll accept your religion, your culture, your food, your music, your dress. We'll accept all of that, but we will never accept what we perceive to be cruelty to your children. So find another method and it had better not be physical. I mean I'm talking about a child, a nine year old little girl who'd been beaten so badly because she left her cardigan in the library at school, that blood was drawn. [INTERRUPTION]
So I spoke to the mother and father and, about how we accepted their culture, their clothing, their music, their food, their religion but we would not accept the cruelty to their children, what we perceived as cruelty to their children. And their little nine year old daughter came into my chambers and said, "Please, I promise I won't leave my cardigan in the library any more, can I go home?" And so often children felt they were to blame for why their parents were in court and the same thing happens with children whose parents divorce. So many times kids feel it is their fault that their parents have divorced. Very sad. And the parents blame them too. The parents blamed this little girl that if she hadn't complained about the pain in her back when she was at school that it wouldn't have happened.
I remember another little girl who was aged 15 who had walked home from school with a Christian boy and her father shaved her beautiful black hair half off her head because her brother ratted on her and told her father what she'd done.
With great difficulty, great difficulty. I couldn't think of anything crueller. This girl had that magnificent black thick hair that we Anglo-Saxons pine for and he had shaved it half off her head and encouraged her brother to take part in this. Oh, the disgust I felt, but again I was lucky that I was supported by his community in them speaking with him about this type of behaviour that won't be tolerated here.
Yeah, Tongan. Tongan community, lovely community, so many of them churchgoers with very, very good values. Somewhere along the line at this time - and I'm only talking about, oh golly I'm talking about ten years ago, 11 years ago - these boys formed gangs. The United Tongan Boys they were called, and they had some terrible wars with the Lebanese boys. Very ugly, yeah, and totally out of character for the Tongan parents. They found it very difficult to deal with because so many of their fathers were pastors and they were certainly all churchgoers. It was very, very difficult and they were finding it difficult to control these young boys in our environment. There was so much freedom. And it was - I realised how much freedom our kids have when I saw, when I saw other groups of people.
I think there was a happy medium somewhere. I could understand that some parents, Greek, Italian parents would say, we don't want that much freedom for our children at such an early age. We want to know every moment where they are, we want to protect them and I could understand that.
I think about 16, and of course we give it much earlier than that. I'm surprised even now when I, I go maybe to the pictures somewhere with a friend and I, I see groups of kids, 12, 13, out at night. I'm fearful for their safety.
They - I found a couple. Pretty ineffective, pretty ineffective. They were imitating - I don't think they got to first base. These others were very formidable and I don't think they were as tough as them at all.
That's difficult to say but it really was territorial. They used to spray-paint their area with their initials and don't come inside that perimeter else there'll be trouble. And I saw one day myself, after I'd left the bench, I was in a line of traffic, near a railway station and I saw a boy as - I recognised as a South Sea Islander, I thought a Tongan but I could be wrong - being chased by a group of boys. Again I could have been wrong but I would have said Lebanese boys and they had ripped palings off a fence and they were beating this boy, outside the railway station. No one was taking any notice, just walking on. I drove my car up onto the footpath and at them and another woman ran across the road screaming, "You'll kill him, you'll kill him". I could only get so close to them, I'm tooting my horn and screaming, "Get out of there". Took no notice of me so I reversed and went straight to the police station, and they went around. And I rang later that evening to see and to give my name and address if they needed a witness, and they said, "No, the boy said he wouldn't be pressing charges". So.
Now, you saw the development of some of those ethnically based problems for children during the time that you were a magistrate and you saw also an increase in violence. What were some of the other trends that you were in a position to observe?
Drugs. I mean I would have had - at Minda - I would have had, never had a pusher in, in early '80s, mid '80s up to about '88, '89. I would have had - they would be smoking pot, that'd be the extent or they might be found with some on them. But, oh golly, at the end it was, it was pathetic, it was sad. I had heroin addicts come in before me who I feared that they wouldn't live through the weekend and I had nowhere to send them. Nowhere to detox.
No, no, we've still got very few places for kids to detox.
I kept them in the detention centre for the weekend because their parents would say to me, "Please", they'd be pleading for help, "Please, he'll be dead, he's killing himself", and indeed he was.
No, the only - well, there was a difference, it was parents who would never have been in the court because their kid wasn't committing any criminal acts. They were just shooting up. There were people there that without drugs would never have been there, and their kids were committing crime to get money to shoot up, and I lost so many kids, I went to so many funerals. And what made me so very, very sad was that every one of those kids who OD'd started on marijuana, and it's an insidious drug, marijuana. Kids won't believe you but it is.
Oh, you can't spend your life in Disneyland because life goes on. You've got to deal with your problems, and you've got to deal with the pressure of school work, you've got to deal with the pressure just of living and escaping for moments isn't going to change anything. And if you're not physically dependent upon it, you're psychologically dependent upon it, and then it does become a physical thing. And now of course the warnings that we received - and I can remember a magistrate who spent tens of thousands of dollars bringing people out from all over the world who had researched the effects of marijuana. He brought out pharmacologists, and that was the interesting thing to do, warning us and no one would listen to him. No, doesn't do any harm. He's now proven to be very right and if people had listened to him many lives would have been saved because it got to the stage with a lot of these kids that the marijuana wasn't enough, they then went on to heroin etcetera or anything because they weren't coping with their lives.
Well that really got under way. The other point that I should have to made to you was that the bikies heard about what I was doing and they gave to the Salvation Army - and I always had a Salvation Army person in my court for assistance - they gave them hundreds and hundreds of big stuffed toys so that I was able to give every little person that came into my court a positive to go home with, because often these little people didn't go home with mum or dad but they went home with a big stuffed toy. I believe [laughs] that that wasn't repeated when I left the bench. None of my male fellow magistrates felt able to deal with big stuffed toys under the, under the bench. But with the research, yes, we were really making progress with post-natal depression because it was beyond my comprehension as to why ever a district officer would bring before me a woman suffering from post-natal depression and say she is neglecting her children. It was like bringing before me a diabetic who is having a hypo and saying she's a bad mother, she's a diabetic. Made no sense, it was a physical condition, and that's what we had to look at.
All over the world. Yeah, all over the world.
Staff would collect it, very excited about what they, they had found and then there were people within the department, researchers within the department, that were assisting us.
Well yes, starting to.
Sometimes one of the things that has been criticised about the legal and the court system is that it tends to be very tradition based and not very responsive or interested in research coming from other areas...
That all applies to the Children's Court. All of it.
Yeah, it does... And isn't that the tragedy, kids cost money, and your own kids cost money, and other people's kids cost you more but that's a fact of life. And it makes me so angry when I hear politicians say, with their hands over their heart, children are our future. Children are now. Those kids that suicide and those kids that OD have got no future, so put your money down now and stop talking about this John F. Kennedy, I wished he'd never made the statement, because they get behind it and they live off it. It means they can put kids on a shelf, "They're our future". Put them up there, we don't have to do anything until they turn 18 and then we'll convince them to vote for us but until then they cost too much money, let's forget about them. They don't do anything worthwhile. They'll pussyfoot around with this couple of things they've got on the burner at the moment, they'll pussyfoot around and this time next year it will be exactly the same. And what they're pussyfooting around with are things I said ten years ago. And don't think this is political. I am totally apolitical. I just want a government who is honest, sincere when they say they care about our kids because so often it is total Australian bullshit. They don't give a tinker's cuss. Only for a knee jerk reaction, that's all. Put in a bandaid and then don't do anything for a while, it'll come alright. I just wish John Clarke would do a series on juvenile justice. It would be brilliant.
Wouldn't take no for an answer and I can be, I can be an embarrassment.
Well, the media started to seek me out and the penny dropped eventually that they were using me to fill in little gaps that they might have on a program. I could use them for big gaps that I had in my program and they were always available. They all liked a good story and so we used each other.
Yeah, first time ever.
That was - Cliff Neville, who was the producer, and I have, you know, wrote two books together - we still laugh about it. Truthfully, I'd never watched Sixty Minutes and he came in and I was so busy in Minda. I was smoking 50 cigarettes a day, I was as thin as a whipping post. I never walked anywhere, I ran everywhere, and my mind used to be going click, click, click, click, click. And they said, "There's a reporter here, wants to speak to you". And I said, "Well, he'll just have to sit here while I'm signing these documents. I can't do an interview". So lovely Cliff, who is the most patient, softly spoken person, came into my court and said, "I'm from Sixty Minutes", and I'm still writing and saying, "Oh yeah", "and you've said this and you've said that", and "Oh yes", "And I'd like to do a segment for Sixty Minutes. Would you let me in the court?" And I stopped signing and I thought, "Oh, is this guy for real? Or, you know, what is it?" So he said, "Could I sit in your court?", and I said, "Sure, but don't you use any names. You don't have a photographer?" "No" - because it is a closed court and you can only come in with permission of the magistrate. So I let him sit in until morning tea and he was nearly jumping over the moon. He said, "I've got to do it". He said, "Is it like - is this a special day?" And I said, "No, I do 30, 40, 50 kids a day, multiply that by five. Yep, I do over a couple of hundred a week". And he said, "Every week?" I said, "Every week". And so I said, "But I'm, I've got no time [coughs], sorry, to get me, to get you permission". And he said, "Well, we'll do all of that". And they did. Now, district officers in particular weren't pleased at all, and a couple of district officers went out of their way to make trouble over it. But they just fell flat on their faces because no names were mentioned, every kid's face was blotted out, or it was from the back so you couldn't identify them, and it was absolutely a stunning program and it was seen in Africa, South Africa. It was seen in Hong Kong, and it was seen in New Zealand. So it was a very popular program.
This is a kids' court. Listen to how many facilities I've got to use to support this kid. There are none. There was none. I had no alternatives, I had no programs, nothing and that really got across.
So in the time that you had been a magistrate you had been able to change the physical nature of the court, you'd been able to bring in a different atmosphere but you were still frustrated in a way that you hadn't expected to be when you went in there so optimistically. What were your frustrations in essence?
I wasn't able - not only to help a kid - I wasn't able to help families. And one particular case caused me to close the book and I said, "No more, I am not going to take money for this job any more because I'll be a hypocrite and I'm already a liar and they are not two aspects of my character that I want to promote. So I'm out of here. I'm off this bench because it's all become a big living lie".
The case was a man and his wife who were intellectually disabled, not very much but they were intellectually disabled. Both of them at birth had been given away by their respective parents. Both had been raised in institutions. They'd never known family life, never. They had married in a church with the blessing of some priest or minister. They had three dear little girls. When they came before me there was absolutely no sign or report that they had ever ill-treated those children, nothing. It was because they were intellectually disabled and the little five year old had gone to school in her pyjamas and her night-dress on a couple of occasions and they weren't as clean as they could have been. So quite properly that principal reported this. Now when the DOs moved in to see what was carrying on, they saw that they weren't really coping that well but why would they? They'd never lived, never, she'd never had a mum. I mean all of us who are mothers have learnt from our own mothers. Men find this very difficult to understand. They, they think that the moment that baby pops out and its feet are on the ground and running, that, that you know what to do and how to do it. You don't. You learn by trial and error or from your mum. And this poor woman had never had a mum, neither had he. So I thought, there's no problem here, where's the problem? She was crying uncontrollably. And I said, "Beryl why are crying? Come on, why are crying?" I haven't spoken, and she said, "Because you are going to take my babies away". I said, "No I'm not, don't be silly. You've never ill-treated your children". She said, "No, no". I said, "You haven't hit them", she said, "No". And I said, "What we are going to do is we are going to get you help. That's all you need. We need someone to show you how to cook and how to shop" - because they really didn't know how to shop - "and how to keep house and we need to get the second little one into pre-school". And they couldn't afford that and I said, "Well, we'll find a way".
And the other little one was too young, but I said, "I think if we could get you into a mother's group". She said, "Will they be nice to me?" You just wanted to take her by the hand. Anyway, she said, "You won't take my babies", I said, "No, I promise I won't take your babies away". So three charities came in to help and it was wonderful. She learnt, they learnt to shop, they used to go shopping with one of the charities and all of this, and the little girl was turning up to school spick and span, and Beryl was learning, but it was going to take a long time, you couldn't - there was no magic wand stuff here, and I knew that she'd waver off a bit and think it's all too hard, but anyway she was doing alright. So I knew I had to finish it off, you can't just go on indefinitely. So I asked her if I could have the three little girls while we did what we call a P and M test on them, which is a physical and mental survey. Now I wanted to see if these little girls, they were a little bit behind, if that was because of lack of stimulation or was it hereditary, genetic, I didn't know. So I said, "There'll be lots of access and I'm asking you a big favour, can I have them for four weeks?" And could she see them? "Yes". And this was the trust between us. She gave me the three girls. And the test came back, the kids were okay. It was just lack of stimulation because they lived in a terrible unit, like a cement box, nowhere for the kids to play. They watched TV when they came home, that was all there was for them. We were unable to get them a housing commission place. There was a three year waiting list at that time. So we all sat down, and I said, "Well I'm going to end this matter now, off the bench, I'll finish it next Tuesday, these are the orders I intend making, are there any objections?" "Yes." "What are the objections?" "The charities cannot keep this up." I said, "Not at all?" And they said, "Well, they can do a bit here and a bit there but this has been really intense". And I said, "Of course, we all knew that". And I said, "Well, what does that mean? What has the department got to offer?" "Well, we don't. This is not our role." I said, "You're not asking me to make these kids wards?" And they said, "It's the only alternative, ma'am". I left the bench. I made them wards and she stood at the door, pointing, and she said, "You promised". And I thought, "I'm not doing this any more, I'm not doing this any more". I had no guarantee those three little girls were going to grow up in the same household because it's very difficult to find foster parents to take three little girls. That mother had never raised a hand. Never raised a hand. That wasn't what I wanted, that wasn't what I was about. So, I walked off the bench. I got in touch with Sixty Minutes. I thought if there is a message I'm going to send here, they can do it on my last day, and so they did. And I walked off the bench and Doctor Clarrie Gluskie approached me and said, "Will you be patron for Hope For The Children?". And I said, "What is Hope For The Children Foundation?"
And he said, "We have mums who have raised their own children, who volunteer and we put them into homes where the children are under five and we mother the mothers. We show them how to cope, how to". And if I'd only had that, I would not have had to have made those kids wards. And I said, "Well, how long would you stay in a family, Clarrie?" And he said, "For as long as it takes". And I said, "What if it took three years?" He said, "We'd stay for four". I said, "Well, you've got me". And so I work now 26 hours a day for Hope because I believe in it and it's a service that we can provide.
So the overwhelming thing that you took away from that time on the bench and the options or lack of them that were available to you, was that, is it correct, am I correct in saying, that the things that were missing, the things that you could call education situations in which people could learn how to do things better?
Not only that. There are some people who are unable to do it alone. You know, we're not all perfect. And they need help and they'll always need help. They just do their incompetent best and sometimes it's not enough. So what do we do? We take away their kids? Their dignity? No, we hold our hand out.
But not knowing how best to parent was one of the issues of things that were lacking, there were other lacks that you felt. Lacks of alternatives that you had as a magistrate to deal with the problems. If you had to list those what would they be?
Oh golly, there's a hundred of them. As I've said, I'd start education in schools in parenting.
I'm talking here about the law, about as a magistrate, sitting there as a magistrate - we'll get to talk about you know the things for children later - but as a magistrate in the law as it now stands, when you came onto the bench you were able to fix certain atmospheric things. You were able to fix a style but you still had the law to deal with and what was available officially for you to do. Now, what was available to you? You could - what could you do with kids?
I could follow the Crimes Act which is the same for kids as it is for adults. I had better remedies admittedly for kids. I had no confidence in the detention centres where they may end up because my view was that you needed, if you sent a kid to a detention centre, you needed to do three things. That detention centre needed to educate, to rehabilitate and to punish, that was why you sent them there. I didn't see that any of that was happening, still, still isn't, still isn't, and that's why a lot of magistrates don't send a kid off to a detention centre when they should, because they know it's useless.
I know that the Director-General that we now have in Juvenile Justice is a good man, I know that. My understanding is that the changes aren't coming about because of the culture within the detention centres. Very, very strong. We're not able to bring about change. They will go on strike if they don't like it.
Well, to me a lot of people that are there aren't qualified to be dealing with young people who need almost one-to-one and we don't see that happening. We don't see them getting the attention that they need. And we need people who aren't just jailers. We need people who themselves are educated and have the knowledge of kids behaviours and are able to deal with those and I don't mean you've got to be, have a university degree. I, I saw officers at Minda where we had the detention centre attached to the court, who probably didn't get their School Certificate, wonderful with the kids, the kids would eat out of their hands and they would encourage them. And I saw others walking around with keys hanging off their belt like a jailer. The kids hated them and they hated the kids as far as I could see. That all needs changing.
Of course they're paid enough. Sick of everything you do has got to be money, money, money. No, and you've got to have not a - you've got to care, you have to care about kids, you really do. And you want to be there to - you, to help them over this hiccup and to rehabilitate them. And if you can't, get out and go and get another job.
Barbara, could you sum up for me, as a magistrate, when a child was before you what options were available to you in the criminal jurisdiction, what options were available to you to do with that child? And what you would have liked to have had available that wasn't there?
Well, firstly I could have dismissed the charge, or then I could make it so that if he was good for a certain period of time there would be no record of that crime. There were all those options, sentencing options until you got to the last one which of course was detention, having tried all others. The one I would have liked to have done was for there to have been programs such as wilderness programs where the - not only did the young person go away on a camp but also that a parent or parents could participate at the weekends in those camps, because I've seen them work wonderfully with single mums. And I would have liked that. I also would have liked education for some of these young people because so many of them truanted. Also there was no assistance at home with their education and it just got too hard, so it just snowballed, so they didn't go to school in the end because it was too hard. I would have liked to have seen that. I would have liked to have seen some recreation for them to attend to get some skills to socialise, a lot of them didn't have any social skills at all. Some of them had abilities in various areas, they, and they were never developed. I would have liked that to have occurred and I would have liked to then to have had a juvenile justice officer to supervise them who himself having worked with the young person could see what was missing in that young person's life, and for that juvenile officer to also to have some alternatives and some facilities to enhance this kid's life. See 47 percent of our male population in New South Wales went through our juvenile system. That's telling, isn't it?
Yeah. Mmm. So, something's lacking.
That's, that's why it doesn't happen because that's all it is, plain common sense. And this isn't just coming from me. This came from every juvenile magistrate who did sit, and is still sitting, will tell the government or anybody who wants to listen, it is plain common sense. But do they? No, they don't listen. You know at the moment it's proposed in relation to the care matters that millions and millions of dollars be spent assisting families with young children, right? Two million has been sent, spent on research. We did it all at Hope, we've done it all, it's being redone, rehashed and it's still not off the ground two years later. One phone call to Hope and we have your research, certainly, and they'd be up and away, or why not give Hope two million dollars and let us get on with the job? Bungling. A lack of understanding.
I'm very strong about what I want in the care area.
God knows. I never knew because once I made a decision, that was it. If I put the child into the care of the minister, that was it. It was never relayed back to me except maybe through a caring district officer. "Mrs Holborow do you remember little Troy that you made a ward, you know, remember? Had a broken arm?" "Yes I do." "Well, now he's got another broken arm. The foster father broke it." I mean that was happening. The majority of foster parents are super but there was a group of foster parents who were in it, I don't know why, who were not super foster parents. What I wanted to happen, and again common sense, absolute, was that the solicitor who appeared for that child, represent that child for the first year of wardship and then that solicitor in a way could supervise that the care that was given to this child was in the best interests of this child, and that's the catch phrase. Whatever it was that I did for that child, it was supposedly in its best interests. Now you can't tell me it's in the best interests of a child to be separated from its sibling because no one will take two kids. That's not the way it goes, that's not our Australian way, so the children grow up separate and apart. I'm getting letters now six years after I've left the bench from all over Australia telling me how their children have been taken away and how they're in separate homes. And not just separate homes, they're in - hundreds and hundreds of kilometres apart.
Mmm... Because it would look after them. I, I've had a foster child, Mary was a foster child. The district officer visits whenever. District officers at the moment, and for a while it's been the same, they don't have the time. They just don't have the time to look, look after foster kids. They're, they don't have the time to make enough visits on kids who've, who've been notified as being possibly abused. That's why we've got the deaths that we have.
Of course, it's their client and they've got the trust of their kid, and if the little, it's a littlie who is unable to give instructions - well, these solicitors are mature, family, nearly always family people themselves, they would know in an instant if their client's needs were being met and what was happening was in the best interests of their client. And it would take the burden off the district officer.
Oh they can work that out, I don't care, I don't care who pays them, whether it's the Commission, whether it's DOCS. You know, always we get back to money. What price the life of a baby? What, what price? It's going to save them hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep them out of jail in the long term, we're building more jails, and yet by spending that amount of money in the first five years, they wouldn't have to build their jails. And with fostering, let me tell you, I would not allow parents to come back every six months, every year and make application to take their child back. Let the child get on with its life. If the parents can't get their act together, well so be it, but when foster parents love and care for a child, unreservedly and at their own expense, financially, emotionally, physically, look after a child for three, four years, to then have that child taken away and returned to maybe something that is going to work out with a mum whose prior drug history is frightening. What are you doing to that child? What are you doing? You know, they're not chattels these kids. They're people. They're not owned by a mother, they're not owned by a father. You never own your child. You do the best. You make a life commitment. If you can't make that life commitment then let somebody who can make it for your child.
Well, let's go back, let's go back to when that mother found she was pregnant. For nine months she's housed exclusively that baby. She has housed it herself. What has she done in that nine months? Maybe nothing. Maybe she's just continued shooting up heroin. Maybe she's alcoholic. When that baby is born, it could be high, it could be addicted, it could be fitting. Comes to court crying, "I want my baby, I want my baby". What's this woman done? What does she think she's produced? A cabbage patch doll? She's produced a little human being. She's already had over nine months opportunity to do the right thing, now she needs help to get off the drugs. Give her that help. Plug in as much as you can, support to give her that help to do it. But in the meantime, put that baby into a long term foster placement because it will take at least 12 months for that mum to get her act together. If at the end of that 12 months you review the situation and that baby's thriving and mum has done nothing, then in my view those foster parents would be able to adopt that child with an open adoption, which would mean the mother could always visit and she wouldn't be totally cut off, nor the father. But if at the end of 12 months she is showing that she really is trying, well then when she makes it, and she's kept up the access so that the baby has got some bonding, some attachment, and she's had a say in the child's medical conditions and all that's happening in the baby's life. She's shown an interest, she wants to mother this baby, well, then she should have every opportunity.
I still do.
Yes, yes, I was. I was in trouble from the Chief Magistrate because he was a very reserved person and really did not think this was the role of magistrates. Well, the children's jurisdiction needed someone to speak on their behalf, someone to champion their cause. Other magistrates were quite proud of me, I know the juvenile magistrates were. Other magistrates thought, well, this is what happens when you bring someone from outside. They don't understand that you don't make noises like this, and I could take that or leave it. I mean they didn't pay for my breakfast and I didn't socialise with them, so I can promise you that it didn't matter two tinker's cusses to me. All that mattered to me were my kids.
[Laughs] He was terribly polite about it but very stern. I don't want to see your face on TV, I don't want to read your name in the paper. I can understand that but I couldn't stop. My cause was too great, I couldn't stop just because other magistrates didn't do it.
No, no, so a couple of outspoken magistrates said to me, "Why do you go? You don't have to". Maybe I was just a very well brought up child, I don't know, but when he sent out the cry to go in, well, I went.
Were you worried at all - I mean did you feel yourself affected, you know, being told off, you'd, you'd always been the good girl at home, and now you were rebelling against authority and stepping outside the line?
Oh, this was a bigger cause. This was a cause biggerer than the chief magistrate or me, bigger than both of us. This was kids. This, this was - you've got to realise, I'm an Australian to the marrow of my bones, to the marrow of my bones, and these were Australian kids. It mattered not that they'd come from another country, this is now their home, they're making it their home, and we had to make it right for them because, you know, if you don't have strong families, you don't have strong communities and if you don't have strong communities we don't have a strong Australia.
When you did the Sixty Minutes interview and you were asked why did you do the work which was obviously taking its toll on you as you've said at the time and was using up, you know, a lot of you, and you were asked why do it? And you said because I love it, I love it. And yet later you did resign. What had happened apart from frustration - it was obvious there even while you were saying you loved it. Could you explain that?
Well, everything had deteriorated. Economic rationalisation, they were closing down all the alternatives. Closing down group homes, closing everything down for money, for economic rationalisation which was Mr Greiner's catch cry. You tell a two year old, "Darling you can't go home with Mummy and Daddy today because of economic rationalisation". They don't understand it and frankly neither do I. I don't understand it. So I became more frustrated and I believed - and I still do and I think I am - I'm doing more off the bench than I could do on it. I was so restricted on the bench. And what I felt was very unfair but I guess it was a way of keeping me quiet - I didn't have to retire, I wasn't old enough and I would have done it for just my fares, they wouldn't have had to have paid me - I said that I would love to go on circuit and appear as a juvenile magistrate in country courts because it's very difficult for country magistrates to deal with the local kids, especially if that magistrate is living in that area. Whereas I could fly in, deal with the problem, see what the problems were, assist to overcome them maybe with the city fathers, with a few suggestions and fly out again. But there was no budget for that. No budget, my eye. So do you know what happens now? Country councils invite me to go up and advise them. Oh look, I'll continue till the day I can't get any more breath into my smoke-ridden lungs, although I've given up smoking 12 years ago. As long as I've got breath in my body I'll go on being a thorn.
Hope For The Children. We have, as I said, mothers, volunteers. They are trained by our co-ordinator and they go into homes where mum, for whatever reason, is not coping. She may be a married mum with post-natal depression which hasn't been diagnosed. She may be a mum with a first baby who just won't settle. And what is happening in our community now is mum is no longer just round the corner. Mum could be interstate, she could be overseas, she could be working. She's not on the end of the phone to help with that baby. So she goes in - now we don't go in to do housework. We go in to mother the mothers. Sit down, have a cup of tea or coffee, and say, "What and how can I help?" Usually the mother says, "Can I sleep?" And so she says, "Yes". And so then this volunteer deals with that baby, gets to know that baby. Maybe the woman can give a day a week, maybe it's a day a fortnight, maybe it's three days a week, it just varies. Some women can give an afternoon a month and they are asked to take women, mothers with young children to medical appointments, to dental appointments, whatever, appointments that they otherwise wouldn't be able to keep because they have got these little ones and it's all too hard. And a lot of mothers will put off their own needs because it just becomes too difficult and they're too tired and they become quite ill.
Hundreds. We now, we started when I was there, started we had one at Sutherland, and we now have Sutherland, St George, Inner City, Armidale. I'm going to Adelaide in a couple of weeks, we're opening in Adelaide, Victoria, Noosa.
I'm the patron.
Means I go around and I speak about Hope. It is, it was started by Rotary, funded, and we look for some Rotary funding within the area but we also need of course funds, although the women are all volunteers, we do have to pay a co-ordinator and an office and stationery. So it costs sixty thousand a year to run a network but some places - now in Newcastle, they really want us up there. We already have accommodation waiting for us, we've just got to move in and get a co-ordinator, and we'll be in Newcastle. There's a real need.
Via these women and they show these mums how to settle the baby and if they don't, can't, can't themselves settle the baby, then they take the mum to maybe the children's hospital or to an area health sister and say, "These are the problems, now what do you suggest?" Now, some babies have a reflux problem, and the mum's never heard of a reflux problem, she doesn't know that you need a Taylor [Frazer] chair, she doesn't know how to feed, all because her own mum's not around.
Hope, you mean.
Yes. Right, okay. With Father Chris Riley because he, he knows how I am because I, when I sat at Minda, and I'm going back now to '88, he'd just left Boys' Town and he set up in Marrickville and if I couldn't get accommodation for a young boy, I'd ring him, and I'd say, "Help, I've got a kid, who's been living in the garbage bins, clothing bins, I need accommodation for a week". He'd say, "I'll be there in five minutes". He never let me down. He used to sleep on the floor so that there would be a bed for that kid, and then of course he just developed and developed till now he's got these farms going and we worked together a lot. We both have the same philosophy and that is that every child is the responsibility of everybody and both of us live by that. We both do. Different denomination, different sexes, but we both live by it. That's my involvement with him, and Centre Care at various places such as Forbes - oh a lot of country towns - that I'm involved with. And I've got a lovely invitation from the kids in Forbes to receive their debutantes, from the kids themselves, and they've written their names down. Please will you come? Of course I will and I'll love it. And they've got no money to fly me up there, I'll use my Frequent Flyers, and - but it'll be beautiful.
Just everywhere. I mean people invite me to Darwin, went to Darwin for the Reconciliation Charter to be prepared by 350 Aboriginal kids with 150 white kids from all over Australia. Very proud to be part of that, very proud. And unfortunately they had one last year and - down at Geelong - but I couldn't make it, I would love to have been part of that.
Yes, a bit chequered. Yes, yeah I was on Midday, I loved that.
Well when I came off the bench - and of course it was big news everywhere - I was pretty hot property. People were ringing up, they wanted me on this show and they wanted me on that and then I became a regular on the Midday Show and that was great. But then that finished. I hope I didn't put the kybosh on it, but it finished, folded up. Geoff Harvey kept calling me the wicked witch from the west, and I loved, I loved the crew, I loved, you know, Tracey and - oh all of them, I loved working there. My favourite media though is, is radio and I was on radio for five days a week but then my voice wasn't right for that, and so I was after, I don't know, a month or five weeks, taken over by a professional person who'd done radio for many years and then I shared a spot with her on Wednesdays. And then...
That was on 2GB, yep, but unfortunately I never really lost being in control, like magistrates are, and it just became a bit one-sided, so I don't work there any more. So that was a bit chequered but I love radio, I really love radio. I love reaching those people out there. You don't know who you're reaching but you know people are listening and you hope that you're interesting enough that they will go on listening. [INTERRUPTION] I do a lot of interviews on radio. Western Australia particularly, South Australia do a lot there.
Well, we wrote two books and they're - the first book, the name had already, was already there, it had been canned about, in about '88, when a little girl, dear little girl, whose mum was very young and was showing signs that she needed time for herself to grow up really. She'd had no chance. She'd been brought out here at 14 for an arranged marriage that never occurred and she'd given birth to this little girl before she was 16, so she needed time to grow up, and I took this little darling into my chambers and explained to her that I had a magic wand in my bottom drawer and explained that there was a lovely mummy and daddy who had a swimming pool, who would love her to go and live with them for a little while, and that if she really thought she'd miss Mum, that I could go back into court and talk to Mum and we'd make arrangements. This little girl's eyes never left my face, and I thought this is, this is great but I better wind this up because I've got her attention now and she's not, she's only, not four yet and her concentration will go. So I said, "Darling, is there anything you want to ask me?" She said, "Yes". And I said, "What do you want to ask me?" And she said, "Where did you get those tracks on your face?" So that was the name of the first book, 'Those Tracks On My Face'. And I thought, "God, what a good title for a book". And so the producer of Sixty Minutes, Cliff Neville and I wrote that, and that was a great success. That, each chapter was a day on the bench and people liked reading about that. And then...
Because if I write, it's, it's like a composition, you know that you write at school. It's stilted, it's - and Cliff and I know each other so well, he, he could write as I speak, because people didn't know the set up and they've said to me, "Oh as I read the book it's you talking", but it wasn't really. It was me talking me, but Cliff was able to put it like that. And then the second book, a friend who I hadn't seen for many years, rang me up and said, "Look I've been away researching and all the research I've done confirms what you've been saying about the first three to five years, can we have lunch?" So we did and she gave me pages and pages of thousands of dollars worth of research and I said, "Oh this is so interesting, so fascinating". She said, "It's yours". I said, "Oh God", she said, "It's yours, do something with it". So I gave it to Cliff and we wrote the second book.
[Laughs] It was to show, it's become the bible for some places. To show that it is those first years that you've got to plug in to the moment your baby's born if you want to have a confident child that's going to be able to love and accept love, and I said to be confident. All, all the qualities that you want in a child you've got to put those in in the first three years so that when you separate at five, say, going to school, that baby knows that you're going to be there when they come home, or somebody's going to be there who can brush down their wounded egos or listen to the good things, and they go out of your home representing you and they know that.
Yes. A few times I was. One incident was I suppose a home invasion when I was home alone here on a Saturday night and these boys came down the hallway, two boys, big boys. I just knew instinctively there was something very wrong by their demeanour, their whole manner. [INTERRUPTION]
So I ran out the back and then the blue heeler, she knew immediately something was wrong. I grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and held her, she was on her hind legs and her teeth, honestly these fangs grew to this length, and this kid - the two of them were backing off - and they said, "Are you going to let her go?" And I said, "Yes, and she'll rip your throat out when I do". And the border collie had gone around the side and she'd grabbed this boy by the trouser leg, the jean, the end of his jeans, and she bit the other one. So they went and that was pretty unnerving.
Yes, yes, they were. On another occasion, we went out the front door - I went out to get the papers in the morning - and there was our cat Pumpkin, on the door mat, and someone had run a fish hook through her paw up through her mouth and out the side, and the cat was in shock. I really didn't - so I rang the police and this sergeant came with an offsider, a young fellow with a gun and I said, "For God's sake put that out of sight. This is the family cat". And Jacob and Mary were just - couldn't believe what they were seeing because it was our family cat. And so they rang for help from the Rescue Squad and they came with all the proper paraphernalia and snip, snip and pulled it out very quickly, and the officer said to me, "Do you think you could have enemies?" And I said, "Well I think it's pretty obvious that I do". And he said, "What sort of work do you do?" And I said, "I'm a magistrate in the Children's Court". And he said,"Oh well, say no more". The cat survived. The cat took a little while but she got over it. And there was another occasion in retrospect which is very funny. Jacob and I were walking up the main street of Burwood to buy him a pair of cricket boots. Before we crossed over the road, I said to Jay, "There are a couple of boys behind us". He said, "Yes, I've seen them". I said, "One of them I thought was inside, he must have been released". So we kept going, and this boy called out, "Hey". And I turned round, and I said, "Yep". He said, "Why did you lock me up?" I said, "No wait a minute, I didn't lock you up, you locked yourself up. I gave you three chances and you were getting no more". So he was quite threatening and he went to step forward and I thought, "Oh my God, he's going to punch me", and I had a large amethyst ring that I wore on my left hand, and I remembered everything that my foster kids had ever told me, never if you're going to throw a punch put your thumb under your fingers because you'll break it. So I switched the amethyst ring onto my right hand, made sure my thumb was outside my fist and thought "Well, if he hits me I'll get one in too". But just as I was thinking these ridiculous thoughts, a police car came zooming down, nothing to do with me of course, but these kids must have thought that I had a Dick Tracy telephone or something and they thought they were coming for them and they just scooted off. And I said to Jacob, "Come on, we'll go and get your boots now". And he said, "No, we're going to Newtown where Jeff Fenech trains. If you want to fight in the street, go and learn how to do it". So, in - that was funny, but I was a bit scared for a while though. That's about it.
No, I don't think so. No, I don't think so, they, they knew the drill, that if ever they felt threatened or frightened they went into the first house, because everybody knows them around here, we've lived - go into the first house and ring the police. I was more frightened once by a parent who stalked me before the stalking laws were in. He terrified me, I was really and truly was almost a gibbering idiot. I was shaking, I couldn't stop shaking and yet he never said a word, he was just always there. I'd be driving in my car and he'd pull his car up beside me at the lights and just look at me and smile. Oh God I was frightened.
He won Lotto [laughs] and left the country. I was just so lucky.
Oh because he knew he was going to lose his three little girls and it was, it was - he was an awful man. He was an evil man and he used to hang around the court when there was no need for him to be there, and just sit and watch me. He'd be asked to move on but we had no authority. He was doing nothing. You know the police used to say to me, "We'll patrol the street, put extra patrols on for you, but there's nothing we can do". So I was glad for other people when that stalking law came in because believe me it's a terrifying experience.
Yes. Be far better if you could have a confrontation but just this unknown, and not knowing when he was going to appear or where and you're looking for him to appear when it's an absolutely ridiculous - that he couldn't possibly appear but you're sure he's going to.
Now, talking about training with Jeff Fenech to defend yourself, you've had quite a lot of difficulty with your body in the course of your life, haven't you? Tell me about that, tell me about the problems you've had with your health and particularly about how you've dealt with that, how you've - what your attitude has been to your body and to your problems health-wise?
Well, I've taken the attitude with my diabetes that it's my body, I'm in control of it, not my diabetes. I'm very sensible. I don't go out on binge eating because I've been a diabetic since I was 13 so it really was self-discipline from that moment on, and I feel very sorry for diabetics who in later life are suddenly restricted in everything that they eat. They find it almost impossible, where I wouldn't give you tuppence for, you know, a cake or - I just don't like them. My problem has been I've broken my left leg twice. The first time I came running through the front door and tripped over Jacob's school bag and broke my tib and fib, and I got over that, that was okay, that was just a double break. But then in '96, I fell and fractured my femur in ten places and that was pretty traumatic. It was three months in rehab trying to get it to work but the muscles lagged on the bone and we just can't get them off. It's too late now, won't happen, and of course it's shrunk.
Um, well, it does restrict me. I travel a lot - and of course the moment I hit a, an airport I'm into a wheelchair - but it means I'm dependent on people which for me is just - I hate it. I can't carry anything and I've got to ask for assistance and this is where Jacob is just so wonderful, and very understanding about it.
Yeah. Yes, I did and we had a very funny incident with me in a wheelchair in court. They used to push me in under the bench and then take me out for morning tea and push me back. [INTERRUPTION]
It was Friday afternoon, it was extremely hot. My leg was paining. I had two barristers droning on and on, and I thought, I can't come back to this on Monday. So I explained to them that I was going to sit until it finished that day, and I thought this will jolly them along they're all - will have somewhere to go, but no they didn't, they just droned on. And through the door came two very young policemen with this big strapping 17 year old who was angry. He was sort of pushing them off and I, I was just as angry, and I said, "What's this?" And they said, "Oh, it's a breach of bail, ma'am", and I looked at the boy and I said, "Ey? I gave you bail on Tuesday, what's this? Friday and you've breached it already. Well, you're in for the weekend, I'm busy here", and he said, "Well, don't I get a chance to say something?" And I said, "Well, there's no solicitor here for you", and he said, "Well can I say?" And I said, "Yes, alright. Say something make it quick". And he said, "Well I don't think it's fair that you're going to lock me up for the weekend. You're a magistrate, you're rich, you'll be out wining and dining tonight. You won't give a tuppence about me stuck up there with all the ankle-biters. I'm not allowed to smoke, lights out at nine o'clock. And I had a party to go to tonight, and I'm playing soccer tomorrow, and I was taking my girlfriend to the pictures tomorrow night, but you don't care, you won't think about me, and on Sunday I was going to a barbecue with my football mates". And I said, "Oh really? Is there anything else you'd like to say of interest to me?" And he said, "No, except that I really don't think it's fair. You don't think about kids like us". I said, "Oh, well come down here to the bench". So very reluctantly these two young policemen let him go, and he came down. And I said, "Have a look what I'm sitting in". And he said, "Oh fuck, you're a cripple". Now I only locked him up for 24 hours because I thought any kid that could say the magic four letter word to a magistrate deserved a break [laughs], so I locked him up till Saturday, yep. They were the wonderful highlights of kids.
You were particularly interested in the problems of 18 year olds who had committed their crimes when they were still juveniles. Could you tell me about that campaign and where it came from and what success you had with it?
Well, it was successful. We had a riot, a couple of riots, at Minda. At first I refused to transfer these young people to adult prison - which was Long Bay Jail where they would go - but it came - I could see that I had to with a couple of them, I had to send them because, for their own safety, I just didn't know that they'd be treated within the detention centre because they were so disliked. They knew they were disliked. They disliked the prison persons as much as they disliked them and it was a very bad situation. I thought if I separate them we may all be able to have a different look at it. So I sent three for a week to Long Bay Jail. It broke two of them, it absolutely broke them. These tough kids came back and they were crying and there were pleas and I thought, "Oh God, why did I do it?" The other one he was a tough nut and, and he was a kid really it was all written, I knew his days were going to be in jail, and he'd handle it. He'd object to being locked up but it held no fear for them. The other two were - so it happened again and - not with these two - but it happened again with riots and so I thought what we need is a jail for first offenders, adult first offenders, but a jail for a transition from 18 to 25 because - or 18 to 21 but we extended it to 25 - because to send these kids to Long Bay Jail, to Parramatta Jail, to Goulburn Jail, to Berrima Jail, wasn't on. It was, it was too much, it really was. Um and...
Well, then, then Parklea was designed to take that type of prisoner.
Of being raped, of being bullied, of being bashed, of being threatened, and it was the threats - it was like being stalked - it was the threats that went on even though prisoners couldn't get at them, there were these verbal threats that they heard all through the night. They lived in fear.
Yeah, and they were pretty boys. Terrible.
Right. Well, they'd committed a serious crime whilst they were under - before they were turned 18 - and they might have five years to serve, four years, three years, eight years and the one that turned 18, they were transferred to an adult jail. Now it was changed in two ways. If it was a model prisoner, they could stay on till they turned 21 and this happened to a boy who had murdered the Greek Consulate [sic], Andrew. And Andrew was brought out to Minda when he was 18. Now Andrew had had a horrific background of homosexuality, of living on the streets, etcetera. He became a gardener, a trustee, and in the morning I'd drive in and there'd be Andrew - big good looking boy - he'd be gardening away or sitting up on the lawn-mower and doing a fine job, under the guidance of our gardener who was a lovely man in his late 50s. I was always getting a bunch of flowers from Andrew and he never overstepped the mark but he was really a lovely - growing into a lovely kid. Now he was allowed to visit a relation - I can't remember which relation it was and I think it was a birthday party or a wedding - and the two escorts, because they trusted him, left him in a motor car while they went into a hotel to have a drink. And some newspaper knew who he was and the photographer was there and photographed him. Hit the headlines. Now that happened on the Sunday morning or the Saturday morning, one or the other, that night, in the middle of the night, nobody knew anything, Andrew went, Andrew was taken to an adult jail. And yet that kid had done nothing except develop - and that's what I'm talking about, he was being educated and rehabilitated - and about six weeks later he hanged himself. My God I cried for Andrew, I acted for him when I was a solicitor when the very first day he was brought in, I was on duty and I acted for him, then a private solicitor took over, but I knew the kid. And that, that really did put yet another track in my face. Thhat was so unnecessary. Some, you know, photographer got a cheap shot, "Is this what we want?"
Well, they were being transferred to Russell Lea.
They were all young and first offenders and you didn't have the old - the old lags as they're called - there, it was far more conducive to youth than Long Bay.
Oh same way as I always did. Media, paper, TV, radio, yep.
You have a slightly ambivalent attitude to the media, don't you? On the one hand you really are almost a media - well, you are now a media personality yourself - and you've used the media. Would you talk to me a little bit and explain what your attitude to the media actually is, how you've used it, and what you feel about all of that?
We use each other. I don't use them any more than they use me. I get phone calls. I love to sleep in, okay. I get phone calls at quarter past six in the morning, "Have you seen the paper?" "Seen the paper, I haven't even opened my eyes." "Would you be prepared to comment at seven o'clock?" I never say no because I think it's important that if I'm able to give the right interpretation or another view, I think that's important. So I will go out and get the newspaper, and make a cup of tea and read it, and I'm ready to go at seven. Now there's no financial reward for that, I don't get a thank you letter, so I think it's tit for tat. I'm good to them and they're pretty good to me.
Oh I love radio, I really love radio. I think you can bounce off people on radio. TVs - I don't find TV daunting but I feel restricted with, with TV. I mean I can't, I can't talk if I don't throw my hands around and you can't, I mean I can do that on radio, I can, and I'm always running my hand through my hair and I mean I can do that, and when I'm doing that I'm expressing myself but I can't do that on TV.
Oh, I don't think I am, I don't think I am. I, I lead an incredibly quiet life, very quiet life. I only go to the homes of friends who I, I mean I really know, and if I'm going to a new person's home, I, I need to know about them before I go. When I became a magistrate I gave up going to a lot of sporting fixtures because I didn't know who I'd be sitting next to, who'd be sitting behind me and I didn't want to be photographed with somebody who's notorious and without my knowledge and - as some magistrates were. So I had to be very careful about that.
Well, you get a good producer you don't have to move, you know a good producer will guide you into everything, it's like being on radio. I made a statement that you're only - on radio you're only as good as your producer and radio 2BL 702 were going to have T-shirts printed, You're only as good as your producer. [laughs]
What is a good parent, how to be a better parent, the problems associated with being a really bad parent and so on, these have been interests of yours. Can we go back now and look at your own parents because you've described your childhood to us but I'm interested given that they had, in a sense, given up on your education and vocation because of your diabetes, what did they think of how your career developed?
They weren't thinking of my career. Oh, no look. My dad and mum were born in 1888 and 1890 respectively. My mother never worked in her life, in fact she didn't go to school, she had a governess. My father went to school but they didn't think much about women having a career, no.
They were proud but that beginning and end of it didn't blow them away. I know that I'd be studying and had all my books spread over the table and when you're studying law you've got reference books everywhere and Mum would come out and say, "Dad and I are going to have lunch now, darling, could you just move your books?" Get your priorities right, but that was Mum and Dad. I had no angst about that. I knew that. And I knew that they, they would never be, they'd be very, very proud of what I've done but they'd never be boastful about it and so in their own - they were just quietly proud, they didn't tell me much, but I knew they were.
I - they did not want to know, they did not want to know about that. For my father that was, that was, you know, "Really do you think you should be doing this sort of thing?"
Well, now - no they didn't. They, they would have liked me to have had a gentle role where I did things very quietly but not go like I do, all gung-ho and bull at a gate, and yet my father should have understood because I'm as stubborn as he is, and I will not let go, and that was him. Except I, I hope that I do let go when I know I'm wrong which he could never do even if he was wrong, he was right.
I was very dependent.
Oh it was terrible. The only thing that saved me was that they had been in that convalescent home so that there'd been that separation. But you know when they went into that home, into that convalescent home, where they both shared the same room, I had to hunt to find a place that would take both of them because they would have died if they'd have been separated - even then one night - now there was never alcohol in this house, never, except my mother would have a sherry at Christmas. And one Christmas somehow she drank two and neighbours up the road came down to have a sherry and a piece of Christmas cake as you did in those days, and their name was Adcock and when they came into the house, into the room, my mother said to other people, "May I introduce our neighbours, this is after two sherries, the Oddcacks". Well, there was nothing you could do [laughs] about that, I mean nothing she could do, she'd said it, and I was, I was just burst out laughing. She was embarrassed, we didn't see her for the rest of the morning tea. But anyway when they'd gone to this convalescent home and I was sitting one night watching TV and it was when I smoked - and I never smoked before the two of them - I was having a wine and I was just overcome with guilt, absolute guilt that I was doing this in their home, took me a while. They were a big influence in my life.
I can't even tell you the day, the date. I know they both died in the early mornings of a Sunday. Dad died in '78 and Mum died in, er, '77 and '79, they died.
Yes, Mum lived on for about 15 months I think.
I don't know how I did what I did, looking back I get tired thinking of it because I would visit them every day of course and do some little shopping for little things, treats that they would like. I had foster kids, I had, yeah [laughs], I had Jacob. It was busy.
Things have really changed for women more dramatically in the course of your lifetime than really any other lifetime there's ever been, the changes for women have been immense. What have you observed from where you sit about that? What experiences have you had that have really brought it home to you how those changes have occurred?
Well, Law School for one. I was the only one in my year. Now there are more women than men doing - studying law. And I look at these young women and I'm just overwhelmed with their ability. They're talking about aspects of law I've never, never heard of, intellectual property [laughs] and I suppose, you know, I deal with an aspect of law that they think, well, really are you dealing in law, isn't it more social studies than law. I think women are very clever. I have one objection - this is a big objection, and upsets a few of my professional friends - but I think if you've made a decision to have a child, you write off - not write off your career because you now can work from home - but you certainly write off going out of that house for the first 18 months. That's got to be the time and don't talk quality time to me, I hate that expression, every moment you spend with your kids should be quality time, not half an hour at night when you're overtired and you're peeling the potatoes. Every moment you spend with your kids should be quality time. But I think that they should say, "Okay, my career is not on hold for 18 months, but for 18 months there's going to be a change. I'm going to work from home, this is going to be my number one priority". And if it can't be, let your husband, let your partner, put his on hold, and let him do it. Doesn't have to be the woman. But someone's got to be there so that we've got a whole rounded, little individual by the time they leave home and go off into the world to go to school. And I am appalled, absolutely appalled at some young women with - who are lawyers, I can really only speak about lawyers - who share a nanny between three of them and their babies are a month old, please. Terrible. What do you want? Somebody else for your baby to be attached to, to be bonded to? Surely to God you want your own child to be attached and bonded to you, and if you're going to put your baby into a crèche every day, well when your child eventually has to go to a detention centre it really won't matter because he's been, or she's been in one ever since they were 12 months old, so it won't matter to them. That's how I feel about it.
Well it started of course with Elsie's, the first women's refuge in Australia, when I acted for the women there, it was pro bono. I [laughs], one of the reasons I was never a very wealthy solicitor because I was paid if the husband paid me. Well, you can imagine how many husbands paid me. Zilch. And I'd go to court for them, represent them for maintenance, to assist them with access if they were prepared to give their husbands some access or none at all. And that was really an eye-opener because although I'd been a solicitor for a little while and although I'd, you know, I'd seen Sydney, I had no idea of the plight of these women when they left home through violence that there'd never been anywhere for them to go and that was why so many of them remained. And I can remember one woman at Glebe that came into my office to give me instructions. She had this black eye and I said, "My goodness me, what happened to you?" And she said, "Oh Harry laid one on on Friday night", and this was Tuesday, and I said, "Oh not you", and she said, "I deserved it, gave him a bit of lip". Now I had never heard anything like that ever in my entire life, so this really was the big learning curve for me and these women were vulnerable. There was nothing really to protect them so then I became interested in doing what I could for them. And sometimes I've found that they weren't doing the right thing by their child because their predicament was such that to survive they could only think about themselves to survive, and of course my interest in children again came to the fore and that was when I had to protect the children, not only from their fathers, sometimes from their mothers, because if this woman was going to return to that violent situation, well she was taking that child back into it also. So, many doors opened for me.
My first reaction was because of my own home life, "My God. How?", you only read about this, you only see this on film, here it is happening in front of me because I had seen a husband attack his wife in - outside the courtroom. At first I couldn't understand at all, but then I began to understand. They had no alternatives, what were they going to do? Starve? There was nowhere for them to go, no place to hide. And they felt that - a lot of them that they could handle it. Often they didn't. There was no counselling services like we've got now. That took a while for that recognition - that it was needed.
Yes, I do.
Because kids love to be with their mum and dad. That's their natural place. That's where they want to be. You know, it's one reason why I haven't remained in contact with foster children because that was a part - a time in their life - when they were separated from their mum and their dad, and it's a time they want to forget. They don't want to remember and I don't want to remind them just for auld lang syne.
Yeah, I do and I carry this along into divorce. I no longer believe that it's better for kids, as people use an excuse, we got a divorce because it was better for the kids, I don't believe that's so. I don't believe - I think people get divorced too quickly. I don't think that kids are involved enough in divorce in the Family Court. It's as though Mum and Dad get their divorce, then they start talking about the mortgage payments and the superannuation, and oh yes, let's talk about the kids.
Well, equality in work. I've said before and, I never suffered from that, but I've seen women who have and I now see it happening, particularly politicians. You know even - the community doesn't have that much faith in women as politicians and I'm hoping that's changing. I mean the women that we do have are strong women and I, I guess they have a lot to offer but I think it's going to take a while to win the males around that women have got as much, and more, to offer as men.
No, none of us did. We all used to have a giggle about it. There - when I was the third one of course - and then later there was a few more, and there was about seven of us - and we'd really, not club together but when we had the annual conference we'd always find time on one of the days to have lunch together to have a giggle at things that were happening. And one of the funniest things happened to Pat O'Shane and to me. It was when Burwood Court was being opened and Pat was going to sit there, and of course I was sitting there as a juvenile magistrate, and all the kerfuffle was going on upstairs and we decided we'd wait downstairs until the Attorney-General arrived and then we'd go upstairs and pay our due respect, etcetera. So we're downstairs where all the cups and saucers and the little cakes and biscuits were, standing there gossiping, and down came one of the Attorney-General's minders. And he rushed up to both of us and said, "The Attorney-General's running late. Please put hold on the tea". And we both looked at him and then he looked at Pat and he said, "Oh, oh, you're a magistrate", to which Pat said, "Indeed I am". Then he looked at me and he said, "Oh so are you". And I said, "Yes, got it right in two". We never saw him again. He went bright red in the face, he disappeared, we never saw him again. He assumed we were the tea ladies because we were standing beside the cups and saucers. So, there you go. He wouldn't have assumed that if a man had been there.
Now turnering - turning to your fostering and that whole area of your life, was that where you got introduced, was it through Jacob that you got interested in Aboriginal affairs or did that pre-date your fostering of Jacob? And what was your feeling about the place of Aborigines and the problems for Aborigines in our society?
I suppose because I've always been a champion of the underdog, and I was very, very proud to find that my great-great-grandmother, Eliza Dunlop, wrote beautiful poems about Aborigines in the 1830s which went back and was published in the Dublin Gazette, so I, I may have inherited this, I don't know. I was very proud when I read that. But always. It came home to me when I was first married and we went to Taree. We were travelling up the coast and we went to the pictures and I went to buy two tickets and the girl gave me upstairs and I said, "Oh I'd prefer to sit down if I may", and she said, "That's for the blacks". I couldn't believe it. There it was slap-bang in my face, 1952, '53 and I wanted to sit down there but John of course said, "Don't. We're only here for a night. Don't cause any scenes, please". So we didn't, we went upstairs. I wanted to apologise to every Aborigine I saw in the interval, I couldn't bear it. Couldn't bear to think that we sat upstairs and they sat down.
I'm still having them, I'm still having them. It did, but I, before - even before Jacob - I loved representing Aboriginal kids. Those smiles that they give you and that, that shyness, and people don't understand, Aborigines don't look you in the eye because it's respect, out of respect and shyness that goes with it. And when I said this once at a conference, a magistrates' conference, magistrates came up and thanked me, they never knew [laughs]. Yeah, Jacob gave me a deeper understanding about Aborigines, racism. Jacob and I were - I was travelling to Brisbane a couple of months ago and queued up for business class. When it came our turn this woman behind the desk looked at us both and said, "This is first and business class, thank you". And I stood there and looked at her and I said, "Aren't I dressed well enough?" And I didn't move, and she and I eyed each other, and then I think the penny dropped, whoops, I've made a mistake. So we went forward, Jacob carried my bag, put it on the scales, kissed me on the top of the head and said, "I'll pick you up tomorrow", and I said, "Fine darling". When he was out of earshot, I said to this woman, "God may forgive you my girl, but by God I won't". So she kept her head down, of course, didn't apologise. How dare she, you know? This is the year of the Olympics, do you mind? So it's everywhere, and I asked Jay the next day, I said, "I can't stop thinking about that woman yesterday". He said, "No, I've thought about her a lot too". He said, "Do you know what I think the problem was?" And I said, "No, what was it Jay?" He said, "Well, you're 69. How old do you think she was?" And I said, "Oh about 40 I guess". He said, "Yeah, and you've written two books and you're pretty famous". He said, "I think she was jealous of you. She'll never travel first class". And that's Jay's outlook. I wanted to go for her jugular, I react far more than he does.
Oh gosh, yes, he made a famous statement. It had been raining very heavily and our gutters were just awash and I gave him empty matchboxes to sail down the, down the gutters. And he's out the front doing this and a little girl who'd only moved into the street a month or so earlier, and he, she was of the same age and they'd been playing together and she called out, "My Daddy said you can't come into our house any more". And Jay just put another matchbox in the water and he said, "Why?" And she said, "Because you're black". And Jay said, "Oh your Daddy's mad. I'm an Aborigine, I'm supposed to be black". And you know he wasn't five and I thought, yep, we're doing alright here, we'll be right. [INTERRUPTION]
Yes, very. I'd be sitting there waiting for them to come, or they'd be sitting there waiting for me to come, and people would be saying to them, you know, "Is your mother picking you up?" And they'd say, "Yes". Or - and the comments that would be made about two Aboriginal kids and then I'd turn up and you could see the looks on their faces. One of the funniest experiences that Jacob and I had was when he applied for his first job. He had been promised an apprenticeship with QANTAS - they were giving out Aboriginal apprenticeships which later they decided not to do - but he had to go through a fairly stiff medical. So we went along to Redfern for this medical and in he went, and I sat inside to read a magazine. He came out, went past me in a white robe and I waved and he waved and on he went. Then he came back. Then he went again and he was gone for about 40 minutes in all. Coming and going, coming and going. So he sat down and he was dressed again and I said, "Gosh, they were thorough Jacob". He said, "Yeah, they said to me, 'Does anyone in your family have diabetes?' And I said, 'Yes, my Mum'", and then he said, "Oh my God". [laughs] He'd forgotten I wasn't his birth mum, and of course they tested him for any sign of diabetes and when there was none they just kept testing, but that's how close we are, I guess. And on another occasion, Mary, Jacob and I were out having dinner on Friday night at a friend's restaurant and they took a little mate with them - and as always happened between main course and dessert - he gave them a loaf of sliced bread that was stale, crusts and things, and they went across the road to feed the ducks in the park. So they're over there, running around, feeding the ducks, and along came a paddy wagon, two young constables in it, they got out. They went up and they said, "What are you kids doing?" And they said, "Feeding the ducks". And they said, "Well, we've had reports of Aboriginal kids stealing the ducks". And they said, "No it wasn't us". And they said, "Was -your mum likes a bit of duck, does she?" And Mary said, "No, Mum doesn't, she likes turkey but she doesn't like duck". And he said, "Oh I bet you had some for Christmas dinner" and Jacob said, "No, Mum booked us into a hotel. We all went to a hotel for dinner". And he said, "Mum booked you into a hotel?" He said, "Yes, my mum's a magistrate". And when Jay was telling me this story, and Mary, they said, "Mum, they ran into, into the police van and they didn't come back". I said, "No, I'll bet they didn't". [laughs]. Same thing's happening with him now. We've got a BMW car and because I was a magistrate you, they can't check on my number, they just draw a blank, and they can't understand why an Aborigine is driving a car, a BMW, that they can't get the number-plate of, so they are always pulling him over. This is a weekly occurrence, sometimes twice a week, and asking him for his details and as to why this is so.
And he said, "Well my mother was a magistrate", and then the penny drops, that that's why they can't get the number-plate. Now I'm not too sure whether it is because they think he's Pat O'Shane's son or mine, but I don't really mind.
Turning now to the whole business of being a judge, you often had to make decisions in situations where there wasn't just the law to guide you, where you actually had to really make a personal judgement. How did you feel about that?
It was a heavy onus. It was a very, very heavy onus and when I became a magistrate I thought I used - if I lost a case or there was a decision that was against what I thought it should be, I agonised over it. Did I do enough? Did I say enough? Was this my fault? And I thought, now if I'm going to do this with every case, I'll go at the knees within a month. The moment I turn that key in my car, that's the end of it. I go home to my children and work's work, and home is home. Now of course sometimes I did take the special ones home with me, but I was able mainly because the kids would say to me, "Mum, that's work". And I also said to myself, "I'm only human, I'm not going to be right 100 per cent of the time. I will make wrong decisions". Thankfully, everyone's got the right of appeal, so if I'm wrong, I hope to God they appeal.
Oh I don't know. I, I think it's something you're born with, it's a sort of intuition. I, I relied a lot on body language, a lot. Also it was important to me where a kid sat in the court, next to a parent or apart from a parent, and where the parent sat. If they sat together, or they sat either side of their child, it was always very telling, because no one was directed to their seats. It was their choice where they sat.
Oh of course, of course they did, so did the lawyers. The kids knew that I barracked for Wests, black and white. Somebody - and I do believe it was some of the lawyers - they had a Wests guernsey and the kid would wear it into court and I would have accepted it except that it was always the scrums, it was a number seven, and I had a sinking suspicion it was the same guernsey. And the kids loved it when I was able to say - especially the Tongans or the Samoans, because they were big boys - and I was able to say to them, "If ever I saw, if I ever I saw a footballer, it's you, you'll make a good second rower". And you'd win them over this way rather than, than being angry, because it was their first time in court, they didn't know what to expect.
Yes, yes, I probably made more than one but I don't know about the others. It was a baby, a little girl, born of drug parents, and they had an older child, and the baby was just new, and they wanted me to take it, for them to take the baby home. And I resisted this for up to six weeks, I didn't have any faith that they could look after this baby. But it was the week before Christmas and they came to court equipped with a report from a psychiatrist, all these reports, drug and alcohol, everything else, and against my better judgement, and it was against my better judgement, I said that the baby could go home until the new year when I then would hear the case in full. And the baby was dead the next morning. And I never got over that, I never got over it. Had to be very careful that I didn't go the other way, that I would never allow a child to go home, when there were times a child could go home, so it took a while. An unfortunate repercussion of that was only recently, last year, I was at a, at a meeting of young people in a rural area where the police and, and the council fathers were wanting to have a better deal for their kids. And apropos of absolutely nothing, this woman said to me, "Did you always allow kids - babies - to go home with drug parents?" And I didn't twig at all, and I said, "Well, I always did my best to make sure". She said, "Well, a bloody pity you didn't do it with my grandchild", and it was the grandmother of the little girl. And that just about destroyed me for the rest of that, for the rest of that conference. I was very upset. There was another magistrate there who I liked very much and he came out and he said, "Don't you dare be upset about that. Every one of us, said you know, 'There but for the grace of God go I. Every one of us - we're only human - have made a mistake".
[Laughs] Oh, oh gosh, I don't know.
Yeah, I, I think one where I allowed a little brother and sister whose mother was terminally ill, to go to live for 12 months with a gay couple. Two men, one a schoolteacher, one a nurse, of good reputation and I knew that they really could help these children. They, their occupations enhanced the emotions that these kids would need to deal with the tragedy that was coming. Their mother was a single parent. And I allowed them to go and I adjourned it and I saw the kids in six weeks time. It was the first time anyone had done it - and I can tell you, there was some opposition to it - but these, the difference in these two children, was just so remarkable that I knew I'd made the right decision and it was a fairly long judgement because I knew that there were going to be prejudices, but I didn't dwell on that word, but just said that in my opinion, da da da da, that it was in the best interests of each child.
Yes, yep, yep. Two. One was a little two year old boy who had every main bone in his body broken, every main bone at the age of two. And why? Because he got between the de facto and the TV set on grand final day. I couldn't think of the word to describe what I felt about that piece of flesh that was sitting in my court. There was no word I could attach to him. The other one was a tragic case, tragic, of a mother who so desperately wanted a daughter and had her third son, who almost killed this child. He was about eight, nine months old, weighed less than his birth weight and she just kept doing things to him, without killing him, but really and truly slowly killing him because she hadn't wanted him at all. And the husband, well I don't know whether he was in ga-ga land, or where he was, couldn't see that this baby was less than its birth weight, had scars and he'd be bleeding from something, and when I asked him when he was in the witness box, "Didn't you ever think, my God, how could he get bruised like that?" He said, "No, but one of mates said to me one day, 'Mate, do you think your wife really likes that baby?'" He said, "I thought well maybe she doesn't, I don't know". Now that baby when I saw the photos in my chambers, I couldn't stand. All the strength had gone out of my legs. The happy part about that is that that baby did survive, the mother was going to be charged, but the paediatrician who was involved recommended to me - and they were my thoughts too, and to the superior court where she went when she was charged - that the baby be adopted and she have no connection with it ever again, and if that could be done, he would give evidence on her behalf as to the reasons why all of this had occurred. And the people who adopted that child became very dear friends, and still are, and it's one of the few children whose progress I've been able to monitor and see and it's amazing. He is affected, he will always be affected by the first ten months of his life, but he's a beautiful boy. They were the two of the worst. I mean there was - another poor little fellow who said to me, "I don't want to go home if, if my stepmum is going to be there", and I said, "Why?" And he said, "Because I poo my pants and she puts it in the blue bowl and makes me eat it and I hate it". She sat in court this girl, I couldn't - again, how do you describe these people? How do you describe them?
Oh Dad, Dad. Other girls had photos of film stars, mine were footballers. And, and Dad was a cyclist and had medals for cycling and we used to sit on the bus at the bus-stop on Liverpool Road when there were long road races and we'd go out to the velodrome at Camperdown, yep.
Well, I used to play tennis, I loved - we always played tennis, Saturday mornings and one evening, and watched football etcetera, but then when Jacob joined the soccer club I felt that as a parent I should get on to the committee and take part. And so I was there was one year just attending meetings and the next year after the elections, there was a, a knock on my front door and there was the committee to tell me that the president had run off with the treasurer and would I come and be president. So I ended up as president of the junior soccer club, totally unheard of of course, and then when we were delving out the teams - who was going to coach which team - none of these men wanted the under 6s. So I said, "Well I'll coach the under 6s", and I did. They were called Barb's Babes and we went through undefeated. My little band of - I had 15 of six year olds - who all lost their front tooth that year. They used to bring them to me in a matchbox. [INTERRUPTION]
It means everything. I am an Australian. I am so proud to be Australian. Everything, every fibre of my being is proud to be an Australian. I love the people, I love the country people, I love their spirit and I love the quiet achievers, you know, really those quiet achievers, I love it. Hope we never lose that. We are losing it a bit in the, in the cities of course. People are so busy, busy, busy, don't communicate, don't talk to each other. Whenever I step into a lift and everyone's facing you as you step in, I always say "G'day". I don't know what they're doing when I turn round and face the door, behind my back, but I always say "G'day".
No, I'm the most apolitical person you would ever meet. I don't care who is in government, I really don't, as long as they do the right thing by families - and by that I mean mums and dads and children and everybody involved, the extended family - do the right thing by them, because without strong families, we won't have a strong country.
Oh well, I guess they're right, yes, I guess they're right, yep.
I see it when I travel to the country what a community can do for that town or that city. The community, not the state government, not the federal government, maybe the local government, but the community who work with pride for their town. I see what they can do. Now I think that we're losing that in the city so what we should be doing is working in our suburbs and our shires so that we're proud of our suburbs and the services that are provided. We can't keep looking to the government for everything. We have to do stuff ourselves. Now I, I keep referring back to Mum and Dad but they wouldn't accept the old age pension because they had money although they were entitled - they didn't have a lot of money, but they were entitled to the pension - but until that money went, they were too proud to accept a pension. And I love that, because all too ready people are there with their hand out. What can I get? What can the government provide for me, without trying themselves. And I saw kids who were into the third generation - I make no apologies for this - who were dole bludgers. Couldn't wait till the birthday came when they could go and get their unemployment cheque. They had no intention of ever working because neither mum nor dad nor grandmother nor grandfather had worked, and this is how it was. And they knew, my God, they knew everything that they could get for nothing.
Took away their pride, their sense of achievement. I saw kids who came before me - and this was a very wrong thing to do - who had committed a crime of some sort, nothing world shattering, and I would say this sentence is going to depend on you getting a job. I'm adjourning it for six weeks, you go and knock on factory doors, you go and knock on doors and say, "Without me your business is going to collapse". You get yourself a job, you get out of bed and get a job and come back and see me in six weeks, and if you've got a job and you can't come back in six weeks, get Mum to come and tell me. Now I saw those kids after they got a job and they were different kids. Or the parent would come and tell me, "They're bringing their pay packet home and they can't believe it", and the parents are proud of them. It's important.
Up until, I suppose, John and I separated.
Played a very big part in our lives. We, I taught Sunday school, sang in the choir, went to church etcetera, but then the time came when John and I really needed the support and it wasn't there. So, I, I felt it let me down very badly.
It wasn't there to advise us, to support us. Wasn't there with any wisdom. And it should have played that role.
I'm an atheist.
No, no, done a lot of study, read a lot. I know this shocks people because they don't see me, because of the person I am, they don't believe me when I say it, but it's true. It is true.
I believe in the human spirit, I believe in myself, I believe in other people and that's okay. I believe in kids, they keep me going. Not some belief that I'm going to go down there if I'm not good, or I'm going to purgatory for a little while because something happened or that I may even get to string along on a harp. No. Not for me.
Barbara there's this strange disjunction in your life of in-between what you now believe to be right for people to do, especially for families, and what you've told us about your own life. Is this because you really have been able to learn from your own personal experiences? And if so, I'd really like you to sort of talk about how that happens because people can draw a lot from it. To go back, first of all, in relation to divorce. You say now that you think that people really should stay together if they possibly can for their children and yet you, with a very young child, and a really pretty decent sort of husband from your own account, decided to divorce. Could you tell us about that and how that relates to what you now think?
Well of course my thinking's changed. You know, we've moved on over 40 years and my God if I was still thinking as I did as a 25 year old I'd be pretty pathetic. If John and I - and I have no doubt about this - if John and I had had anybody to counsel us, to listen to what our needs were, our emotional needs were, and could rationalise that with us, we'd still be together. We never stopped loving each other. We, when he - when his second wife divorced, his children came here to me and our closeness it never changed. So we should have been given that opportunity and on reflection I think that everyone should be given that opportunity so that there should be more counselling services for, for people. I think divorces are too quick. I think that maybe - if people could have time to reflect - that maybe not so many people would divorce.
From both, from both, and what I've seen it does to children. I mean I know from Louise it's had an effect on Louise. She loved her father, she adored her father, and she would have loved to have been able to live with both of us, but fortunately we never had an argument so there was never any troubles with access or Christmas Day or Easter. We worked that out between us as to what was the best for her.
Now you've spoken very eloquently against the nanny system and yet Louise had a nanny, she had a full time person living in with you, looking after her. Is that an experience that made you form that view too?
No, but I was living there too. I wasn't working. She, her role was to assist me, not Louise. I was the one who fed Louise and nursed her and bathed her. Just physically I couldn't lift her or carry out any of these things.
Well, I wished I hadn't had to do it. Louise and I've spoken about this and the effect that it probably had on her but if I hadn't done that, there'd have been no money there because John remarried and started a new family and there wasn't enough money to go around I guess.
Look my mind never stops. It's go, go, go, go. I'm not planning on doing something and I guess this was one of the things that was happening in my marriage, boredom, as I said I was reading a book a day, I was bored witless. I walked miles and what was I going to do, sit at home and chat to Mum and Dad, who were still closeting me in their own way. But, no, I was able to get out there and create, that - be creative and to put in, because that's also my philosophy, if you don't put in, don't expect to take out, and - yeah, I needed to put in.
Again looking back, do you ever think about the road not travelled? Was there another life, a different life that you could have had had you made different choices at any particular point? In other words, is there anything you wish you'd done that you didn't do?
No, I wouldn't change my life at all. Nothing, no.
It's right now, that's why it's been right. I'm very comfortable where I am emotionally, in every sense, I'm very comfortable. I've loved the experiences that I've had so that they've created me so that I can understand how it is to lose a child, to be divorced, to be a single mum, as I was, to be a working, single mum, to be a professional person, to have money problems that I didn't know where the next penny was coming from, and having a loving mum and dad and a daughter I adored, and still do. Truly, when I think about that funny little peanut, you know, I saw in that humicrib and into the beautiful woman she's grown, I'm very proud.
Can I imagine a future for this Australia that you love so much that would be your ideal? If you could just wish, what would you like to see that would really be the big change that you'd like to see happen in our society here?
I would - if I had a magic wand - I would take away all the pain from every child. No more pain. No more physical, emotional, psychological - no more pain. But if I'm going to talk common sense, what I would like to see happen is that every state and territory in Australia have a commissioner for children, where they concentrate wholly on the child in the family. The Australian child in the family. Just like you have attorneys-general, and so we'd have a federal commissioner and all of these commissioners would meet with the federal commissioner. You know, all the laws in our states and territories are different. It's like as though we've got Spain and France and Germany between New South Wales, Brisbane and South Australia. I'd have uniform laws for all our Australian children.
Not in my lifetime, no. It wouldn't be hard to do, they just think it is. They just think, "Oh my God, that's creating another office, that means we've got to employ this and that and, oh my goodness me, that's money, can't spend that on kids, not till their 18 because they are our future".
I've remembered one area of the trends - remember yesterday we talked about trends while you were on the bench, things that, that became issues like drugs and violence and so on - one area that we didn't explore was the whole business of sexual abuse that has come into prominence since you became a magistrate, am I right? I'd like to ask you about that, in that context of where we were yesterday, talking about these areas.
Well I think it's always been there but now we're uncovering it and we're looking at it, we're airing it, and this is good. It's good because I think that there were people that didn't realise what they were doing was an abuse. Not just sexual, I mean abuse in every sense. Now that we've opened up what could be a can of worms, people are realising that that is not, just not on. It's not acceptable. In relation to sexual abuse, yes, it's being disclosed. I don't know that we've come up with many remedies. I don't know that we've come up with protection for these kids. In fact I think we've gone backwards with that. When I sat at Minda, there was a squad of detectives who dealt only with child abuse and they were so professional. They were so good at it, I was getting briefs before me that were first class. Suddenly for reasons that I don't know, that squad was disbanded and every police station dealt with the abuse. Can you imagine a 15 year old girl who's been sexually abused by stepfather, father, uncle, whatever, telling a sergeant of police all about it? No, it's too delicate. That girl is too fragile. It is a very, very particular area that I believe is not being looked at closely enough. I don't think enough's being done.
Oh well this - whether or not the mother would accept that there was in fact sexual abuse going on and would turn on the girl and call her names and was all disbelieving, "How could you break up the family?" What do you do with a little girl like that? Where do you send her? Because you have to take her out of the home, you can't allow the abuse to go on, then that makes her believe she's the one that's caused all this trouble, and she's guilty.
Not much at all, except say over and over and over to this little girl, "This is not your fault". And I had them crying and saying to me, "But if I hadn't said anything we wouldn't be here". And it was dealt with so badly. There was a systems abuse, the kid would have told her story six, seven times before it came to court. Now that's an abuse.
It's so wrong, it's vile, it's so wrong. He can say what he likes up there in the Northern Territory - he knows and I know why he's done it - and it's for one race of people, our original race and that's who he's catching in his net. And I hope the human rights hammer him. That poor kid, suiciding, over what? Crayons. I worry about me making mistakes on the bench and not being able to sleep. My goodness me. And it's not as though people haven't complained. They have.
It'll be the same I suppose. I want to go on championing kids' causes. [Laughs] I suppose I'll run out of steam and puff, but just making wherever I can, making it better for them, making a difference because by God it's hard to be a kid these days. Some idiot, idiot in Victoria has now said that every school child should be doing up to three hours homework a night. Butt out. This is government abuse in a family. What are they doing telling a family, coming into the home, saying your child will do three hours homework? Oh butt out. When are these people going to sit round a table and talk and kids be kids, and get their heads out of computers? Come on, this is terrible, you know, it's further abuse by governments of course. Governments took a lot of rights away from parents but never told them what the alternatives were. And so parents threw up their hands and said,"Well if you know so much, you do it. We're opting out". The number of kids that came home from school and said - littlies - "My teacher said you can't slap and if you do I'm to tell her". Hooley dooley. Not right.
There isn't one. It's taken for granted that you're going to love them. You can take it for granted they're going to love you, but I don't believe they can take it for granted that you're going to love them. Love them, and not only listen, but hear what it is they're saying to you. They say so much but you don't hear it because you're really not listening.
Andrew was sentenced to quite a long term - because actually there were two deaths - and he ended up eventually in Minda, and he turned 18 and he was in his 19th year. And the, our gardener at Minda had taken him under his wing, and this was what I talk about when I say rehabilitation in a detention centre. This man was wonderful with Andrew. Andrew would be there, gardening away, physically with a shovel and a pick and he would be on the lawnmower driving around, often bringing in a bunch of flowers for me to have in my chambers, and he really was developing into a good kid, but he still had a fair way to go with his sentence. And we wondered and we all prayed that he would stay on there because it was so good for him. Now there was either a wedding or an important birthday and he was allowed to go home for it with two escorts, and it was either a Friday or a Saturday night. Now on the way home from this event, the escorts stopped at a pub, left Andrew in the car and went in for a drink. They may have taken him with them, I don't think they did. They left him in the car. Somehow there was there a photographer from a newspaper who photographed Andrew and the headlines were, "Andrew Tregurtha", you know, "Is this what happens when you get a life sentence?" or whatever it was. Now that came out in the morning paper and by the next morning Andrew had gone. In the middle of the night, they came, they took him in a prison van, took him to an adult jail which was Berrima. Few months later he hanged himself. It took me a long time to get over that. And also that was one of the reasons that I work so hard for a jail for young people for that transition because I said otherwise Andrew has died in vain, and that was what we needed - if Andrew could have gone into a jail for that transitional period.
During the period that you were a magistrate, it was the time where just a couple of women MPs started campaigning about a pederast ring and about talking about systematic abuse of children by rings of, of pederasts, pedophiles. Were you conscious in your court or through your own work that there might be something to this because there was a lot of scepticism about their claims?
I have no doubt there was, no doubt, and I in my court saw a number of these kids. I remember one boy, beautifully dressed and I knew his background, I knew mum and dad didn't buy these clothes, and I knew what the facts were and I said to him, "Isn't it time you made a decision to change your lifestyle? Because it may be okay now but by God you're going to regret it as you get older". And he just looked at me and said, "Who's going to dress me like this?" That said it all. Yep, I knew it was there, we all knew it was there, but who - there was no proof.
I don't know, makes one wonder, but it would only be speculation, I don't know.
No, no, if I had that - the slightest bit of that doubt in my mind, no, I never sentenced them. Any kid that I sentenced who was not guilty - I just couldn't see it happening.
Would it have helped if you'd had some of the modern techniques, like say DNA testing and so on, as part of your apparatus for - I mean now, you know - very, very recently DNA testing has become available as an option and there are human rights issues that have been raised over it, what's your opinion about DNA testing?
I'd DNA test everybody. Forget the human right nonsense. Look what it would do? It, look at it. In America it released a man on death row. That, that's the upside, I can't get past that. I can't get past it, and if you go out to a jail, more than 50 per cent will tell you that they're innocent, how they got a bad deal, they got this. Good, step forward, be DNA tested. I've, now look, unequivocally, yes, get DNA testing.
Ah, there are many people out there as game as me. Look at Chris, Father Chris Riley, he's gamer than I am, he really stands up to them, face to face, not through the media. There are people out there who will go on championing as I have, yep, I know that. I'm, look, I'm a grain of sand, [VISION ENDS] truly. It's a big beach.