Australian Biography: Dame Roma Mitchell
Born in Adelaide, Roma Mitchell (1913–2000) graduated as a lawyer in December 1934, and the following February began as a barrister with an Adelaide law firm.
In 1965 she became a judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia, the first woman in Australia to be appointed to that position.
She also led a deputation of women seeking the right for women to serve as jurors.
In 1991 she was appointed Governor of South Australia, again becoming the first woman in Australia to hold that post.
Interviewer: Robin Hughes
Dame Roma, I wonder if you could tell us what was the most striking thing you remember -- your earliest memory of your childhood?
I have vague recollections of the time we lived at Renmark in the riverlands, and I would have been two, I suppose, yes, and I think the reason I remember it is because there has to be some cut-off point, doesn't there, even with childish memories and my father went off to the war when I was two-and-a-bit and I do remember, either my second birthday or Christmas time, because I can remember somebody having given me a mechanical toy and my father and some other male friend playing with it on the floor, excluding me, so that's really my earliest exact memory and I think it's right — because my mother was doubtful that I could have remembered it when I said some years later but I described the entrance which was a fairly large entrance hall. So I think that's the earliest accurate memory I have.
Watching them play with that toy, do you remember the feeling? Was that the beginning ...
Yes, I was thinking, I'm not going to be left out anymore. I think I thought I was excluded and that's why I remembered it, obviously. It's those things that children do remember.
Did you subsequently have a pattern in your life of feeling, well, I'm not going to be excluded from things that matter to me?
I have no recollection that I ever felt that I wouldn't be excluded but of course I was a younger sister with a sister three-and-a-bit years older than I was and I think a younger member of a family is always fighting for recognition in some way.
Were you a competitive child. Did you feel competitive with your sister?
I don't think I felt competitive with my sister, but I think I was competitive. I think I was competitive at school, I had feelings of competition as far as school things were concerned, mainly I suppose on the academic side because I really wasn't ever going to shine at sport and I had enough sense to realise I wasn't ever going to shine at sport. I think I probably realised where my talents lay reasonably early, but yes, I think I was competitive.
Did you do very well at school right from the beginning? Did you start shining from a young age?
Yes I did. I didn't start school until I was, I suppose, nearly six-and-a half because that was the age at which children started school then. I can remember being bored for the last couple of years at home because there were no kindergartens in those days, and my sister was at school. And so I harassed my poor mother to teach me to read, and to teach me to do various things like that and in consequence I was put into what was then Grade One when I first went to school and after about a month or so I was moved up a grade so I suppose I was a nuisance in that respect there too by knowing everything. And so it meant that I was always a bit younger than the other children I was at school with. I don't think that helped my lack of prowess in sport either because in those earlier days we played sport by classes and of course the other children were always bigger and stronger than I was and so I don't know whether ... I don't think I would have been a good sport anyway.
It could have affected it though.
I think it may have, yes. Mmm, because I was always a very slim child and didn't really grow tall until I was 14, I suppose. I was smallish and then grew really quite tall. So it probably did have some effect. But on the other hand, I always enjoyed studying dance and did that with quite a lot of pleasure. Ah, so it really, I don't think it affected me emotionally at all.
Yes, physical activity that doesn't involve sport and competition has always been part of your life hasn't it, in that you like dancing, you like swimming and so on ... ?
Yes, well, actually the sports I like are the non-competitive ones. I like swimming, I liked dancing, I liked riding, horse riding; no competitive sports at all. I like walking. I've always been a good walker. I think one of the benefits I may have received is that I haven't suffered from any of the ills that competitive sport sometimes brings. I have just opened a new premises for the Physiotherapists' Association in South Australia and I pointed out that only once [had] I had occasion to visit a physiotherapist and that was when I walked into an iron wheelbarrow and pulled a cartilage in my leg, and it is rare for anybody to reach my age and to have had only one visit to a physiotherapist. I really think that sports are responsible for a lot of later ills of that sort that I've been spared.
Now, going back to your family, your father. Apart from the fact that he played with your toys, what sort of a person was your father, could you describe him to me? And could you tell me a little bit about your relationship with him. I know you were very young when he died, but did you feel in competition with your sister, and how you felt about your father?
Yes, well, I was the youngest of three children. The first child — all girls — the first child had died as an infant before my sister was born. I think my father cherished my sister very much. Ah, well for obvious reasons both my parents were very concerned, having lost their first child. I don't have enough recollection of him to know that I did feel competitive, the only other real recollection I have of my own is that I can remember clambering for attention when he came in, when he was about to embark for overseas. I remember him in uniform. He was a very tall man and I can remember I tried to attract his attention and make him pick me up, because my sister always got a lot of attention from him, for I think obvious reasons.
Otherwise I know him only really through my mother who was very devoted to him. He was a lawyer himself but he'd been really induced into studying law because his father was a lawyer and had become a judge and I don't think he was very enthusiastic about the law. He loved country life and so he insisted on practicing in the country and on living a little bit out of the town where he could have some land of his own. My mother felt that, had he come back from overseas, he probably would have abandoned law and gone on to the land. She was, as I say, very devoted to him. I think from family friends, when I was young, he was a very outgoing person, made friends easily, was pleasant to look at and had a good sense of humour. My mother always said I was like him but I don't know.
Did she mean in looks or personality?
I think she meant more in personality. When we were young I think my sister was more like him but then when we got older we got more alike too so it's very hard to tell, isn't it.
He was killed on the 5th of April, 1918, at the beginning of that Villers Bretonneux battle in the trenches and it was rather — I find it rather touching this ANZAC Day (1993) when I planted a tree in the gardens of Government House to commemorate the battle of Villers Bretonneux; it was rather strange that I was able to do that. One pleasant thing that must have happened to him was that he went away as a private from South Australia and he was sent to Trinity College, Cambridge, to get his commission and he did. So he must have had a very pleasant time there. I always feel that's encouraging to think that he had those couple of months or two or three months, whatever they were, in the atmosphere of Cambridge, which he clearly did enjoy very much.
So it was a year after he went away that he was killed?
Ah no, 17, it was, I suppose it was about 15 months, say 16 months, mmm.
And how did the family hear about it?
Oh, I think it was very hard in those days because it used to come by a telegram, delivered to the door, missing, believed killed in action, and then a long, what must have been an interminable, wait for a confirmation. I don't know how long it was. It seems to me it must have been weeks, but I don't know how long. It must have been weeks I suppose.
With your very good memory for your childhood, do you remember that telegram and do you remember what happened?
I do remember that, but I'm not sure whether I remember it because it's been reinforced by something that somebody wrote. My sister at that stage was at school and we lived in North Adelaide, and I used to be permitted to walk up to meet her on her return from school, not crossing the road, on the same side of the road as she was coming back. I would have been four at that stage and when the confirmation came I went up to meet Ruth as usual and when we came back Mother said, "Ruth, you know I've got something to tell you", and Ruth just burst into tears and said, Roma told me. And my mother said to me afterwards, "Why did you tell Ruth?" and I said, "I wanted to save you". So you know, it obviously did affect me. I have got some recollections even of the earlier time, you know, I can picture the telegram arriving and picture what happened.
It was extraordinarily responsible for a little four-year-old to feel that way ...
It was, wasn't it, yes. Yes, it rather surprised me when I heard about it later because I had forgotten it but I can still picture it. I can still picture the scene. You never know how much is your own actual memory and how much has been reinforced, do you, with these childish things.
What affect did that then have on the family life?
Oh, it had a big effect. Ah, well, first of all there was very little money because my father had been young and hadn't been able to build up anything. My mother was a very strong woman but nevertheless she — it was a terrible blow to her. One from which she never really fully recovered. She never contemplated marrying again, although various people used to suggest it. My sister and I as we got older were little horrors, we'd say, oh, we'd leave home (when I think of it, you know) but I, she, never did. I think it had a very big effect on my sister who was three years older than I; 'course, it had some effect on me but I think a bigger effect on my sister than on me.
And the financial impact in those days ...
... Was very strong, yes. Very strong.
What did your mother then live on?
Well, there was a pension and a little bit of money, but very little bit of money, and also you had to keep up appearances in those days, you know, you had to be able to do the things that other children were doing and, yes, it was a big struggle for her.
So, but she managed to maintain a place in that class, in the professional class?
She did. Yes, she did do so. She had two sisters who also lived in Adelaide and one of them was married to a barrister here, Frank Villeneuve Smith, who became very noted as a Queen's Counsel. Now, although there was no — obviously, there shouldn't have been any support from them, but they were very socially minded and my mother used to go to the races with them, and we'd all sometimes go to the theatre, usually with them. Although we'd go to the theatre on our own, but of course as we got older we used to go up in what we called 'the gods' in those days, up in the gallery. I don't think the theatre's ever been as good as it was then. In the old Theatre Royal; you wouldn't have known the old Theatre Royal in Adelaide, I suppose. It was a lovely old theatre, a little like the Theatre Royal in Hobart, which still exists and I'm talking more of our later school days and student days — people'd buy a ticket which would be comparatively reasonable and then we'd go up dirty old stairs and sit on the stairs until the doors were opened and we'd rush in and we'd sit way high up and just on the rough formed benches. So there was a lot of theatre in those days but even earlier through the relatives I, for instance, saw Pavlova when I was about, I don't know, 13 I suppose and so it wasn't really a poverty-stricken childhood; we did the things that we wanted to do but they had to be very carefully done.
Your mother must have been a very good manager to do all that on a ...
She was. She was an excellent manager. Yes. Ah, very careful. I think though that it was one reason why she was very anxious for us to be able to make our own way financially without having to rely on somebody else to do so for us.
Did you learn a lot from that yourself?
Oh, I think I inherited a lot from my mother, yes. I was very close to her and I think I did inherit a lot of her will to survive and to maintain standards. Yes, I think I did.
From the things that she taught you when you were young, what are the principles ... as a lawyer you're always talking about principles ...
... what were the principles that you think she inculcated that impressed you?
Ah, I think courage and strict honesty ... and this isn't a principle but the desire to learn. She was a great reader herself and she was always very encouraging in that respect.
So, there was nothing at all culturally impoverished about your childhood?
No, no, there wasn't. No, we were very fortunate in that respect.
I went to St Aloysius' College which is a convent school in the city. And I started at that school aged six-and-a-bit and I was there until I was 17. That was my entire school life.
What were the academic standards of that school like?
Very good. That was, my mother chose it for its academic standards. Once again, my sister had started at another school which was then a convent school, but which was then regarded as the leading school I suppose from the point of view of instilling the ladylike qualities, but my mother thought the Mercy nuns who ran Saint Aloysius College were better educationists. So she really carefully selected that school.
Did she transfer your sister there too?
Yes, she did. Well we moved house. We moved from North Adelaide to Kingswood, which is a southern suburb, so it probably wouldn't have been convenient for my sister to stay at North Adelaide but I think she loved that school too. I think she always harked back to it a little bit because it was a small school in those days but my sister moved first and then I followed a year later when I started school.
Was your mother very religious?
Yes, she was. And in those days, of course, the religions were divided. It's a joy to me today, especially in my present position, to see how ecumenical people are because my father, my mother's family, was divided — her father's side of the family were Anglicans, her mother's Catholics and she was brought up as a Catholic. My father's people were Anglicans and what we used to call 'lay church' in those days and it was, as far as they were concerned, it was a cause of division. They really didn't like the Catholic religion at all in those days. My grandparents, I mean. Ah, so there were problems there, but she was deeply religious herself. And that was that.
Did you ever experience, as a child going to a convent, any of the anti-Catholic feeling that was held by the dominant Protestant majority?
No, I don't think I did really because we had cousins, both on my mother's side of the family — well, mainly on my mother's side of the family, because on my father's side of the family they were not living in Adelaide then, but we had cousin who were not Catholics and we had plenty of friends who were not, so we mixed quite freely but there was a bias, obviously.
Was religious education strongly emphasised in the convent you went to?
Oh yes. In those days, yes.
Ah, well I've remained a practicing Catholic so it meant quite a lot to me.
So, religion is still a force that you actually turn to with prayer and all the other things that people who are religious practitioners use to help guide your life?
Well, it's certainly a part of my life. Yes. I should think that is accurate. Yes. But where I think it's so much better now than it was is that I go to a lot of religious services, as you may imagine. Sometimes two or three on the one Sunday but I can join in quite happily. I would have obviously been permitted to go in my position as Governor but now I can go along and join in quite happily the different services and so I think that's really a very big improvement. Ecumenism is quite strong in South Australia. The South Australian heads of churches meet regularly and work very well together.
Dame Roma, was there anybody at the convent, friend or nun, who you remember as having a particularly strong effect on you?
I find that one rather difficult, some of the nuns, see, all the teachers were nuns at the time I was at school. We had no lay teachers at all. And some of them of course impressed me more than others; some were very good teachers, some I suppose were not, and some had personalities that appealed and some didn't. But I don't know that I regarded anyone as what they like to call a 'role model' these days. I can't say, well, so and so influenced me to do any particular thing one way or another, quite frankly.
Was there a general atmosphere that fostered any particular characteristics in the girls? You said that you'd been moved from one that made them ladylike?
I think that there was certainly encouragement to academic success, strong encouragement to academic success. I had always, for as long as I can remember, intended to study law. Now why, I don't know but, except of course, it was a family thing, but why it should have appealed to me I don't know. There was certainly no discouragement of that, which there could have been in some schools in those days — and it just happened that the first woman lawyer in South Australia, Mary Kitson, who became Mary Tennyson Woods, she had attended that school. And a couple of others had already studied law, from the same school. Now, that wasn't unique. Methodist Ladies College had Dorothy Somerville who died only in 1992, who was a lawyer in her own practice until ... well, she was still going to her office when I came in here to Government House in February 1991 and she was near 90, if not quite. So they'd, you know, come from other schools but there was certainly no discouragement of any academic attitude and there was a great encouragement to academic achievement.
There was nevertheless a general expectation at that time that girls, after they left school, were really marking time until they got married?
Oh, there's no doubt about that, because the majority of girls left school after what we called the Intermediate Exam in those days, which now would be Year 10 I think. Yes. And some left earlier, after Sub-Intermediate, and then did something or another, preparatory to getting married. Oh yes, there's no doubt about that at all. And there was certainly an attitude that you wouldn't waste money on a girl's higher education. And I know people who were at school with me, who would have really liked to go on and do university studies [and] were actively discouraged, but that was by their families, not by the school. And I think that happened until comparatively recently. I don't mean that particular school, I mean with girls from all families.
Yes, I think I did.
So did the nuns ever suggest to you that you might want to become a nun?
Oh, no. I don't think they did. We had various people in the school who said they had what we used to call 'vocations'. Some of them didn't become nuns, and one or two, several, did. I remember I used to say in those days — I must have disliked the heat very much when I was a child, I don't mind it at all now, because I can remember saying that I couldn't become a nun because I couldn't survive in the habit they used to wear, you know, they used to wear a great stiff, what we called a 'gamp' ( I'm not sure what its correct term was) and the veils over the heads and a lot of clothes. So I always dismissed it that way. But no, there was never any act of proselytising in the school.
How did you imagine your future at that time?
Well, I imagined that I was going to finish school, go to university, get my LLB degree, become a lawyer, become a barrister, that was it.
You never wanted to do anything else but law?
Do you remember the first time the idea occurred to you?
No, I don't. That's why ... I know it went back many years and I just don't remember. It was for as long as I could remember talking about the future at all. A bit the way small boys used to talk about being engine drivers.
Well, see there was a family background in law so I suppose that had something to do with it.
Was it mixed up in your mind with your father?
Quite possibly. Yes, quite possibly, and my grandfather was a judge in bankruptcy here, although he died way back in 1926. As I said, we mingled with cousins whose father was a Queen's Counsel. One of those, only one did in fact become a lawyer, the sister who was older than I, started to do her law course but dropped out and the cousin who's younger than I am, nine years younger than I am, that one, he is a County Court judge in Melbourne. And we still see one another whenever we can and we're in very constant communication. So there was that sort of legal family background, certainly, which I suppose had something to do with it.
How did you think of the law? When you were thinking of it before you knew the detail, what did you think you were letting yourself in for?
I think what I thought was that I was going to get people their rights. I think it was an advanced human rights effort. We didn't ever hear of human rights in those days.
So, it wasn't just the interest in the humanities. Would that have been your bias in your subjects at school?
Well, it was literally all we studied at school. There was virtually no science, there was really no science studied at all. But on the other hand I always enjoyed mathematics and so I probably could have swung over but I was interested in the humanities, nevertheless.
And in those days that probably would have led you, the professions that were obvious for women were teaching and nursing?
Oh yes, yes. There was a lot of encouragement to teaching at the school too, because that was a good thing for women to do until they got married.
No, no it didn't.
So, when you went through school and you had this notion that you wanted to stick up for people's rights, and that's what the law would do, did you start acting on that while you were still young? Was that something that you began to get interested in before you began the study of law? In other words, at school did you find yourself in the role of the defender of others?
I think I was, at school, the one who always tended to put forward if things were not, in our words, 'fair'. I always found myself, or if I thought somebody was being 'picked upon', would be the expression we would have used in those days, I think I did find myself in that position as a defender, yes.
And what did the nuns think of that?
I got by very well, really. I think I was always a very courteous child, that was upbringing. So my suggestions were always put forward tactfully and in the appropriate language. Ah, that must have been why I got by, I was always very well-treated at school.
So, you would actually say some quite strong things that were implicitly critical of the way things were done. And get away with it?
... by being polite and courteous.
I think so. I hope also by being reasonable.
Do you think that's a pattern that you continued to observe, that you knew that you could actually do and say things that stood over against what was the established view, provided that you didn't overstep the line in relation to your personal demeanour?
I think that has been a way I have behaved. I don't know that I've done it intentionally. I think it's been innate. But I don't know that I've always been successful in not being considered to step over the line. I suppose the most difficult period in my life was when I, from that point of view, chaired the Human Rights Commission, when one had to be much stronger and receive very strong criticism.
We'll come back to that later because I'd like to talk to you more about how you coped with that when we get up to the Human Rights. So at this stage at school you planned to do law and was there going to be any financial problem about that?
Well, not really, except of course having to live, but by this stage the whole community had come into The Depression, so very few people had much money anyway. There were university fees. I did in fact win one of the 12 scholarships. There were only 12 scholarships given throughout the whole of South Australia which franked university fees. And I did in fact win one of those, but before that I knew that I could get financial assistance because there was a wonderful man called Sir Samuel McCaughey of a New South Wales family of pastoralists, I think, who had made provision in his will for education for the children of servicemen who'd been killed in World War One. He must have left what must have been a considerable sum of money in those days because every child had the opportunity of further education. Every child of servicemen who'd been killed in the war. I'm not sure whether it went any further if people had died later. I think not, I think it was people who were killed on active, what they used to call on active service. I think he must have envisaged giving the boys a trade and letting the girls learn domestic service, etc.
But the terms of his will had been interpreted very liberally and I have known people who got through their, studied law, studied medicine, and got right through on the terms of the McCackie Bequest. Now I got some little benefit from it in relation to books, etc. There might have been a slight living allowance. I just can't remember. But the majority of it I didn't get because I won the scholarship. But I did know from the age of about 13 onwards that that was there because at that stage we used to be interviewed at about 13 I think by a committee and asked what we wanted to do. And I had had that interview. So I knew that that part was alright.
She started off, she wanted to do medicine, but she had a little — she was dissuaded from that and she did what was called Kindergarten teaching in those days and then she went off from that into journalism but then she married later on and of course she didn't do anything thereafter. She always resented the fact that she didn't but she married a man much older than she was who didn't like her continuing with her work which was unfortunate.
Do you think your sister ever had cause to resent the fact that this young, very bright, sister of hers was ... really did so well in life?
Oh, no. I'm sure she didn't. We were like all children when we were young, we argued and disagreed and had our problems, but we were really very devoted to one another and no ...
... You were right there behind her wanting to catch up all the time ...
... Yes, that would have been an irritation, but no, I don't think so. I think we didn't have any problems until she became too ill for her own good.
No, she didn't and that was the thing that was a great sorrow to her because of an illness she'd had earlier and she didn't understand at the time; nobody did at the time. It turned out she couldn't have children and they didn't want to adopt, which they could have done in those days, so it was a problem, although she had a very happy marriage.
And you were always close to her?
Very close, yes.
Looking back on your childhood, if you had to pick a single figure that really stood out as the person who most shaped you, who would that be?
Oh, my mother. Very strongly.
Could you talk a little bit in summary about why your mother was so important to you?
Well, I think we had a great affinity. I don't think it always happens with mother and daughter but we did. And oh, she had wonderful qualities, she had staying power, she had courage. She was always encouraging. Ah, she entered into the fun of things. She was, you know, just a great person, I thought. And other people thought so too. My friends thought so. I wasn't the only one. A lot of people, a lot of my friends were very fond of her.
She was a woman who'd grown up in Victoria's age?
... and did she ever try and limit you?
Oh, well, you know, she didn't approve of smoking and it wasn't for health's sake in those days. That sort of thing. She was a person of her time in that sort of respect. Yes. Ah, but that's the type of thing. That's the best sort of illustration I can give.
Was she disappointed that you didn't marry or was she just proud of your career?
Well, of course, I hadn't gone terribly far when she died. She died when I was 25 so she didn't know that I wasn't going to marry at that stage. And I really had only just got going. It was quite a sorrow to me that she didn't live long enough to see some of the future.
Cancer. She had breast cancer when I was about 12, I think, and then 13 years later she had become not well. She had some arthritis etc and of course in those days there were no aids to diagnosis so the surgeon decided that he better see what it was and discovered that she had cancer of the liver. And although it seemed very bad to us at the time, she just didn't pull out of the operation. She went into a coma and really it was the better thing to happen but you don't think it at the time.
Well, it was a great grief to me. It's still a ... even at this stage I have to remind myself that it was many years ago. I still feel on the anniversary of her death, I still feel a grief.
But what she represented still actually is a strong influence on you?
Oh yes, yes.
So, back to your career and where you were standing. You graduated in law. Did you do as well at university as you'd done at school, academically?
I think I did pretty well. I didn't get all the honours but I got the David Murray Scholarship, which at that stage was the scholarship awarded at the end of the course to the person, you know, for best achievement in the whole of the course, so I suppose I did. I also did the course in four years whereas the usual was five years. And ...
Well, we had to do certain arts subjects and if you had a credit in Leaving Honours you could do two years in one of the arts subjects and so at the end of my first year I succeeded in having about five units instead of three, I think it was, and that enabled me to catch up and do the lot in four years. Well, that was mainly financial because I could be admitted to the Bar when I was 21, and I was 21 in the October and I was admitted in the December. So I was eager to get going and to make some money. Not that we made much in those days but it was something anyway.
How many women were in the course when you were doing it?
Oh, we had about 30 out of about 200 students. It was quite a substantial number for those days. Of course, now they'd be at least 50 per cent, possibly more than 50 per cent. But we were quite a strong little body.
And how many of those 30 stayed in the practice of law for a lifetime?
Ah, I can think of five offhand, one of whom is still practicing law, Beryl Lynn, and she was ahead of me in the course and she's still doing her legal practice. Jean Gilmour retired just a little while ago. Helen Solomon who went to New South Wales, who again was ahead of me, she practiced law in New South Wales up until quite recently. But the majority of them gave up on marriage. And didn't come back to it. One or two came back to it but the majority gave up on marriage. And of course, some have died.
You will have witnessed a big change in that respect in your lifetime?
Oh yes, it's a huge change in that the women do go ahead with their own careers and some of them manage, you know, right up until a child comes. And go on practicing. Yes, that's a big change. I think though that there still is a problem in the legal profession as well as in all others. I, in common with other people, would like to see more women right at the top and I think it is a problem still that a lot of women find it necessary to take perhaps up to 10 years off during their childbearing years and until they get the children to school. And that sets them back. And even if they don't take the time off, they don't always spend full-time at it. So I do think it is still a problem in getting them ahead.
So for you, in the practice of law, there were definite compensations in not having a family?
I think in those days it would have been difficult indeed to have achieved what I achieved with a family. I suppose it could have been done; in some professions I knew it to happen. In the law, Joan Rosen over in Melbourne, had a family. She was ahead of me, she was perhaps 10 years ahead of me, and she always continued with her practice of the law. But it was rare.
Did many women actually consciously in those days make the choice, think, 'I love this job, I love this work, and therefore I'm going to have to avoid getting entangled and married because that will mean the end of it.' Was that something that people thought?
I doubt it. I would think not. I don't think I had any such conscious, in fact I'm sure I didn't have any such conscious feelings.
So it wasn't a conscious choice?
No, it certainly wasn't.
Not like dedicating yourself, like a nun?
No, certainly not. No, no.
So you went through this all during a period and came out and started practicing as a young lawyer ...
... right in the heart of The Depression ...
Yes, it was.
Now, could you tell us a little bit about what The Depression was like in Adelaide during that period and how, as a young lawyer, you experienced working and living here with so many people in dire straits?
Yes, as far as the university was concerned, most of us didn't have much money and so that was alright. We made our own fun and of course it was the times too. You know, there'd be one person'd perhaps have a car that the family had been able to give him or her, but most people wouldn't have motor cars. Most of them would have to use public transport and get by some way or another. But it was a lot of fun. We had a good time, but then I did see people — some of my contemporaries used to say they couldn't remember much about it, but I can. I can remember walking along North Terrace to the university and seeing the line of men down Kintore Avenue, which is just on the east of Government House, going to get their ration tickets and all they got was this ration ticket which they could use at a shop to provide food for the family. They got no money and they weren't supposed to get cigarettes on it and ...
... The other day when I went to open something, a man told me that his father had had a milk run out near where I used to live and that it foundered during The Depression because the ration tickets; they couldn't get milk on them. They could get powdered milk from the store. It was really horrifying when you think of what it was like. I remember we used to do our Articles in those days along with our university courses so that for my second year at the university I was in a firm, Articled in a firm, as well as going to the university. So you'd go for lectures and you'd come back to your firm. And it was right opposite the old Advertiser newspaper building and Sir Langdon Bonython, who had been the founder, was there and he out of his beneficence used to give, every Friday, the unemployed would line up and get two shillings each from his secretary and I'd see them lined right down Weymouth Street. Well it was beneficent but it was horrifying to think that's the sort of thing people used to do. I've seen the banks of the Torrens lined with just makeshift huts made of newspapers and bits of boards where the men were sleeping. Men used to come around to the backdoor of the houses asking if they could chop wood or do anything for some food. You'd give them a meal. It's bad now but it's nowhere compared with life in The Depression years, I think.
Even relatively speaking, you think that the poor now, because of course the rich are a lot richer ...
... and we all live at a higher standard ...
... at a much higher standard. Even so, I don't think it's comparable situation as it was then.
What did it mean for you as a young lawyer? Did that affect the practice at all?
Well, yes, it did mean that nobody was making much money in the early days, certainly. And you had to take the good with the bad. The major thing was that there was — as far as it affected the people — I acted for, in my early days, a lot of women who were perhaps subjected to domestic violence, who had literally nowhere to go because nobody had the power to put the husband out of the house if the house was either his or was rented in his name. Nobody could put him out. There was no pension for deserted wives as we used to call it or no family allowance. There was really nothing for them at all. They could get a bit of domestic work but not enough to keep a family on. So a lot of them did put up with violence which they shouldn't have had to put up with. That was one thing that I did know in those early days.
Did you feel completely helpless about that or was there anything you could do?
Well, obviously, there were things that were done and that I must have done myself because I was very touched — when I came into office in Government House I received literally thousands of letters and some came from women for whom I'd acted in those days and I didn't remember them, but a letter would say something like this, "Forty years ago you told me that I couldn't put up with the violence that I was suffering, that the family couldn't endure it and acting on your advice I got out and I'm glad I did," and then mentioning the members of the family "and so and so's married and got three children and what the children have done." Now, they had very long memories so presumably somehow I did help them. Although I don't know that I remember it so much myself at this stage.
It was clearly something that the young Roma found not very fair?
Oh definitely, yes.
And did you feel in the longer term that you wanted to see a world in which those kinds of things could be dealt with in a fairer way?
Oh certainly, yes. There was a big scope for improving the lot of women, apart from the lot of people generally as far as unemployment was concerned. And of course as far as women were concerned, the problem with pay for work was a very serious one because the basic wage, which was the basis on which all wages in factory and other employment were based, was fixed on the assumption that the wage supported a man, his wife and two children, and that the woman supported herself. So she received only a fraction of the man's wages. And often you found that the woman was supporting aged parents or helping them and the man was single, so it was really very unfair and the argument always used to be that the economy wouldn't stand it if they increased the women's wage, so I did a lot of talking about that. That was not really part of my own career but I did a lot of campaigning, one might almost say, talking to various groups on that topic.
In what context, where would you talk?
Oh, mainly the League of Women voters, a very strong group in those days. They handed over eventually to the electoral lobby, Women's Electoral Lobby, and they would organise meetings, not necessarily women's meetings. I can remember going, being invited to go, to Western Australia at one stage to speak to a meeting there. That sort of thing would be — but that would be not strictly relevant to my practicing my profession. And of course it didn't affect me because I was in a profession and so I was able to make my own terms but it did effect so many women.
Did everybody working in the legal profession at every level get equal pay though?
I don't think they did. I think a lot of women who were lawyers didn't receive the advancement that they should have received, that the men in the practice would be preferred ahead of them; I'm sure that happened. Ah, and I've heard of many tales. Of course, the main way in which it did affect women was in relation to women employed as secretaries and clerks in legal firms because their rates were fixed again on the basic wage plus, and so their basic wage was too low. Even accounting for the change in the value of money, the amounts that secretaries and people in legal offices earn now would be in no proportion to what they earned in the days when I started to practice.
We were talking about the fact that men and women's pay was not always equal even in the legal profession. When you went into a legal practice, were there any women working there, or were they all men?
No women lawyers, of course, we had our own secretarial staff, all women. They were receiving what was the pay, but then they were all women doing that sort of work and so one didn't notice it so much. I think I started off on much the same sort of terms as the men who went into other firms, which was very minimal in those days. We received very little but we all expected that, you know, as we walked in. But of course I saw it in government offices. I saw it up at the court where we had government employees in what we called the 'master's office' in those days, where documents were filed and a lot of the court proceedings were really exemplified, and even as Article Clerks we used to visit those offices and we always felt we had to learn from the people employed there, and in that case we all realised that there was a man and a woman there and that the woman was really, she was the expert, and very nice. The man was very nice too but see he received a lot higher salary than she did because he was a man. Now he happened to be a bachelor. She happened to be unmarried, too, but I knew that she was contributing to the support of her parents. So it was one of those things that showed how unfair the system was.
Did you go into that firm as a solicitor or a barrister?
Well, I went in as both but I really always did the barrister's work, that was what we did there mainly. And ...
So in South Australia you could practice as both?
Could practice as both so in effect we did the solicitor's work preparing the cases as well as the bar work in court. We did very little of other type work, very little conveyancing, that sort of thing. It was mainly the court work.
Do you think it's better if the solicitors and barristers, the two professions are one, or do you think a divided profession is better?
I haven't got any very strong views on it. I think it's largely an historical accident. I think it works well either way. In South Australia, although in law the profession is still undivided, there are a number of people who have formed themselves into what they call the separate bar and who do nothing but bar work. I think now that the law has become so much a matter of division in the law itself, I'm thinking of the complications of the company law for instance, corporations law and trade practices and various parts of the law which have grown up in the last 15 years or so.
People have to specialise much earlier, which in some ways is a pity, but they not only specialise they specialise into just doing the Bar work. I do think it's good if people want to go to the Bar, this has always been considered a good thing throughout Australia, even in New South Wales and Victoria. I think it is good if anybody has a few years of doing the solicitor's work and knowing what the nuts and bolts are all about and then moving to the Bar. But I haven't any strong views as to whether people would be better served with a divided or an undivided profession. I think where the profession is undivided people still have to specialise and still have to do a particular type of work, so you'll find some go into court and some don't. It eventuates that way and I suspect, I think, that's what happens in America too.
When you started, you did a bit of everything?
And was there any part of it that you enjoyed more than any other, or was there any part of it from which you were excluded because you were female?
Well, I did virtually no criminal work when I first went into practice and I think that is a very good court in which to start to get experience. But you have to remember that women did not serve on juries in South Australia, in fact they were not able to serve on juries until after I went onto the Supreme Court bench. So it was an all male jury, a male judge, the only female person in court would be some poor unfortunate witness who would be accompanied by a member of the women police force, because the women police in South Australia were sort of a separate body of the police. They did only what would now be regarded as welfare work, virtually. And it was not thought appropriate for a woman to hear, and still less to use, some of the language that might be used in the court. And so I felt I would be doing a disservice to the client if I went into the Criminal Court, that I would have been an object of curiosity myself. So I rather eschewed the criminal work. I did do a little of it, but very little. Otherwise I did anything.
Did you enjoy it? Did you really find that you'd found your niche and found good about what you'd trained in?
Oh yes. I always enjoyed it. It was, it was right for me.
Why? What was it about it, do you think?
Well, there's a certain amount of excitement in court work I suppose. It, the Bar and the acting profession are to some extent allied it seems to me. There's a lot of preparation for a case. And, although some people appear flamboyant, they're not going to be successful unless they've done that preparation. So there's a lot of getting ready for a case which is a big case. Then there's the court atmosphere which is an atmosphere of its own. And then there is either the high of success or the low of non-success.
There's a lot of excitement attached to it. But apart from that of course, there is the interest. The law itself is interesting and the facts with which lawyers are concerned are interesting and we do tend to become instant experts for a while. You have to study a particular form of science or anything of that sort and for a while you really become quite knowledgeable about it, you forget it again of course afterwards. But there's all that interest and variety I think.
But the essence of it for you was the drama?
No, I don't think so. I think the essence was getting justice. Because you have to remember that a lawyer is bound to accept that the client is telling the truth so that you're not sitting, you're not there to be a judge, you're there to put that case forward as it's given to you. And so therefore your aim is to establish the truth of that case. You don't, or you shouldn't and I don't think you do, sit back and reason, well, it's probably not true. That's not your role at all, so that you're caught up with presenting the case as it's given to you and with establishing the rights of the client. I think that is really the main interest.
Did you feel you always did get justice, or was there ever an occasion that maybe still burns a bit where you felt that justice was not done?
Yes, I think there's always some such occasion. The ideal is that one doesn't get personally involved and if one is personally involved it's probably not a good thing. But there's always the odd occasion where one feels that judgement was wrong. And I think the main thing is not to have to feel, well, it's my fault. I suppose you do always feel it's my fault in a way but it's much better if you can think that the judge was wrong than if you think you were wrong yourself.
Or didn't do a good enough job?
Or didn't do a good enough job. That's why I say preparation is so important because if the preparation is there then you're likely to do a reasonable job. Not always of course. Nobody's going to present a perfect job.
Do you remember any specific case where you feel, let's put it this way, the judge was wrong?
Yes, I can remember one case years ago where a small boy suffered, had a fractured arm and was in a country hospital where his cries of pain were not heeded and he suffered very serious injuries, and in those days it was practically impossible to persuade any member of the medical profession to give evidence concerning alleged negligence on the part of another member of the medical profession. Now I acted in that case and two of the leaders, whom I shall not forget, were very strong and did come forward and did give evidence as to the fact that there was negligence, but then ranged against them were about six others and the judgement went against us. And I've always felt that was a wrong judgement. Took it on appeal and established that the judge had made an error in one particular crucial fact but the High Court didn't, still didn't feel, that it was sufficient to interfere. I've always felt that judgement was wrong. It was mainly that I don't think that the people who gave evidence for the defence should have. I don't think they were honest.
It was impossible to break it down at that stage although, as I say, I had two leaders who were strong enough to come and point to what was wrong. Of course, it was before you had all the aids to diagnosis, I must confess that. But this small boy was regarded as being a nuisance and they should have realised that he was going gangrenous and they didn't. So yes, that's one I feel very strongly about. I don't know what became of the little boy. He'd be a middle-aged man now.
Was there any triumph that you had, where you really didn't expect perhaps to win the case, but did so? Do you remember any particular moment of great joy after a case?
Oh, there was often a moment of ... like that. But in fact the last case in which I ever appeared as Counsel, and it went on in various forms with various actions for months, was for the South Australian members of the AWU, Australian Workers' Union, who had been dismissed from their posts from the Head Branch of the union and this went on in various forms for months. It was ...
Union officials. And it was very serious for them because there were months without any income at all. In fact, one of them (they all did well later on) Jack Wright, who became Deputy Premier, he went back shearing, hadn't been shearing for years, went back shearing and they were good. They didn't complain. Well the judgement in that case, in the final case, we'd kept on winning and then keep, you know, other things'd come, was given after I went onto the bench and I didn't think we had a hope of winning the whole lot and we did by a two to one judgement and they still rejoice about it. They still carry on about it, although they've all gone into — or some of them, one or two of them are not living now — political careers in which they were very successful. But that was quite a triumph. For them as well as for me.
Why were they dismissed and who dismissed them?
Oh, I forget all the ramifications now, but it was to do with the elections and there were always queries about elections in that particular union because it spread throughout the state and throughout the country, and they had to take their voting from shearers' sheds and the question was whether they'd, first of all, had an honest election and then whether the subsequent election was an honest election. And oh, there were all manner of ramifications about it. It was really, I suppose, union politics but I didn't ever quite understand those, I didn't ever try it, it didn't matter for what I needed. It didn't matter for them but it must have been one wing of the union had strong views one way and one wing had strong views the other way. But that was a very long case which I didn't expect to win, certainly not in its entirety. And which was a triumph. But of course there were others and they were important at the time. And then you go on to the next job.
You've said that as a lawyer it's your job to defend the person who's your client?
Have you ever been in a situation where you in your heart didn't believe your client and really felt that they were guilty, when they were not? When they were pleading that they were not?
No, I wouldn't have ever let myself feel that. I think that is one of the elements that you have to train yourself in. That you do not, you are not, the judge. There have been odd occasions when I've said to a client, well, I believe you because I'm bound to believe you, but it may be very hard to convince a court that way. So I suppose you expect, you're expressing some disbelief in that respect but then you do know that it's not for you to decide whether you believe or don't believe ,because if that were not the situation some people would never get a defence. They'd never get a Counsel to defend them if Counsel allowed himself or herself to be the judge also.
Yes, but the system depends on your speaking for somebody who may in fact be lying?
And you have to act as if you don't think that he or she is lying. Does that bother somebody who's so concerned with fairness?
I don't think you act as though you don't think he's lying. I think you act as though your opinions are not what are an issue. It's his, it's what he says, his instructions, that's what's at issue. You see, otherwise you confuse the task of the judge and the task of the defending counsel. It is a very important situation. Of course, on the other hand, I think the public sometimes thinks that a barrister puts forward a defense knowing that it's not true. Well of course that again is completely unethical and nobody with any ethics would do that. If the client says, 'Well I'm going to say this but it's not really the fact', well then you say, Well, I'm sorry, I can't appear for you.'
Have you ever been in a situation where you've declined a case?
No, I don't think I have, no.
But you would have been perfectly prepared to do that?
Oh, you'd have to, you'd have no alternative. No alternative at all. The only difficulty that a person, a barrister, can be put into is if halfway through the case, especially in a criminal case, the accused says something which is in effect an admission of guilt. Then the barrister is in the terrible situation that he or she can't throw over the case because that would be unfair to the accused, can't put the accused into the witness box to tell a lie, can't cross-examine the prosecution witnesses to show that they're lying, so really proceeds, if the client wants him or her to proceed, with hands tied behind the back. 'Course the best thing then is for the client to get somebody else. But once or twice people have been put in that unenviable position, which'd be really dreadful.
One of the things, I suppose, that strikes people looking from outside at the legal profession is that it deals with matters, especially in the criminal law, but right across the board, of really great philosophical weight?
Things that have great social ramifications, psychological ramifications, in what is a sort of fairly narrow technical framework in order to avoid falling over into any of the areas that you've described. Did you ever find that frustrating?
Ah, no, I don't think I found it frustrating, but I think it's one of the things that I and others recognised as a problem and I don't suppose we found the answers. It's certainly a matter that occupies the mind.
Often in those discussions, the question of the adversarial as opposed to the European system of law comes up. What do you think about that? What do you think of the English tradition?
Well, I have always been a very strong proponent of the adversarial position but there's something to be said for the inquisitorial one. The problem is, I think, that we've come up in the strong belief that nobody should be obliged to incriminate himself. And sometimes that doesn't mesh very well with the inquisitorial system. I think on the other hand that there's one modification that my Commission of Inquiry into the Criminal Law recommended, that has been adopted here that I think is a good one, and that is the abolition of the right to make an unsworn statement in the criminal court.
I think that was ... well, it was unedifying, to say the least of it. In a case of, perhaps, several people charged with rape of a young, perhaps a young girl, having her stringently cross-examined and then having the accused one after another making a statement simply without being cross examined, now that can't happen now. And although nobody's obliged to incriminate himself, if you have evidence for the prosecution which is all one way and the accused chooses not to give any evidence to the contrary, the jury may be told over and over again that it's not for the accused to prove anything, they're almost certainly going to convict him in those circumstances if the evidence for the prosecution is credible. I don't have any problems with that, I think people ought to be able to give evidence and be cross-examined if they maintain what they say is true.
I suppose I was asking you that question in a personal way, in that here was this girl who'd been well-known for saying, you know, the truth must be told, what's fair must prevail, then in a way having to rein in her horns to really act in a very precisely determined role, and I just wondered whether it ever gave you difficulty?
No, I don't think so. You see, I think one of the tenets of the legal profession is that although we have a lot of precedents we'll always say they're only made to be distinguished. In other words, they're made for you to find a way round them; if justice isn't being served then your ingenuity should assist you to find a way around them. So I think there's always that feeling, that you don't let yourself normally be hemmed in. You find some way of getting over what your instructions are is the truth.
Did you ever defend, successfully defend, somebody in a case, where afterwards in your own mind a guilty man's gone free?
Well, once again, I don't think it is appropriate for a barrister to be asking that question. You really wouldn't keep your sanity if you ... perhaps you don't keep it, but you wouldn't keep it if you put yourself in the position of being judge or jury plus defending counsel. Ah, you may think, well, I think he was possibly lucky but you don't really make the decision as to guilt or innocence. You shouldn't.
You said you didn't do much criminal work as a barrister because being in the Criminal Court was a bit of a problem because there were not women serving on the juries?
And that you had in fact been instrumental in making some kind of effort in that direction. Could you tell me a little bit about what happened over women on juries in South Australia and what part you played in it?
Well, over quite a number of years, the women's organisations including the National Council of Women had been pressing for women to serve on juries, and it was not thought desirable to have women volunteer for service on juries as they did in Queensland I think, and so it was thought desirable that women should be included on juries. It wasn't a judgement by your peers if half the population was deprived of the right of sitting, or the duty of sitting. And they'd made various representations over the years. At one stage, and I don't remember precisely the year but it would have been in the '60s, the National Council of Women asked me to lead a delegation to the then Premier, Sir Thomas Playford, on this topic and previously they had reached the situation in which the Premier had said, "I wouldn't like my wife to serve on a jury." So I put a bit of work into it and worked out the arguments that would appeal to him — the National Council of Women represented however many thousands of women it was, and they were unanimous in all the various arguments in favour of it, and I put the arguments, led the delegation and much to the surprise of everyone he said, "Well yes, that sounds very reasonable. I don't see why we shouldn't amend the law." But then he went back and talked to his ministers and some of them said, "I wouldn't like my wife to serve on a jury." So he did nothing about it. And a few months later there was a change of government and the Labor Government which came in, it would have had Mr Walsh I think as Premier then, but Don Dunstan was Attorney-General and he was very keen on these reforms which related to women and they introduced the legislation. I was always a bit sorry because I knew that Sir Thomas really had reached the conclusion that it was quite a proper thing to do and he'd been thwarted in it. So in fact women didn't come to serve on juries until I think it was the beginning of 1966 or 1967. Anyway, it was after I was on the bench.
Now, could you tell us a little bit about the way you came to be on the bench?
Yes, what happened was that at that stage the numbers of Supreme Court judges were defined by the statute and there had been six judges. Now the number isn't defined by the statute so another judge can be appointed without any legislative problems. But there was an amendment to the Act appointing, making it possible to appoint, a seventh judge and everybody knew that the seventh judge would be appointed. There'd been lots of speculation. Always was in the profession. And it didn't occur to me it was at all likely, at all possible, that I would be invited because no woman had ever been on the bench and Don Dunstan, who was then the Attorney-General, asked me to have lunch with him in Parliament House. And I did. And much to my surprise he asked me if I'd accept an appointment. Jessie Cooper who was one of the two first women in parliament in South Australia, and that wasn't until the '50s, was always very furious afterwards because she'd seen me having lunch in Parliament House and it hadn't occurred to her what the purpose was. In fact, it was about six weeks after that before I went onto the bench.
And you were genuinely surprised?
Absolutely surprised, yes.
And what did you think when you went home that night and thought about it. I mean, did you say yes straight away?
I said yes straight away because I thought I should accept the appointment. I thought I owed it to women. I really didn't want it at that stage. I was enjoying life as a Queen's Counsel and I really didn't want to go onto the bench. And I was very unhappy for the six weeks preceding my going on the bench but I felt I should take it. And I thought I wouldn't enjoy it. And I knew I did enjoy my life as it was, but I was wrong. I did enjoy it. I enjoyed it, it's different. There's no excitement in connection with a judge's life but it was still interesting all the time.
Your motivation, you said, was because you felt you owed it to women?
Yes, well I think I did at that stage. You know, if you don't do a first in something then there's no follow on.
Was that your only motivation?
I think it was my main motivation because I would have preferred to wait. Because, as I say, I was enjoying what I was doing.
Actually, before we go on with that, I missed a step in all of this. I didn't get you to be a QC before I popped you onto the bench. So I think I better ask you about ... so I'll pick that up now.
What was the pinnacle really for you of your practice at the Bar? When did you really realise that you had a very successful career on your hands?
I think it was when I was appointed a Queen's Counsel. At that time in South Australia, members of the Bar didn't apply for silk as they did in the eastern states. It was an appointment by the government on the recommendation of the Chief Justice. And the Chief Justice, Sir Mellis Napier, had been there for many years on the same bench. I think [he] did not really confer with his brethren on these topics but made the recommendation and I really was very pleased about that one. I think it was the pinnacle.
Yes, it was good because although one does more difficult work and some of the bigger cases, it seemed to me not so much of a strain of jumping from one thing to another. One could concentrate more.
Why do you think that in the present sort of hierarchy of the kind of work that people seek out in the law, commercial law and law relating to those aspects of things has somehow a higher status? Certainly, higher earning power than those who are involved in criminal law?
Well, it has a higher earning power because there's so much money involved. I think it has a status because the law relating to corporations has become so very complicated. It really is a very complicated part of the law and it gets more rather than less complicated. So that to become an absolute expert in that really does betoken something.
Do you think it's an area that could do with some simplification and reform?
I'm sure it is. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that. It's really got out of hand in recent years.
Did you have any other hesitation about going onto the bench apart from the fact that you knew that you would lose some of the excitement of life as a QC?
Well, it was a change in a lot of ways for me. I had been, for 18 months to two years, a member of the Law Council of Australia which is the central body of the legal profession and that was remarkable because they'd never had a woman put up as the legal profession in South Australia had put me up to be its representative and I was enjoying that. I was going to be its incoming president so of course I couldn't do that. I was going to be incoming president of our own law society and I couldn't do that. So there were things like that that I had to give up. I thought perhaps it would alter my social life more than in fact it did. I really didn't find much alteration in my social life.
What had your social life been like?
Well, I've always been fairly gregarious and I had a lot of friends and went out, you know, dined out a lot. That sort of thing. I remember one friend of mine who was and still is a bachelor who, when he heard the news said, "Oh, this'll be dreadful. There'll be so many things you won't be able to do," and I said, "Oh I don't know. I've only thought of one I don't think I'll be able to go to," and I named a restaurant — I can't even think of its name, perhaps just as well, and that's why I made you take me there last week. Because it was in the Hindley Street area and, although they had good food, it was frequented by some of the lower life in Adelaide, not that there's a great deal of lower life in Adelaide. And I didn't go back there. You know, that sort of thing was, just a few things like that.
Yes, only a few things like that.
And so, as a judge, what did you notice was the major thing that happened to your professional life?
It's of course quite a different professional life. Some people think that it's more difficult, more stressful as far as health's concerned. I don't. I think it's less because as a judge you can do only one thing at a time. You can only sit on one case. As a barrister you're trying to juggle one case against another and so I didn't think that was so. And given good counsel of course it's not so very difficult. Given poor counsel you've got to do more work for yourself, of making sure that the legal angle is right. But I think where some people find it difficult is that they find it difficult to make up the mind after the case. I've always been critical of the delays in the law — all my time in practice as well as on the bench I have preached against delays, and I really have tried to practice that. Haven't really found it difficult to do so, so I didn't amass large numbers of reserved judgements for myself. That I think could make it very difficult. The problem is that you lose impressions if you go back to write a judgement and I've seen examples when I've sat on the Court of Appeal of judges who've clearly lost touch with the case when they've gone to write their judgement. And that can make it stressful.
How did you overcome that problem? Why wasn't it a problem for you?
Because I think that is just one of my characteristics. That I am punctual, I don't like putting things off. I like doing them and it's rare that a lawyer doesn't like putting things off. I think that's unusual.
I think most of the public would agree with you about that. So as a judge, as soon as the case was over, come hell or high water you wrote up your judgement?
Well, you couldn't always because you'd go straight on to something else. But you could always find some time that you can get back onto it without waiting too long.
Do you think you were a good judge?
I don't think that's a thing one can really decide for oneself. I hope so. But I think primarily it's the legal profession that would say that because, I suppose, they're biased in some respects. But the client is certainly biased and is likely to be affected by the result, although I think mainly people have an innate fairness, and if they can see that they've been given what in modern parlance would be called 'a fair go',they usually are pretty satisfied. They may not be satisfied with the result but they're satisfied with the treatment.
And did you pay a lot of attention to giving the right fair kind of treatment?
I think that's very important. I think it's a very important role for a judge. Important to be fair and impartial and courteous to witnesses, as well as to Counsel. Sometimes Counsel can take a little less courtesy because they're accustomed to it but by and large I think it is important.
What other characteristics did you try to espouse when you were working on the bench?
Openmindedness, I think, is one that's very essential. We all have our prejudices. And we don't always recognise them. And I think it's a good idea to take out your prejudices and air them to yourself every now and again, so that you don't let them weigh with you in making a judgement.
Did you become conscious at any stage during your period on the bench that there might have been something that you had to watch out for, that was a prejudice in you?
I think you notice it in the Criminal Court, mainly, that there are some crimes that appear to be particularly offensive, blackmail for instance. I can only remember having one case of blackmail but I think it's a horrible crime because it really has only — gain is its only motive and so you have to remind yourself that you really don't like that particular crime. Not that you like any of them I suppose but some you have a particular aversion to.
And to think, maybe what I'm thinking of sentencing here is a bit over-stiff because of my emotional reaction to it?
Yes, that's so, exactly. You have to think it over and make sure that your emotional reaction hasn't affected your sentencing.
Sitting there listening to the sorts of things that we all know go on in court, particularly now it's so well publicised, did you feel that it was important for you to keep you emotions under rein? Did you feel emotional?
Oh yes, absolutely important not to get emotional about a case. Sometimes of course that's very difficult because, well, one is not supposed to be made of stone and some things do affect the emotions, I think, of anybody. But it's certainly necessary to keep them under control. You can't do service to the case if you're going to let your emotion fool you.
In recent times there's been a great deal of discussion about the fact that because the bench is biased very much in favour of males of a particular background and class, that the prejudices that are brought to the bench are fairly consistently the same and that maybe some other sorts of people should be mixed up with them. Do you think that's the answer to prejudice from the bench or do you think there are other solutions that might be found to certain tendencies in the judiciary, to make certain kinds of judgements based on ...
... I think the first solution is for the members of each bench to realise that they have got prejudices. And to realise that there are other points of view than theirs. And that of course is sometimes difficult. I agree, people are brought up in a certain way and they do mainly come from fairly similar backgrounds and do have fairly similar ideas, but these days, really, there shouldn't be so much difference and most judges have got children who may be grown up by the time they go on the bench but who've really taken them through a fairly traumatic era usually. I think it does depend on the personality. I know there's a lot of talk of, you know, teaching judges, of having them attend lectures, but what I'd have them taught is what I've said already, I think, recognise your own prejudices and don't let them rule you.
From your personal knowledge of your fellow judges, that you got to know, do you think that many of them are of the cast of mind to be ready to go in for self-examination in that way?
Some certainly would be. Whether all would be I don't know. I can think of judges I have known in the past, before I went on to the bench, who would have regarded it as utter rot because they were convinced that they were right in their outlook on life. I think there have been big changes and people have been made to look at themselves more. It would have been revolutionary to suggest to some of the judges before whom I appeared that they should really contemplate changing their outlook on life. That was it and it was correct. But people weren't so critical then. I think the media's played a very big part in this of course. Sometimes too big a part but it certainly has emphasised faults where they occur. You see, going back to my earlier days, no television, the reporters — if there was a sensational case, perhaps more particularly in the Criminal Court, and I'm talking really mainly before I went onto the bench — but they'd be up there with their little typewriters typing away and the afternoon newspaper which was *The News%, hoping that the verdict would come out in time for them to get it and *The Advertiser%, the morning newspaper, hoping that it'd be too late for *The News%. It was just really the newspapers. Now you didn't get as much, you got some sensational stuff across, but you didn't get as much repetitive criticism as can be given with the varied media when you think of the different stations and the different media. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. In many ways it's a good thing. Sometimes it over-emphasises things though.
So, was self-scrutiny something you really went in for a lot? Did you think a lot about what you were doing and why you were doing it?
I think I did. I think one should.
And were you sometimes quite critical of yourself when you turned your formidable critical faculties onto yourself?
Oh yes. I think anybody is really. And that is really where I think ... when judges were encouraged in the old days to be people apart, nobody was criticising them and I doubt if they were criticising themselves.
Did you feel ever that you were a little bit remote from the people that you were having to sit in judgement of?
No, I didn't think I was remote from them, really, because quite apart from my work as a judge, sitting on the bench, I'd had my years of practice, but I also did a number of other things while I was on the bench. For example in my early days in the late '60s or beginning '70s, I sat as a member of the Karmel Committee of Education in South Australia, which examined the whole education system. Now that certainly brought me into contact with a number of the schools' people. And that probably wasn't a very broadening experience but then I had in the '70s, the Committee of Inquiry into the Criminal Law with a professor, another academic, a criminologist, and that meant that we visited all the prisons, all the police lockups, so that that certainly was a leavening experience. Then later I chaired the Parole Board. So as far as that's concerned, no, I had a fair experience. I don't say that socially I mixed with all the people who appeared in court but that wouldn't happen with anybody. I think judges are all going to have some differing experiences although maybe one of the criticisms is that socially they're too alike. I'm not sure whether it'd be an advantage or not if you altered that.
You said that you'd always had a very active social life yourself?
Has that been mainly with members of the legal profession?
Oh no, no. I've had a lot of friends in other walks of life. But I would admit that [they] mostly would be either university graduates or people on the land or that sort of thing so probably not with all the people that one would deal with. Not a great deal of experience with business people, I don't think, although I have had some friends in the business world.
Mostly professional, yes.
So, you said that one of the things that went missing when you changed from being a barrister to being a judge was excitement. What kind of excitement went?
I only really meant the excitement as far as the court work was concerned.
Yes, winning and losing. Yes, see, there's no winning and losing, and you just listen and it doesn't affect the judge how the case — well it affects that judgement, but the judge doesn't have the excitement of presenting a case well or ill. It's presented to the judge and so I think it's a more level emotional state as a judge.
So you used to sometimes sit up there and think, 'I wish I were you defending this person'?
Sometimes you tend to think, you know, now that question could have been put differently and it would have had a different effect, that sort of thing.
But what were the compensations of being a judge?
Well, there was a lot of interest to it. Lot of interesting cases.
No, I was never bored. I thought I might have been but I was never bored.
You weren't one of those judges that fall asleep after lunch?
No, no. Some of the judges have ... some people who go on the bench do find it boring after a few years and you'll notice some of them have gone off again after a few years. And they are the ones who get bored. No, I wasn't bored.
Did you also find that being able to make the decision about what was right and wrong in a situation, as opposed to having to represent a client, whatever you actually personally thought, was liberating? Did you feel that ...
Well, I don't really think a judge does make a decision as to what is right or wrong. The judge makes the decision as to first, what are the facts, and where do those facts lead in law. They're not really moral decisions.
So when you became very, very well-known right across Australia, because of your work on the Human Rights Commission, did you feel in that capacity that you got closer to that original motivation way back there in school, where you were saying what's right and what are people's rights and what's fair here? Did you feel closer to that than you did when you were sitting on the bench?
Oh, yes, I think it is closer because it is then interpreting mainly the United Nations Covenants towards what is morally right. So, and not to some extent; you're constrained by the law but not to quite such a large extent.
Now, could you tell us about how you came to serve in the role and the background to it?
Yes, well, I was still on the bench and the Human Rights Commission was set up in 1981, I think, by the Fraser Government. And I was invited to chair it on a part-time basis, which meant that I had, to some extent, slight extent, get relief from my court duties, but it was very slight extent. I used to travel to and from Canberra and the other places we went and otherwise worked from the court. Then I retired in October '83 and I had another three years chairing the Human Rights Commission. Still only part-time but I was able to devote a lot more time to it. And also I was freer for comment than I had been when I was on the bench.
Not only freer for comment but to some extent it was demanded of you, wasn't it?
Oh it was, yes, it was certainly demanded of me. We were supposed to have a high profile and I think it probably was important in those days, although I don't think it made for popularity, but at least it made people understand what human rights were.
Did you feel uncomfortable with that role? Did you feel uncomfortable about coming out and taking stands on issues rather than more technical points of law?
No, I didn't feel at all uncomfortable once I'd retired from the bench. But I felt certain constraints until I had retired from the bench.
Well, only that a judge should get, you know, too much publicity. That's a problem. Well, that's what I was always brought up to believe. Some of them do get a lot of publicity now.
And you don't really approve of that?
Not entirely. I think, you know, it's said in the law if [you] descend into the arena, you must expect to gather some of the dust. I certainly don't believe in judges commenting upon their decisions. I think that's unwise. A decision is made and it has to stand on its own feet. If the judge is then willing to comment in answer to criticism there'll be more criticism and it'll enter into a debate and I think that's very undesirable.
Do you think judges' decisions ought to sound and be couched in terms that are fairly impersonal?
As far as possible, yes I do. I think, well, whether it's a civil case or a criminal case, people feel badly enough if they lose it and it certainly doesn't do any good by casting aspersions on their character which are not necessary. Sometimes aspersions have to be cast on their character in order to explain the reasons for the judgement but in criminal matters, for instance, whereas it's perfectly permissible to talk about a crime being horrible, I don't think it's permissible to talk about a person being horrible. It's a difference.
That's not something that in practice some of your ex-fellow judges would agree with?
Well, certainly some of them haven't carried it out whether they agree with it or not. But I don't think it's desirable. I think, especially in the Criminal Courts where a person is going to be imprisoned, you send somebody to jail and the jail authorities have a difficult enough task without dealing with somebody[who] has a sense of injustice because he thinks he isn't a horrible fellow. Doesn't mind people saying it's a horrible thing he did, he knows it's a horrible thing he did. It's quite a different aspect.
What do you think yourself in any case? Do you think that when somebody does something horrible that that doesn't mean that they are horribl? I mean is that a moral position that you would take?
I don't think it means that they are wholly horrible. There are often various reasons and of course I suppose most of them are the background of the person himself or herself. I don't think I ever had a criminal matter involving violence in which it wasn't established or put to me afterwards that the person had been violently abused as a child. That's almost inevitable. And there it is one reason why I'm very opposed to violence. Children as well as to adults. I think violence does beget violence.
Certainly the Christian position would be that you regard a person's behaviour as not necessarily being part of their personality?
Well, the Christian position is of course always that you hate the crime but love the sinner. It's probably a little more difficult to love the sinner but still in the way in which it's used I think it's possible. But I think that is the attitude.
Well, so here you were, somebody who had even -- during a period where you'd been this famous first in everything and that had attracted a lot of publicity -- never really felt very comfortable with publicity yourself?
Well no, I think you're right about that. I'm not enthusiastic about publicity and never have felt enthusiastic about it, but I think also the training in the law in my day was that you got no personal publicity. See, it is altering because in South Australia solicitors may advertise, for instance, now. Well that was unheard of and unthinkable. So if you spend years in which you mustn't get any personal publicity it's rather hard to change.
When did you first encounter your first round of extreme media interest in you?
Well, there was a lot when I become a Queen's Counsel. But it was worse when I became a judge. The publicity was quite horrifying to me. And I said I hoped I'd live long enough to see the event not regarded with any particular show of interest. It has changed tremendously because there was, as I say, an enormous amount of publicity when I became the first Queen's Counsel in Australia ...
The first woman Queen's Counsel.
Ah yes, woman Queen's Counsel, and the press was full of it and a few months ago there were three new Queen's Counsels in South Australia, two of whom were women. And I said at the Executive Council meeting when the appointments were made, "this is an historic day." The first woman Queen's Counsel was appointed 30 years ago and there's only been one other in this state since, Frances Nelson. And today we have two and, well, it took about three days before the papers even published the fact that these people had been appointed Queen's Counsels. So it has changed a great deal. And I don't think appointments to the bench would attract nearly so much publicity. So there has been progress.
Do you think there was something about you personally that made you also, perhaps, less enthusiastic about some of the more positive and flattering aspects of the publicity, than another woman might have felt in your shoes?
Oh I think so, yes. I know some women who, in my own profession, would have certainly, and I'm not talking about South Australia, who would have certainly enjoyed the publicity tremendously, yes.
And why do you think that was? What was it in your background that made you really want to hide from the limelight?
Um, I don't that 'hiding' is a correct phrase. I don't think I'm unduly reticent. I just think I didn't enjoy it. And also, I was always hopeful that we would, by a gradual effluxion of time, that women would be accepted into the professions as being ordinary members of them. I think that was the attitude of the people who studied law with me.
We knew there was discrimination against women in our own profession as well as elsewhere and our attitude was: if we ignored it, it would go away. And I think that attitude persisted in me a bit. You know, if you take no notice of things, you don't pretend that, don't say this is anything extraordinary, then it'll go away. It will just be an ordinary everyday event. I don't think I was entirely right in that, incidentally. I am quite in favour of some affirmative action. I think it depends upon what affirmative action is appropriate. But I certainly don't take the attitude, "I got there, you can get there too." I think there's a lot of good fortune in that. I think there's a lot in being in the right place at the right time. As well as being the right person. But I think people do, women still do, need some help to get to the higher positions.
Well, you did say you felt you owed it to women to accept the position as judge and yet how could ...obviously their knowing about it was a fairly important part of that?
Oh, yes, I knew there'd have to be publicity but I didn't think that there'd be as blatant publicity as there was.
Blatant? What was it about it that you particularly didn't like?
It was just the volume. It wasn't the content, it was the volume.
You didn't find it too personal?
Oh no, no. Oh no. Everybody behaved very nicely.
So, you were this person who really had never been enthusiastic about publicity, who perhaps had an inner confidence that meant that you didn't need it to boost you or ...
Oh, that's probably true, yes.
... Because some people actually do get gratification because of insecurity.
I think so, yes.
You always felt quite secure about your achievements?
Yes, I think I did.
So, when this person who didn't like or need publicity was suddenly in a position where actually a certain amount of pressure was put on you, to seek it for the Human Rights Commission, how did you handle that?
I think with equanimity. It was there. Had to be handled. Yes. I didn't find any stress from it.
You put your mind to it as a task?
Yes, that's right, mm. And of course I had other commissioners with whom to share the burdens and jokes about it so that's always a help.
What were the objectives of that publicity that you wanted to generate then?
Oh, to make people understand what human rights meant, what Australia had bound itself to, because there was very little known in the early days of what was meant by becoming a signatory to the various covenants. What obligations we had. And how those obligations could be carried out. What was discrimination I don't think was even recognised. I don't know that it even is today completely.
Where do you think we are lacking still in our understanding of the real meaning of discrimination?
Well, I think it's probably because people continue as they were moulded. We were talking a while back about judges and attitudes of judges and I am sure that any judge, on the bench, probably nowadays is being informed but would have been shocked at being told that he had attitudes that were discriminatory. And yet, I know some of them I've encountered in the past were very discriminatory [but] I think even those would have been very shocked to be told they were discriminatory. So, it is a gradual education process of what is and what isn't discrimination and although some of the feminists have been rather strident, I always remind myself of the suffragettes in England. They were strident but they never would have got the vote if they weren't strident. And having got the vote, they certainly used it pretty quickly. Much more quickly than in South Australia where it was really pretty easily gained and women got the vote and could have entered parliament in 1894 and we didn't get any women in parliament until 1957, I think. So, where people have to fight for something, they sometimes get further quickly.
Do you call yourself a feminist?
I call myself a feminist but I don't think a lot of the feminists would call me a feminist. I don't like feminist language, for instance. I don't see any reason to change the language but that's probably with a Latin background I see the difference between 'homo' and 'vir '. But, there are some things, but I certainly call myself feminist, yes.
And you certainly would want to be called a Governor and not a Governess?
Well, that has got different connotations.
What would the other aspects of your feminism be that would make, say, some modern feminists discount you as a feminist?
Ah, I suppose it's mainly that, as I say, I don't like the modern language. I wouldn't get excited about posters which portray women in attitudes that the feminists think are demeaning. I suppose I think they're nonsense myself, but I wouldn't necessarily regard them as being worth worrying about. And although I think there is a call for some affirmative action I probably would be much more moderate on that than many of the feminists. I certainly do not believe in putting women into positions because they are women. And I certainly don't believe in the quota system. I think that has disadvantages for women because they become only the token woman. I don't know that a lot of feminists believe in it anyway. It's mainly difference of approach I think.
In what way is the approach different, do you think?
Well, I think in the '70s and the early '80s perhaps, the feminists were necessarily being very abrasive. And I don't know that they are so abrasive now but I think that I would find a little difficult. Although I think the aims are probably fairly similar.
Throughout the years that you were pursuing your career and you were doing it in a very much male arena, did you find it very important -- because it was the '40s, '50s and so on -- to present in an agreeable rather than an abrasive way? Do you think if you hadn't been polite, agreeable, reasonable and fitted in, that you would have done as well?
Maybe not. You had to be agreeable. But on the other hand I didn't ever believe in trading upon the fact that I was a woman and I think I did see examples of that in my own profession. You know, expecting favours; by favours I mean expecting people not to take points against you because you were a woman, and it was unfair. I always believed and said that you didn't expect any more courting than you were willing to give. And I don't think everybody agreed with me.in that respect. Certainly their behaviour wasn't always that way. I thought that was very important. Of course, the main compliment that the profession thought they could pay in those days was to say that you had a man's brain but you behaved like a woman. And that was great compliments. Had to have a man's brain to start off with.
And be a lady in effect, yes. So I think that was necessary and to ignore the discrimination insofar as it could be ignored. And where it couldn't be ignored, to try to stand hard really.
So, did you find yourself ever in a situation in those days of speaking to men that you were working with, say, about unconscious sexist remarks they might have made?
Oh no, no, I don't think there was ever anything of that sort that one worried about in the profession. You're too busy doing other things.
So, do you think as a lawyer and as a judge, or indeed in any aspect of your professional life, that you've done it differently because you were a woman?
Ah, I don't know. I find this very difficult to comment on. I've never believed that women have the monopoly of certain qualities and that men have the monopoly of other qualities. I think women can be considerate and compassionate but so can men. And women can be tough and hard-hearted and so can men. So I've never really ascribed to this view that you have to have more women doing certain things because the qualities belong to women. Ah, and the qualities, other qualities, belong to men. That's one [where] I probably am rather out of touch with modern feminism.
Oh, I think modern feminism's quite divided on that subject.
So, you didn't feel that, but on the other hand, we do experience life differently a little as men and women.
Well, certainly physically differently and ...
... And also in terms of the sort of social and cultural milieu in which we're allowed to move and so on, so did you ever feel that perhaps you were more sensitive to some of the aspects of cases that came before you because of your own experience, that you could identify with them differently?
I don't think I did, consciously, feel that way. It may be but I didn't ever have a conscious feeling about that. Ah, there are some things one can understand better probably and the same thing might apply with the male in reverse. But, no I didn't ever have any feeling that way.
The major publicity that you've received and a lot of the attention you've received publicly has had to do with your being the first woman ... Do you look back on your achievements [where] you think, well, I was the first person to do that? Or do you wish that you could be known for an achievement that you've had as a human in your area, rather than as a woman?
I haven't thought about it that way, but there is a certain amount of truth in it. There are some things, well, we mentioned the Human Rights Commission. I was the first chairman as I would say, chairpersons they'd say now, of a Human Rights Commission in Australia. But those things do happen but I don't think I give a great deal of attention, in my own mind, to these firsts. But I'm accustomed to hearing them referred to.
So what achievements are you proudest of?
Becoming a Queen's Counsel.
Male or female, yes.
What about your work at the Human Rights Commission. Looking back on that, with some of the benefits of hindsight, and given that it emerged out of a great reformist period that said 'we've got to have a look at some of these things', what do you feel about your time there? What do you feel most strongly about and perhaps proudest of from that period?
I think mainly alerting people, but we came in in a fine flourish of 'here are we, Australia, with a Human Rights Commission and this is very important'. And the politicians thought it was fine when we came in. But then when they realised that the other side of the coin is human responsibilities, they really didn't like it very much. They really didn't like us at all after a while when the responsibilities part came to be emphasised. So ...
Which responsibilities were you reminding them of, that they didn't like to be reminded of?
Well, you're reminding them if you have a Sex Discrimination Act, it's not only saying yes it's fine for women to, and they should, receive equal treatment, but some men are going to complain that they're been done out of something and some women are going to complain that their husbands are being done out of something. And so were the Aborigines. It's all very well to say that Aborigines have to receive equal treatment but it means that somebody who's not treating them equally is going to suffer a detriment. There are detriments all the way and then, of course, we also became unpopular for criticising legislation. We criticised some of the legislation of the Bjelke-Petersen Government at the time, when they had the electricity dispute and they passed legislation which we believed was in contravention of the convention, and I always remember with amusement that the then Premier said that I was like a bee buzzing in a bottle with very little honey in it and he was right because there was no honey unless the Commonwealth Parliament was willing to pass legislation to rescind what he'd done, and of course they weren't willing to do that. But, so I thought he was quite apt, but then later on I heard him apply the same remark to somebody else and I was hurt. I thought it was mine. He'd given it to somebody else. But that sort of thing. So I think there were more ...
That was Sir Joh, yes. I think there were more criticisms than plaudits as we went along and of course we were limited because it's only now that racial defamation is being outlawed and I think about 80 per cent of our complaints related to racial defamation. You realised when you saw those how hurtful it is to people. And we couldn't do anything about it except sympathise and advise. So I don't know. I can't point to anything and say, well, this is the grand achievement. I think the main achievement was warning and getting people accustomed to the idea.
And at the end of it, of your period there, what did you feel personally was the area of discrimination or the areas in Australia that we really needed to do something strong about? And do you think we've made any progress since in those areas?
Well, I mentioned the question of racial discrimination which is really the symptom, not a cause I suppose, but it did demonstrate, and I think it still does exist. As far as the Aborigines are concerned, I just don't know the answer to that. It's the sort of cases we used to get related to accommodation, to jobs, mainly to those things in the townships. We did get some from the reserves too, but mainly in the townships when accommodation was not so easy to get, somebody would apply for a unit and be told yes it was available, then would turn up, either an Aboriginal himself or with an Aboriginal wife, and the accommodation was no longer available.
Now, you know that this can be a problem if the Aborigines are likely to overcrowd a place. If all their aunties and uncles and cousins are going to come in and they're going to have them in to stay. So it was a problem both ways. But often they were people who, you know, would have been perfectly safe tenants. And I can remember again, this was in Queensland, because most of those Aboriginal complaints came from Queensland in those days. Girls who were trained as hairdressers and very good and, no, they couldn't be employed because the customer mightn't like it. Those things did demonstrate a very strong discriminatory situation and then of course there was a lot of discrimination against Vietnamese in those days. They were the latest immigrants.
I remember one Italian saying to me once that when he came out to Australia it was always the Italians who'd done anything. There was one newspaper had published an article saying that certain birds had disappeared from the district because the Vietnamese had eaten them all and he said, 'You know, when we came out to Australia 30 years ago, the same thing happened but it was the Italians who'd eaten them all.' It's the last newcomers who seem to catch the discrimination. It's ignorance. It's ...
... It's that age-old human thing that we tend to look at difference and see it as inferior.
Yes. Inferior. But I've just been in Cooper Pedy, twice in the last week as it happened, and they have, they say, 42 nationalities represented in that school and there are no problems there. Cooper Pedy's a town which demonstrates pretty good tolerance. I think they did have a Yugoslav Club which is not being very much used at the moment, they've now got a Croat Club and the Serbian Club. I think the Yugoslav Club is tending to be used by the Muslims. But apart from that, you know, people can live together.
When you were there, this great ability you've developed to be objective and to not get emotionally involved in cases, were you able to maintain that through these particularly nasty sorts of little cases in the Human Rights?
By and large yes, I think. But some cases of course do rouse your emotion, but then you don't do any good. You certainly don't do any good if you get angry. You're likely to be less effective.
So you've really found it important all your life not to get too passionate about things and yet, you'd started out as somebody who was passionate enough to stick up for people and ...
I think I've retained that. That, I hope, I have retained. I think I have. But there's one thing in sticking up for people. There's another thing getting out of control in doing it.
Has staying in control and being in control of situations always been important to you?
It's always been important, but I wouldn't for an instant say I've always adhered to it by any means. Far from it.
When do you feel you sometimes lost control?
Oh. Quite often I think.
In what form? Do you lose your temper?
Yes. Yes. And I think that's, as I've got older, pretty much controlled but, no, I think I am very smooth and easy on the whole, but then there will be an occasion when I lose my temper, yes. There will be an occasion when I'll — when I think even here in Government House the place can run itself as far as I'm concerned. Well, it doesn't run itself, but I mean the people who have to run it, can run it. But then there'll be something on which I'll stick and say, no, you know, that can't happen. It's got to happen this way.
In a way, becoming Governor came for you at the end of a long line of really having to assume authority and responsibility. Did it feel like quite a natural progression to you?
I think it's a very good retirement occupation myself because I didn't think of it as a natural progression at all but it is a good, it's a very pleasant, thing to do.
How did you come to be Governor? Tell us about that one. Was that a surprise too?
Oh, it certainly was. What happens is the Premier presumably determines in his own [way], after many discussions, who ought to be invited and presumably then talks it over with Cabinet and they make a conclusion as to the person, and then the Premier gets in touch with the person and asks if the name can be put forward and it's put forward to the palace, with a CV presumably, and I don't think there'd be any circumstances in which it would be rejected unless there was something very untoward. And then it moves from there. But in my case I happened to be away on holiday and the Premier was chasing, they were chasing me all over the place. They couldn't find me. He found me in Verona eventually. And asked me. No, I was surprised because of my age. I thought I would have been much too old for anybody to contemplate inviting me to be Governor.
What were you doing at the time, apart from visiting Verona?
I was just having an overseas holiday, you know, I usually go overseas once a year ... oh, I beg your pardon, what other things was I doing? Oh well, I was still going back to the Supreme Court from time to time. A month at a time. There's a system, a comparatively recent system, of appointing what they call auxiliary judges who can be asked to come in at the invitation of the Chief Justice to clear up some backlog. So I was doing that occasionally. I was a member of the Court of Appeal for Kiribati, which is the old Gilbert Islands. Sir Harry Gibbs is the President and there were three Australians and two New Zealanders went there once a year. I was Chancellor of the University of Adelaide which was taking up a lot of my time. Ah, they were the main things. I was President of the Ryder-Cheshire Foundation which supports a home in India, Dehra Dun, and I was Chairman of the National Churchill Trust, of which I'd been a director ever since its inception. They were the main things taking up my time at that particular stage and are the things I had to abandon.
It was an impressive array of things to be doing when you were actually officially retired?
Yes, I was quite busy, yes. Yes, I didn't go from idleness to this. I was quite busy. Yes. In fact, for the first four or five weeks I was complaining bitterly that I didn't have enough to do. And then I thought, well I'd been complaining to myself about not getting around to read a lot of books I'd like to read, so let's settle down and read the books and stop complaining. And no sooner had I said that to myself than I became busy. I haven't read them since.
So what's it like here? What is it that you find to enjoy in this job?
Well, I think one of the main things is that I do see a lot of people in the state, a lot of people in different situations, different walks of life, you know, and I go and open things. I have receptions for people here if they're having conferences. I go and, as I say, I open things, I open conferences. I visit all parts of the state. So that I'm seeing different people all the time. And getting a lot of interest out of it. I think that's the main thing that I really like about it. There are other things. I've always been very attached to the theatre and to music so I go to a lot of things and they like me to come. I'd go anyway but people are pleased that I want to go to them. So that's a plus. There's not a great deal in the — I always seem to be preparing speeches, that's the greatest job. I don't have any assistance in that. Some of the Governors have, you know, research assistants. I don't have any assistance in that.
But having someone capable of doing that for herself must be a real saving ...
Oh, I don't think I'd use a research assistant anyway. You know I think you're quite right.
What do you think about the role? What do you think about the position? There's a great deal of debate going on now, with the talk of the republic, about these positions. What are your thoughts on it?
I think you have to have a head of state. And that means, to my mind, while we have individual states —and historically I wouldn't like to see them go — I think you have to have a head of state for each state too. I think it's preferable that it will not be a political head of state and that the head of state will not have any political power.
Well, because I think it functions well with us having a Prime Minister or a Premier as the case may be who takes the primary role in government. If the head of state is to have political power then, in fairness, the head of state must be subject to election. I mean, I think you necessarily are going to get a political head of state. And I don't think that's a good idea myself. It's just putting another Premier or another Prime Minister ahead.
Some people say the position has a certain political connotation anyway, because it's appointed on the recommendation of the head of a particular political party.
That is true. That is true. But then if it hasn't got any power it doesn't matter much, does it? There is of course the reserve power which could be exercised against either the Premier who made the appointment or a succeeding Premier.
As we have seen happen in Australia.
How would you feel in that situation?
Well, you see, what happened in Australia, the appointee was on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and I think that simply shows that the person who's appointed head of state is going to regard himself as apolitical, whether you think he did it correctly or incorrectly. Nobody would like to be in that position, but I think it's a big advantage to have somebody who can intervene if you have an intransigent Premier or Prime Minister. You see, there've been other examples. Of course, there was the famous one in New South Wales with [Governor Sir Philip] Game, but then there've been other crises. Somebody's got to deal with them. There was the one in Tasmania, which the present Governor has had, and the very interesting one in Queensland, I think, when Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen had lost the position of leader of his party and wanted to stay as Premier, and saw the Governor, and asked the Governor to dismiss the whole of the ministry and then reappoint a new ministry with Sir Joh as Premier, leaving out the ministers who were opposing him including the head of the political party. Now that was ingenious; it didn't work. But what do you do? You either make ... [INTERRUPTION]
... In order to be ready to face any constitutional crisis that might arise, it must be necessary for you to follow the political scene very closely just in case those reserve powers have to come into play. Do you enjoy that aspect of your job and how would you feel if you really had to act on your understanding of a political situation that had got out of hand?
... And I have executive council meetings once a week every week, and then the odd one in between if something unforeseen arises or something has to be done in a hurry. So that there is that contact with the ministry and of course the Governor must keep informed on what is happening. I don't think any Governor wants to have to exercise a power of dismissal and ordinarily it won't happen. It's only an extraordinary situation, but somehow there has to be some way of dealing with any extraordinary situation, preferably so as the community doesn't suffer.
What do you see as the real meaning of the role?
I think it is just that the role is the role of the head of state, to watch, to warn as it's sometimes said, not to warn about legislation which the Government may be going to introduce (there's a parliament there to decide whether that will be passed or not passed) but to warn if, usually through financial problems it's been most times, the state is going to get into real problems by not passing supply or if it's clear that the Premier hasn't got the confidence of his own party, and that the place is going to fall apart. It's very rare, it's hard to put examples except the ones that have already occurred.
Well, South Australia's had a slightly rocky period, even while you've been Governor. You've had to follow that very closely ...
Oh yes, we've had a rocky period and the government itself has to rely on two independents, but we haven't had any situation which would call for any intervention.
But it might have called for some wise counsel?
If anybody had known in time, I suppose, it might have but nobody did realise — I don't think anybody realised the problems that we were in financially.
So you, South Australia and you, have very close associations in that it goes way back in your family, doesn't it?
Yes. Three of my four grandparents were born in South Australia. Ah, and they were, on both sides of the family, very early settlers here.
Have you ever felt a bit like a big fish in a small pond? Have you ever thought about going to one of the bigger states or even internationally, given that somebody of your ability, stature, confidence, could have done well outside the relatively small community of South Australia?
No, I never had any aim to do so and I don't know that I would, even if I were much younger, because we're looking back to times when there weren't so many opportunities anyway. But even so, I don't know because it's hard to tell when you're old what you would do if you were young again, but I've never ... I've worked on different things in Sydney, Canberra. I had a Royal Commission in Sydney, where I sat in Sydney, which took me nearly two years, that was that one into the Greek episode with Social Security and I spent more time, for a couple of years, in Sydney than I did in Adelaide. That was from about 1984, '85, but no, I've enjoyed working in other places but I haven't ever felt, oh, it would be good to make my mark elsewhere.
I think by and large I've been satisfied with what's been offered.
Yes, I like the life here, yes.
What is it that you like about South Australia?
I think it's easy to move around in. It's not too big. I don't really, selfishly, I don't really want it to get any bigger, but I'm sure it will, at least I suppose it will. But I think the size is good here. That's the main thing because I notice when I go to Sydney, if I've only got a day or two days or whatever, I can't see my friends on the North Shore line and my friends on the other side, whereas here you could do the lot in a couple of days. And that is easier, it has that advantage.
In a job like this, as Governor in a big house with a whole household of staff and so on, do you ever feel just very exposed and you're someone who has almost notoriously valued the privacy of your private life. Do you feel ever that that's compromised by the public nature of your position here?
No, I don't think it is because, except when I'm on public duties, it's quite easy. There are some things I don't do. I don't wander around the street shopping. I take somebody to go shopping with me. I do go to church on my own which means walking up King William Street and people know that and join in and walk along with me and chat. That's the only thing I do on my own. That's not for security reasons at all. It's because I think it's better not to be available, too readily available, to people coming who may have petitions that are better that they send through the proper channels. But no, it's a little constricted in that sort of a way but then when I go down to my beach house ... I'm not constricted as all. People are very good and don't ever impose. I wander around the beach and into the little village without any problems at all.
Is this a beach house you've always owned?
For about 11 years.
And tell me, in relation to, again, your love of privacy, you say you are a very gregarious person. Over the years of your life, who have you looked to to confide in and to talk over your problems with?
I don't know that I have, to be quite honest.
You've been that self-sufficient?
Well, there are obviously some, my sister, I don't know even there — no, I don't think I really have looked at people to ... no, I think my problems have been my problems, not other people's.
Do you remember how old you were when you really started standing on your own two feet? I mean, when did you stop having someone that you confided in or looked to for leadership or advice?
Well, I certainly stopped by the time my mother died which was in 1938. But I suppose that had sort of been tailing off over the last few years. Ah, I don't mean that I didn't go for particular advice to friends and I have, but not for personal advice I think. I think advice on personal things, I don't think I did.
So, when you have a decision to make about something, not a professional decision, but something that affects you about whether or not you're going to take this job or not take it or some major thing that's going to affect the way your life goes, do you just think it through the way you would a legal decision and make it? What goes on for you? Most people would talk that over with someone close to them.
Well, I may talk aspects of it but I can't really think of any one particular person throughout my life that I have done it to. There may from time to time have been people who for personal reasons I would talk on matters of personal detail but, no, I can't say that I've really relied upon advice. I think I have relied upon my own decision. Doesn't mean that I haven't talked about a thing. Sometimes it's nice to have someone to use as a sounding board I think.
And if you had a situation which was emotionally distressing for you, like for example when you started attracting the criticism, it must have not always been easy to take that lying down. Would you complain or confide or cry on somebody's shoulder?
No, I don't think I would really, no. I think I'd rather work those things out for myself.
Would you feel that it was a little bit demeaning to do that?
No, no. Not that, it's just learning to work things out in a way and also I think I felt early, fairly early in my life, that people don't want to be burdened with other people's worries. They like you when you're not going to burden them with your own worries. I think I learnt that fairly early in my adult life, so that ...
From any particular incident or just from observation?
Just from observation I think.
So, in relation to your friends, now that you're in a situation where your close family has gone, do you have an inner circle of friends that you ...
Oh yes I do. I have quite a number. It's not quite so easy. I can't be quite so spontaneous about seeing people now as I would ordinarily be but I still maintain the links.
And what do you rely on them for?
Oh, companionship. Joie de vivre.
And do they look to you for the kind of advice you tend not to ask for from them. Do you offer it?
If asked but I suppose with some and on some occasions, yes.
I suppose really what I'm asking you about is that clearly in a life such as yours there's been a great network of people that you've come in contact with, lives you've influenced. And I was really looking to see whether or not there were people who particularly sustained you, that you were able to turn to for support and help in times of trouble. And the answer seems to be that you've managed on your own?
Yes, I don't mean that I haven't looked for consolation in times of trouble, but I think as for maintaining one's equilibrium, I've really tried to do it on my own.
I think, yes, yes. It's probably a question of temperament I think more than anything.
You've never lacked confidence?
I don't suppose I have. Of course, obviously there are some things one does one is far from confident about and there are decisions that are made that you feel afterwards were wrong decisions. But I don't think I've ever baulked at doing anything that I've been expected to do.
Because there are a lot of able people that have done less well perhaps than they should because they lack belief in themselves. That was probably particularly true of a lot of women of your generation, that lacked a certain confidence to act in an area they were really capable of acting in?
I think that's true, yes. I think that has happened.
So why do you think and how do you think it was that you didn't see life that way?
Where did you get that from, do you think?
I don't know, but I can only repeat, I think it's temperament. I really do.
Yes. Yes, but I suppose I inherited that.
But she had a lot of confidence in you?
Oh yes, yes.
And never thought that you wouldn't be able to do things?
Oh no, never.
So, one of the things that I was going to ask you was that your grandfather, whose career you ended up emulating at the Bar and then as a judge, was still alive for ...
I was 13 when he died.
I visited but not to get any great influence. He was a nice little man actually. He was very short and he was very nice. People liked him but I didn't see enough of him to get any influence from him. I should suspect he would have been horrified if he'd known what I was going to do.
My grandmother lived, she lived long enough to see me in practice.
And was she pleased about that?
Ah, I think she was but she was a pretty unbending sort of a person. She had been born in India, her father was British Army in India, and she was typical.
Was there any male figure in your early life that had any influence on you?
Not as a sort of a paternal figure, no.
Well, I suppose it must have been. I keep on hearing about the ill effects on children of single parent families. So it must have been. I didn't think about it as such but I couldn't say that there was ever anyone, you know, there were uncles by marriage. I had one, an uncle, my father had a brother but he lived in Goulburn and I didn't see very much of him. He was a nice man, but I didn't see much of him. So, you know, we really were rather lacking in any strong male influence.
But then again, all the women, all the people around you who were making important decisions, taking responsibility and acting with authority were female, so maybe that gave you some other sort of message?
It may have, I don't know.
So you've never, looking back on your now long life and a lot of situations in which you were being asked to take responsibility, make decisions, you've never had any difficulty with that?
No, I don't think I've ever had any difficulty with the fact that I've been asked to make decisions. Like everybody else, I've had my problems with making decisions sometimes. But I don't really hesitate a great deal of time before making a decision about anything important. I may reconsider something and change my mind while there's still time but, by and large, I don't think I've had any great difficulty in making decisions.
Have you ever lost sleep over a decision you've made that you regretted?
Oh, yes, I must have. I am a pretty sound sleeper but I must have at times, yes. I think everybody makes a wrong decision, a decision which he or she thinks is a wrong decision at some stage.
And how do you deal with that when you realise that?
Well usually, you know, the time has passed. You can't do anything about it. I've always tried to adopt the idea of not fretting about things that I've done. Tried to use it as a an example of what not to do in the future.
So, is there any particular regret you have? I don't mean necessarily about a decision, but again in a review of your life, would there be anything that you did regret, a wrong turn, something that you haven't done that you wish you had done?
No, I don't think so, no. Certainly not as far as my career, professional life is concerned. I don't think so.
In the course of your work you've had cause to really understand better than most, that some people live in this world with very little. Does it ever ... do you ever feel particularly privileged when you compare your life with those of others?
Yes, I think I'm greatly privileged particularly in a material sense. And I really do feel concerned for the people who are trying to get by and manage when they're materially disadvantaged. Yes, that is a problem. But once again, it's a problem that's very difficult to do much about in my position.
You've also done well in life partly because you were just born with a lot of ability which of course you've worked at and put to good use. Again, do you feel that your life, that that great intellectual energy that you've had, has been the main factor that's given you the life that you've had?
Yes, I'm sure it has been and I don't want to imply that everything's been roses though, because I've had my own personal problems as everybody else has. And I haven't always had confidence as far as affairs in my life are concerned. And I've had griefs and I've had sorrows. But then everybody has those. And I've had disappointments as far as work's concerned. But then everybody has those too. I think I have been very fortunate, I've been fortunate in having good health too, which has enabled me to do the things I've done.
So, of the things you have done, forgetting for the moment the fact that you, in the area of personal achievement, feel most proud of being a QC, of the things you've given to others, of the things you've made possible for others through your work, what would be the single thing that you might look to as the example of [what] you're proud of about your life's contribution?
That's a difficulty I find. I've enjoyed, for instance, the years that I spent with the Churchill Trust, enabling people who wouldn't have had a chance of going overseas and increasing their capacities to do so. There are so many shining examples there. One of them is Marilyn Richardson, who's doing Tosca in Adelaide at the moment, and she was a young woman who had a very good voice but she also had a family and I don't think we knew at the time she got her fellowship, her marriage was breaking up. She went overseas with young children and look at what it did for her. She came back, she's just gone from strength to strength. I think those are the things I've enjoyed in so far as I've been part of those bodies. Having something to do with that.
You've observed an enormous amount of change in the course of your life. Are there any aspects of that change that you feel particularly pleased have happened?
Well I think, yes, it's very hard to express it — maybe that by and large people are perhaps freer and more open and I think a lot of people suffered in the past, really through no fault of their own, by circumstances. We were very ... society was very harsh in relation to people who didn't comply with what was regarded as the ordinary lifestyle. I think that's been a great change for the better that people are not so critically observed as they were.
Certainly the situation of women is much better than it was. There may be still things to be done but they are much freer and have many more opportunities. Even politically, one of the ministers was saying the other day that he couldn't vote in the Legislative Council when he first voted, because it had to have a property qualification which he didn't have in those days. Even little things like that have made a big difference to life. Although it's hard for everybody who wants to get a university place to get one, it still is much better than it was when I was an undergraduate. So you know there are lots of improvements. Of course improvements in health caused by medical advances have been great. I think there've been a lot of improvements in life.
And do you think that life in your lifetime has generally got better for most people? What are some of the changes that you regret, that you think are retrograde, that have occurred in that time?
Well, the big problem that we didn't have when I was young was the problem with drugs. There may have been a little drug taking, but it was very slight. And that has been a nasty problem which has emerged. A lot of people would say more violence. I think to the extent that there is more violence probably concomitant with the drug problem. I think it's also partly due to the increase in population and partly the downside of the freedom that we applaud in other directions. But they are the problems, youth violence, the fact that I see that people are putting up metal posts in front of their shops to stop the roaming of them; those things are downside.
Where do you feel Australia is headed at the moment? What are the changes that you think are going to come for us? What are some of the challenges that we're going to face in the next little while?
Well, it seems to me that one challenge that has to be met, and I don't see how it will be met, is to improve the employment position and if we're not going to improve it, to allow people to have happy lives without full employment. Because I think a number of the jobs that have been lost have been lost forever. Whenever I visit a factory I'm shown some piece of machinery that's doing the work that used to be done by 12 men. So it's not only the fact that we're in a depressive era, but it's the fact that we're never going to need as many people working. Now some people say that's good because, in one way, it means the repetitive jobs are going to be done by machinery. But some people like doing repetitive jobs and they'd rather do those than not be employed. And I don't know whether we're going to be successful in teaching those people to use their time of non-employment or non-full employment.
As far back as when I was a member of the Karmel Committee of Education in South Australia, which was, I think, the end of the '60s or beginning of the '70s, we were trying to work out how to educate for non-full employment and I don't think we've succeeded. Some people of course can go very nicely. When I had the Human Rights Commission, some of our staff were choosing to work part-time and the husband or wife or partner, as the case may be, was also working part-time, so as each was having time with the children and that's going back to the '80s. But then they were highly intelligent, intellectual people who knew what to do with their spare time. And I think that is a very real worry, the future employment.
If you had to reflect and think whether or not there'd been some kind of theme to your life, would there be any particular principle or idea that you feel has been the one that's been the most important guiding one to you? A pattern?
I find that rather difficult. I don't know that I've ever evaluated it for myself. I suppose I would like to think that I've been more of a help than a hindrance to the people who've come in contact with me, that I've been a good friend to those who've been my friends and that I've been a good employer where I've been an employer and, in so far as I've had to sometimes be a teacher in that I've lectured and assisted people, that I've given people help. I think it's oriented towards people who've been in contact with me. That I hope they've had some value for their money.
In the area of justice, do you feel, looking back on your life in the law that you entered because of a passion for justice, that the law has delivered that in instances you've presided over?
Well, it's never absolute. We don't have a Utopia. There must be some cases in which the truth is not elicited, try as one may, some cases in which the law itself is defective in that the laws themselves don't deliver justice. And what is considered justice in one generation is not considered justice in another generation. So no, you can't say that it's been complete and absolute.
If you were to look at what your major strengths had been -- you talked about what you hoped you'd given to people -- but what do you think by temperament or upbringing have been the major strengths that have stood with you throughout your life?
I think people can look to me for support where it's necessary. I think that's probably been a strength. As far as other people are concerned — I hope I've been reliable. I think I have. And I hope I've been a good friend and also help people to have some fun. I think we too often forget fun.
Have you had a lot of fun in your life?
Oh yes, yes.
What have been the main things you've done for fun?
Oh, well, I suppose a lot of it's the company of friends really. The company of people you love. The company of your main contacts. Of course, I've enjoyed entertainments but I think that's the major thing.
I've lost my thread because I went off after fun. So we talked about the strengths that you brought. Why do you think that you, because there were other women lawyers, not all of them dropped out of the profession, and you were selected. Do you think that was ability or do you think it was other qualities as well that made you the first woman to do so many things?
I think ability would have to play a part in it. But there are other very able women. I suppose a certain amount of tenacity must come into these things. And also a certain amount of single-mindedness. I think that is important in anyone who's going to succeed in anything. Whether it's the athlete or anybody else.
So that if you were pursuing some goal or working at some task, you weren't easily distracted by personal considerations?
I wouldn't be easily distracted by anything that wasn't very important either to me or to some other person who was seeking my help. I certainly wouldn't be distracted to go off and follow some other occupation if I'm intent on doing something particular and trying to get something done, trying to finish it. I still find it hard to be taken off something that I want to get finished.
So you don't procrastinate, and you don't allow yourself to be distracted?
I don't like being distracted. I am often, but I don't like to be.
They're probably pretty important qualities actually. So ... and do you think that you've had any major disadvantage in life? That there's been any personal characteristic that you've had that has always come between you and success?
I find this is difficult. Of course I haven't always been successful and although I talk about single-mindedness, I certainly don't think I'm single-minded to the extent of putting any project ahead of some personal thing which I regard as important, or somebody else's personal thing which I regard as important. So I suppose sometimes that acts as a deterrent.
But so I suppose I'm asking you to be self-critical at this stage of your life. You've got a temperament that's strong and that's stood you in good stead. You've had all sorts of other things going for you that have worked very well for you in your life. Is there any characteristic that you've struggled with?
Well I think I would naturally be ...I am naturally impatient. That's I suppose the main thing. I am naturally quite impatient. And I do struggle against that. I don't think I'm intolerant. No, I think the practice of the law makes one tolerant. My sister said to me once, when I said that, too tolerant sometimes. I think that may be so. But I think I am impatient.
And what sort of things make you lose your temper?
Doesn't happen very often, so it's hard to say. When I was young it would be something that I thought was unjust but now I can't really think of anything particular. I'm not very tolerant with people who are boring. Whom I find boring. But I try to disguise it.
I was going to say that must be a bit of a handicap in your job as Governor sometimes ...
Well, it's not really because you can be interested in what people are doing for a short time. You mightn't be able to continue that interest but for a short time it's very interesting to know what people are doing.
So, if you were asked to offer advice to some young person of say 20, about to embark on their legal career or really not just a legal career, but about to embark on life, what would be the sorts of things that you would advise them from your experience?
Well, the main piece of advice I do give sometimes is not to be deterred, not to be put off. I think if somebody really has an ambition to do something, he or she ought to follow that ambition. Fortunately nowadays, people can change more than they could when I was young so if they embark on something that doesn't work for them they can more readily change than they used to be able to. On the other hand, they find it very hard to get started now with the limitations on places in universities in particular. So I think they really have to be pretty determined to get themselves going and I speak really quite from the heart because although, as I said, my mother was very encouraging about my choice of a career, there were plenty of people to say, "It's not a career for a girl. She'll never do any good in it and why doesn't she do this, that and the other," and I think it would have been an error if I or my mother had listened to that piece of advice.
What do you think about the idea of a republic?
I don't think that's a topic that I really ought to discuss in my present position. The only thing I am willing to discuss always is the fact that I believe in the states as states and that's what the founding fathers of the constitution believed in too. And I think that states' rights need to be preserved, whatever happens.
Because I think Australia's a very large country as far as land is concerned. To some extent we're homogeneous. To some extent we're not. We all have our aims and ambitions. There is a tendency and has been a tendency, and I think it will continue, to regard the eastern seaboard as the most important part of the country. But I think for generations to come that could cause great troubles. I am also willing to say that I think it's nonsense to suggest that there would be any more freedom in a republic because Australia is absolutely and completely free and independent. Only since 1986, only since the Australia Act was passed, where there is complete and absolute independence and there can be no possibility of interference. So it certainly can't be for that reason. But I know there may be other reasons that may affect people.
Well, the reasons that are advanced are often symbolic reasons ...
Yes, I know, but the difficulty is, what symbol is going to replace the present symbol?
Do you feel yourself in your position to be primarily the representative of the Queen or primarily the Head of State of South Australia?
Oh, primarily the Head of State of South Australia. And in being it, I represent the Queen. Which is a great advantage when seeing school children because all they're interested in is have I met the Queen.
Yes, I've had several occasions ...
Yes, she's a very easy person to talk to.
Republic or not, what do you think is going to be Australia's future over the next 50 years? Why not be expansive and think long term?
Well, it's very hard, isn't it, to get further than trying to get us out of this recession which belongs to the world as well as to us. Quite clearly it seems to me that there have to be some changes of direction in what we produce and in what we do industrially. I'm optimistic that we can intellectually advance. I think we've got a good potential for intellectual advancement, for really giving something to the world in that respect. We have in the past with some pretty bright intellects but it's very hard to know. I suppose partly because of my generation, partly because of my background, it seems to me that people must have an occupation and I think that's probably going to have to go away. We've got ... Australia's got to look forward to a period of some people being permanently supported without gainful employment. I don't know how that's going to be worked.
Well, perhaps it involves them being able to see their life as being real and worth living, whether or not they have a job, and people stopping defining themselves in terms of their career?
Yes, I'm sure that that is so. But then, you see, I don't think it's going to be so difficult for people who have a career which involves intellectual work because they can find interests. It's the people who have had the career in which they have done the sort of more repetitive work, giving them self-worth without employment. There's going to have to be a change of attitude I think. There's a lot of voluntary work to be done. There is a lot of voluntary work that is being done. But it's mainly being done by people who have retired early, although you get some young people who are still doing quite a lot of voluntary work. Until I came into Government House I was doing Meals on Wheels and the friend who continues to do them without me says that at times she has the help of a young man who's unemployed, who just comes along and voluntarily does that. Now that's a good sign.
Actually I was just about to say it would be difficult to imagine your life without occupation?
Oh, impossible. Quite impossible.
But then of course you mentioned that you yourself had been involved in voluntary work ...
Yes, I find it hard to be sympathetic with people who are in retirement and still in good health who say they haven't got anything to do, because there's so much to do. People need so much.
Do you feel that you've been a generous person through your life, somebody who's given time, and do you think generosity is an important thing, perhaps something that isn't as widespread as it might have once been?
I don't think I'd agree with the latter remark. I think generosity is there. I think generosity is a most important attribute of people. And I think there are a lot of people who give very generously. You don't, of course, get the money donations that you used to get. You don't get the big money benefactors that we used to have. That's various reasons. Corporations have taken over the place of individuals. High taxation affected people. Lots of reasons for that. You get corporate benefactors now, rather than individual benefactors. But I think generosity is still to be found and I suppose generosity of spirit is more important really than anything.
Is there any great fear you have for the world after you've gone from it?
Well, of course there's always fear, we no longer have the present, the ever present fear of nuclear destruction but present events certainly don't inspire any hope of non-destruction, do they? Europe is not a very great example of peace and so, yes, I do have a fear that the world will eventually dispose of itself.
You think that's what will happen?
No, I don't because I'm an optimist. But I think there's a fear, nevertheless.
What about yourself, do you think at all very much about death, given that you're so fit and healthy?
No, having regard to my age, I really don't. It's one of those things that's very hard to apply to yourself. You know it's going to happen but it's very hard to think about it and I don't really see any great advantage in pondering it. I was very impressed the other day with Bishop Rosier, who was Anglican Bishop of Willochra, who's now retired and back in Adelaide and he was doing a funeral service that I attended. He's a Rhodes scholar, a specialist in Greek and Hebrew languages and a charming man, probably round about my own age. And he said while he was speaking, "You know, sometimes my curiosity gets the better of me and I think it will be wonderful to find out." Now, I think that's a marvellous attitude. I don't know that I can ascribe to it myself.
What do you think it will be like?
I don't. I don't have a clue.
Your religion doesn't give you any guidance in that?
Well, not really nowadays, how can it? I mean we talked about heavens going up to the sky. Everybody knows that things are different. That's not so. I don't think any logical, sensible person, whatever his or her religion, would claim to know what the future would be like. It's hard enough to envisage a future. On the other hand it's also very hard to think that one ceases to be altogether. That's even harder. I think the ego comes in there.
Do you think it's reasonable to be afraid of death?
Oh, very reasonable, yes. I don't think I am and but, you know, who knows until it comes to the point. Literally, who knows.
But the attitude, 'well gee whiz won't it be fun to find out,' isn't ...
I thought that was just a wonderful attitude really. Yes.
Well, perhaps as somebody who's always been very interested and not bored with things it's an attitude you could adopt?
Oh yes, it's a good attitude, yes. Of course there's always the hope that one will see again the people that one has loved who've gone from this life, and they get an increasing number, as you get old.
Have you had a sense at all in your life that your mother's there somewhere?
For a time after her death, yes, I think you do have a feeling for a time. Ah, not as a presence, no, no.
So, you don't have any particular conviction that there might be a life after death? You think it might ...
I certainly trust that there will be. I don't think anybody can do more than that. [pause] As I say, the ego plays a part in that as well as everything else.
Do you feel that through your life there has been a God, some sort of guiding force there that you've turned to, or that might have been interested in your affairs?
I think the interest in the affairs is a bit hard sort of to envisage but there is a God there, yes. Yes.
Oh well, that's a very deep question of discussion, isn't it? It's so difficult to ... there is a belief. There's my Christian Catholic belief. Ah, but to translate into a feeling is another thing, but most of the agnostics, not the atheists, but most of the agnostics toy with the feeling that there is a God, and I think it's a natural thing for people to toy with.
And it's natural for you to come down on the side that, yes, on the whole, you think that ...
Yes, yes, yes.
We need to go back now and pick up just a few of the things we missed out on. We'd like to give Frank (the director) his nice clean start, so I did want you to talk to us and just describe to us, in your own words, as sort of like a little story, what was the thing you remembered most from your early childhood?
You asked me what I remember about my very early childhood and in fact you asked me what I remembered about my father, who was killed on the 5th of April, 1918, when I was about four and a half. I have really only two memories that I can make claim to as not having been prompted. The first one I must have been two and we lived in Renmark on the River Murray and I remember — I couldn't find the house now, I have looked, but I couldn't find it now. I remember that it had a fairly large entrance hall and it was either my birthday or Christmas time and somebody had given me a mechanical toy. And I remember my father and another man whom I can't identify down on their hands and knees playing with the toy. Now, when I said this some years later my mother thought that I'd made it up but I described the entrance hall to her and she had to agree that it was so. And so it was obviously frustration. Somebody had given me the toy and they, in learning how to work it, were enjoying it themselves. And I think that's fairly typical of what goes on. That's one memory I have of him.
The other memory would be probably at least some months later when he was going away overseas to the war and we were in Adelaide, in fact we were staying with an aunt, and I remember I can picture the house. And I do know that house is still extant. I do know where it was. I do know where the room was and I can remember trying to attract his attention by getting him to pick me up, because my sister who was three years older was really more inclined to get his attention. She was more interesting to him at that stage than I was. They're the only two memories that I can be sure were my own.
After you left university did you go straight into a law firm or was there a bit of a wait?
We, my year, we finished the university course and I was admitted to the Bar in December 1934. Now I had nothing specific then, and I think the rest of us were in the same boat. There were 10 admitted at the same time. One or two of them didn't go into practice, but the rest of us did and so I started inquiring around and I was very fortunate. I went into the firm which was then known as Nelligan & Angus Parsons. There were several people aiming to join the firm as what we called a Managing Clerk then, which was an employed solicitor, and the senior partner, Joe Nelligan, was very slow in making up his mind and finally with a little pressure he did make up his mind and a date I remember, I joined them on the 19th of February, 1935. And I remained with him for a good many years and on the 19th of February I used to go in to him and say, "Isn't this a lucky day for you?" He'd say, 'I'm not too sure that it is such a lucky day.' It was, it was a lucky day for both of us I think because he was a very good barrister. I learnt a great deal. I appeared as his junior in many cases and I learnt a great deal from him. Unfortunately he had what we thought what was a minor stroke when he was 50, 51, and it was gradually downhill after there so a lot of people didn't remember his capacity. But that was a very fortunate thing for me.
Oh yes, I think we each had a high opinion of the other. We had plenty of arguments though. Yes, the sparks would fly.
Yes, yes. Oh, yes, mainly legal arguments. There'd be personal ones too. He used to complain that ... he used to say to me that, you know, I had too many other interests in too many other things and I'd say, I'd never know what was going on if I didn't have them. He, on the other hand, devoted himself too much. It was law, his family, football. That was about it. And it's not good.
You've always maintained a broad range of interests?
Now you're a formidable worker, you've always taken breaks though?
Yes, I have. I've always done it and one example of what not to do came from Joe Nelligan, whom I've mentioned. He was always planning a holiday. He'd get quite excited about his planned holiday and then the time would come near it and oh, he'd find an excuse, find a reason why he couldn't go on his holiday and I saw what happened to him. And so I've always taken breaks and I've always gone away, got myself right into another atmosphere.
You don't often do things very impulsively do you? You do tend to think of things and plan them out fairly sensibly.
I suppose that's, I think that's more a question of age. I think I was probably fairly impulsive when I was young.
I said that because there seemed to be a lot of commonsense guiding your life.
Oh, I think that's more apparent than real, probably.
The sort of work you've done and the way you've planned and lived your life has involved a great deal of self-control. And holding in of emotion. Do you feel you've suffered in any way from that?
No, I don't think so, because I don't think I have held in emotion except in so far as my professional life is concerned. So that I certainly haven't led a rigidly disciplined life as far as my personal life is concerned.
Has that been all over the place like everybody else's?
A bit, yes.
But that isn't something that you reveal publicly?
No, not at all. I think that is something which is mine and anybody else who happens to have been involved and not the public. I don't think it ... I just don't like this baring of the emotions in public and I never have.
People who of course appear vulnerable as well sometimes feel, especially people from your generation, that that resulted in a loss of dignity, to show their vulnerability.
Yes, well I suppose, I think it does too. It depends on whether you care about dignity or not but I don't know that I'm particularly thinking of dignity, I'm just thinking of things that belong to me. Things that belong to me only and don't belong to the rest of the world. Not even necessarily to my friends.
You don't have a secret diary somewhere?
No, certainly not. I've never kept a diary.
Well, of course, people often do think that when you don't talk about these things, there must be some wonderful stories there. Maybe that's a good mystique to maintain?
If they enjoy it, it's alright.
Director: Just a question about how you feel when, you know, last night we were observing people coming to you and curtseying to you and making you feel very important, just how you feel about that kind of situation and your place there?
As a good Australian with quite a history of appreciation of the equality of everybody, how do you feel about your elevation as Governor and a situation where people curtsey to you and pay you a great deal of respect and put a great deal of weight on your words?
Well, I think the respect is paid to the office. Not to the person. And to a lawyer of course it doesn't seem very odd because you have to remember that we've been accustomed to bowing to the judge when the judge comes into court and the judge is accustomed to receiving that sort of respect and giving it in return, so I think it's always to the office. Apart from those formalities, I like to feel that my contacts with people are just as natural now as they ever had been, that there's really no difference. And I don't think people think there's a difference. I think people find it's just as easy to talk to me now as it ever has been. And in fact I think sometimes people who are not accustomed to talking to Governors think it may be going to be difficult and sometimes they say to me afterwards, after I've been doing something like yesterday when I opened that new wing at the Northern District Hospital, somebody, I think it might have been the Superintendent of Nursing said, "Oh, I was quite nervous about this in advance," and, of course I can't see why she'd be nervous, but it's nice to know she's no longer nervous. That's the point. And I think I get that again and again, that people are no longer nervous.
In terms of the appointments that have been made, the appointments you've received to high offices, they've actually come from both sides of the political spectrum?
Yes, I've never had any political affiliations. I've never been interested in politics really. Sometimes people have asked me whether I ever thought of entering politics. I didn't. When I say I'm not interested, I mean I'm not interested in it for me. I could never see myself as a politician. Never had any wish to be. So therefore I've never had any political affiliations at all. Which in the end has made it easier, because of some of the things I've done.
You've had no political affiliations, but you must have had some political sympathies. Have they changed?
Yes, but they vary from time to time. Depending upon the way the particular party behaves.
So in terms of political principles, what are the kinds of things that endear a party to you and what are the kinds of things that alienate you?
Well, of course, I think anything in the human rights field has been of interest to me. If it's done properly. I think that they're big steps forward. And I think by and large the social legislation appeals to me. You see, you've got to remember, I've lived through a period where there were no pensions for wives or we used to call them 'deserted wives' at the beginning, where there was no child endowment. It's very hard to think back to that, isn't it? Really, there was very little and I think all that social legislation has been very important. Although it's strange how the impetus changes a bit. I can remember my mother saying to me that she thought ... have we finished have we [INTERRUPTION]
... You were telling us about something your mother used to say.
Yes, I was talking about social legislation and how the need for it, or the effect of it, changes. I can remember my mother saying that the Adoption of Children Act was the greatest piece of social legislation, because she talked of people who'd taken children who were not wanted, brought them up to the stage where they had earning capacity and then the parents, often husband and wife, would come and claim the child. And the parents, the people who'd looked after the child, had no rights at all. You see the Adoption of Children Act was only this century, comparatively recently. And then when I was chairing the Human Rights Commission, we had all the problems raised about children who wanted to find the identity of their own, natural, parents. And it seemed to me that it had turned full circle. What had been regarded as protective legislation really has rather ceased to be regarded as protective legislation. It doesn't matter quite so much now, because there's not so much adoption happening. But it does depend a lot on the era whether legislation is protective or otherwise.
Do you get a great sense, through having lived a long life, of cycles of things?
Oh yes. There's a great sense of cycles. You see it particularly in things like education where they seem to be recycling all the time.
And what does that make you think? Does it make you feel sometimes that people fight and fight for things they really believe in and then there's a sort of inevitable weight of change that will come and swing the pendulum back in the other direction? Or do you think that's just the way in which we find our balance?
I think it's the latter. I think it's the way in which we find our balance and I wouldn't like to think that people ceased to fight for things that they believed in. Maybe they do have to level out, just as we said earlier that some of the feminists behave in a bizarre fashion, I've said it anyway, but then if they didn't behave in a bizarre fashion, nobody would take any notice of their proper aims. So I think it's a bit of both. Things even out and the pendulum also does swing back a bit.
As a result of inquiring into the system of justice, you visited a lot of prisons and looked very closely at exactly what you were condemning [people] to when you passed judgement on them. Did that affect your view of what you were doing? And do you think that the prison system is the best system that we could find for dealing with criminal justice?
I'm sure it isn't. There must be a better system, but we haven't found it yet. I think it is inevitable that some people must be kept away from the community at some stages because the community has to be protected. I think that's the most we can hope prisons to do. I'd like to think that they could be reformative. I doubt if they are. I'd like to see more education programs for those who want them. But it's still difficult. I'm certainly very keen on what we call Community Service Orders in this State, where people can give some reparation to the community, but there are some crimes for which you can't do that. You can't send a burglar out into the community. He might be busy finding where next to burgle. So you've got those problems. There should be another way but in the foreseeable future I cannot see any change in it.
As far as the actual prisoners were concerned, when we were doing the visits to the prisons, and later when I chaired the Parole Board in South Australia, I saw a number of the people whom I'd sentenced as well as others. They were willing very freely to discuss their situation and I found that as long as they felt that they hadn't received any harsher penalty than somebody else who'd committed a similar offense, they were very well reconciled to it. In their minds there is a tariff, but the tariff needs to be even.
What do you think about prisons yourself?
I think they are, for today, when we're surely not willing to use capital punishment and we're surely not willing to use corporal punishment, I think they are the ultimate. I think to be deprived of liberty is a grave penalty indeed. And I take no notice of people who talk about whether a prison's comfortable or not. However comfortable it is, it would be a terrible penalty to be deprived of liberty.
So when you were passing judgement, and depriving people of their liberty, did you feel the weight of that?
Oh, yes, I think every judge feels the weight of sentencing. But of course, as I say, the community has to be considered as well as the person who's being sentenced. And however much we might like not to have a retributive element very strongly in it, there is a retributive element as far as the person wronged is concerned and so that also has to play some part in it.
Director: What personal feelings were going through your mind as you were walking through those prisons and you saw those prisoners? Apart from the fact that they were happy about it, what did you feel?
I don't think she was suggesting they were happy ...
They were perfectly happy to discuss the situation with me.
How did you personally feel about seeing prisoners deprived of their liberty, in this situation in the prisons, as a result of your judgements.? What kinds of thoughts went through your mind as you watched them?
When you say as a result of my judgements, of course the decision that a prisoner is guilty is not the judgement of the judge. The decision is the decision of the jury. Then of course the judgement is as to the sentence. So that I, where I had sentenced anybody to imprisonment, it would have been on the basis that I believed on legal principles that there was no other alternative. So I was going to see them in prison anyway. And sometimes one wonders how the prisoner himself will feel about it. The first murder case I ever sat on was one that was referred to as the Trigg murder case here, Trigg Point murder case — it was down the coast and two men were charged with murdering somebody who'd been a fellow prisoner. And, the identification was quite ingenious, it was by reason of tattoo marks on the prisoner and various things, because the body was decomposed.
And anyway, at the trial, each blamed the other. And they were both found guilty and they were — at that stage it was the death penalty, but I knew it wouldn't be carried out. So they were both life imprisonment. Well now, I saw, one was in the Mount Gambier jail and then one in the Yatala, and the one in Yatala had written an account for one of the newspapers of what had happened, which involved the two of them, but it was rather different, quite different, from what they'd said, so when I saw him, he asked me if I'd seen his account and I said, yes, I was interested in it. What had happened according to his later account was that the person whom they killed had been threatening to expose him as having a jail record when he was in employment himself. And anyway, he was quite interested to chat to me and he then started to correspond with me and went out on parole and still corresponded with me for a time, but I've lost touch with him since. I don't even know whether he's still living or not. But you know, people in those circumstances are perfectly willing to adopt, one might almost say, a friendly attitude.
So in all the time on the bench, you've never been threatened?
That only happens to Family Court Judges?
No, I think that has happened to other judges but I think it's ... well, there's either the crank who's going to do it or there's somebody who feels that he or she has had a bad spin, and I think I revert sometimes to this question of the language you use to people, when they're in a position in which they can't answer back.
You seem very fearless. Is there anything you're afraid of?
Yes, rats and mice. Petrified. Petrified.
I hope there aren't any in this place.
No, I don't ... there are rats in the grounds . I've even seen them myself, but there's, you know, a mice plague in South Australia. I haven't seen them yet.
Yeah. No, I don't, I don't think I'm frightened of people, no.