ORAL HISTORIES INTERVIEW
Mr Colin Tindall
By Lindy McNamara on 6 August 2014
This is an interview with Colin Tindall by Lindy McNamara and the date is the 6th of August 2014. Good morning Mr Tindall.
Good morning Lindy.
Maybe we can start with your full name and your date of birth?
Colin James Tindall. My date of birth is the 2nd of October 1936.
Where were you born?
I was born in Adelaide.
And your parents? Their names?
Parents – my father was James Sydney Tindall. My mother was Audrey Bertha Tindall.
What was their background? What did your father work in or was your mother working?
No, my mother was not working. She was a housewife and carer.
My father he left school at 14 because he was the only boy in the family and he started working at Dawson’s Motor Body Works in Wakefield Street. He would have been about 15 when he started that job. I’m not sure really what he did after that but I do remember various occupations he had, including he was a tram driver during and after the war. Then he worked as a clerk, mostly because he was very good with figures. He worked for the Fire Brigade’s Board and his last job was at General Motors Holden where he was looking after the workers’ compensation matters.
So a bit of a legal slant to his last job?
Well in a sense I suppose that is correct.
The better legal slant was when we did our family history. We found that one of my ancestors in the 19th Century was convicted of robbery with violence in England at the Lincoln Assizes. We managed to get a copy of the transcript and what happened was that he and two of his friends decided to rob a man who had some sovereigns. They carried out the robbery and got the sovereigns and instead of departing they went to the local pub. Whilst they were happily drinking the proceeds the police came and arrested them all. But the leading piece of evidence against my ancestor was, believe it or not, some grass seeds which were caught up in the hem of his trousers and these came, so the prosecution said, from the grasses that were in the laneway where the robbery took place.
So a bit of forensic evidence way back then?
Yes that’s right.
That was a different sort of link with the law for you.
He got a free trip to Freemantle out of that and at some point he got parole. He married a woman who was the daughter of one of the wardens at Freemantle Prison. Then he came to South Australia and wound up as a gardener at Government House on North Terrace. So that’s how we came to South Australia.
Have you spent all your life in Adelaide?
Where did you go to primary school?
Flinders Street Practising School, which in those days was the school designed to train teachers for the country and they had what was called a model school in which I spent most of my time. In one room were grades 1 to 7 and the teachers’ task was to set work for each grade at the same time in the same room and to control a class of something like 25 students.
That must have been interesting.
It was. Very interesting. We only had two or three children in the upper grades and possibly more in the lower.
Where did you go to high school?
Adelaide High School. In the first year we were in what is now the Remand Centre in Currie Street which was then Adelaide High. The second year we moved across to what was then the girl’s school in Grote Street where we shared that with the girls for one year. Then the following year we were the first students to go to the new school on West Terrace.
So you were foundation students in that location. What was the interest in law? Did you go to study at university straightaway?
No I didn’t. I went to work for the South Australian Railways. I was in their correspondence room. That involved, amongst other things, pushing a trolley loaded with train journals around various floors and in my spare time reading all about the steam trains in Canada and India. Whilst I was doing this job, which was for about six months, I heard that I managed to get a Commonwealth Scholarship.
As a result of your matriculation results?
Yes. Well actually Year 4. I only did four years in high school. That was the old leaving year and you could go to uni from leaving, or you could do one more year which was called Leaving Honours, that was the fifth year. I didn’t do that. I went to work.
Because of this Commonwealth Scholarship I was able to go to uni because that paid the uni fees, which in those days were not insignificant but on the other hand, not overly substantial either. You had to buy your own books. That was the difference between getting a Bursary and getting a Commonwealth Scholarship. There were far fewer Bursaries awarded than there were Commonwealth Scholarships.
When I sat down I thought what can I do? I really wanted to do medicine but you had to have Leaving Honours maths to do medicine and I didn’t have that. That left me basically with arts and law. I didn’t really want to teach or do anything like that so I enrolled in a law school.
How many were in your year?
It was a pretty small.
The whole of the school was 70 students.
So you knew everyone by name?
How were your uni days? Did you enjoy those days?
Quite good. Some of our students were ex-World War II fellows who were studying under grants from the Commonwealth following the war. In my year, of the 15 students, 13 had college backgrounds; there were two boys from high school. And my best friend Lionel Treloar came from Unley High and he’s about the same magnificent height as I am. So we chummed up and we’ve been friends all those years.
You were saying before that you keep in touch with them?
We do. Every Wednesday those of us who can - and we’re down to about four or five at the moment - we meet for lunch once a week on a Wednesday.
You went on to do Articles? Who was that with?
When I finished third year we had uni. The fourth year was part time study and part time Articles and I started my Articles with Fisher Jefferies as it was then known, Fisher Jefferies and Trevor Taylor was the partner to whome was articled. I was articled and my salary at that time was 1 pound 10 a week which was $3 in modern terms. That was just enough money to pay for the petrol of the little motorbike that I had. After about seven or eight months of that a very good friend of mine who was the Associate to a Judge in the Supreme Court got in touch with me and said he was leaving and would I like to apply for his job.
I did apply and I was successful in getting an Associateship with the late Justice Abbott in the Supreme Court and my salary went from 1 pound 10 a week to 20 pounds a week which was like striking the lottery.
Did you learn a lot in that year as Associate?
Yes. I had grounding in practical work but I learnt a lot more a bit later on because having to study and work at the same time was difficult and there was a lot of night work involved. I think I probably learnt more later than I did in that first year in Articles.
You were admitted in 1958? Is that correct?
And from there where did you go to?
Well I was then an Associate down at the Supreme Court. In about mid 1958 the late Neil Ligertwood from Alderman Clark approached me one day and asked me if I would like a job. I said yes I would, because I knew no-one in the profession other than those with whom I graduated. I went to Alderman Clark in about mid ’58 and stayed there until towards the end of 1959 when I was offered a job with Newman Page & Co. In fact that was my first partnership with them.
My learning really took place at Alderman Clark. The late Bob Clark was an excellent teacher. He would give you a document to draft and it would come back covered with red ink which was his way of telling you it wasn’t up to his standard and you redrafted. Eventually, I am pleased to say, the red ink got less and the work got better. We did everything at Alderman Clark. I did criminal law, conveyancing, family law, civil law, contract law...
Were you attending court at that time?
Yes we did. You did your own court work because there was no separate bar in those days. Everybody did their own court work.
I think Chris Legoe was the first barrister that I can remember. He had chambers in Cowra Chambers in Grenfell Street. He struck out on his own and I believe he was the very first barrister we had. Later of course he was a Supreme Court Judge but he started off in that environment.
Any cases of note that you remember when things went well, or not?
When I was an Associate, I sat in on the Stuart Royal Commission. Do you remember Rupert Max Stuart? He was charged with the rape and murder of a little girl on the west coast. He was an Aboriginal and it was alleged that the trial had miscarried, and they carried out a Royal Commission to investigate that. I was lucky enough to be sitting as the Associate for quite a few days during that commission. It was very memorable because on one day Mr Shand QC who was appearing got very tired of fencing with Sir Mellis Napier the Chief Justice that eventually he stood up, slammed his book shut and walked out of the court room. This was duly reported at great length.
What did the Chief Justice do about that?
I don’t think he was at all pleased.
Okay, so you stayed with the same firm until when?
In 1960 I joined Newman Page & Co.
How long did you stay there?
I was there for 1960 to 1969, the end of ’69. No actually it was early into 1970 when I decided that that would be a good time to depart and see if I could make it. At that time Richard Gask was in the firm as an articled clerk but just about finishing. I was a bit dodgy about doing it on my own so I asked Richard if he would like to come with me and set up a firm. He was pleased to do so and we started off on the 1st of July 1970.
It was indeed. In fact my late father said to me “I hope you know what you’re doing” because I had a very secure partnership and I said “well I don’t really but it’s something I’d like to do”.
Where were your first offices?
In FCA building on Franklin Street which is now the Eynesbury College. So it wasn’t too far from the MLC building in Victoria Square where Newman Page & Co. We moved about 50 yards.
And did you have any clients to take with you?
None at all. Believe it or not we had one file which was a Law Society assignment to me in those days which I took with us. I think Richard may have had one other file. We depended upon friends and relatives to try and get some work. Richard Gask’s father was very helpful. He was a retired businessman and he was able to recommend us to some of his friends. Gradually the work came in but we had a lot of expense in fitting out the office. We had to employ two girls as our staff and another male person who came from Newman Page & Co as our accountant. We didn’t have any money. We borrowed it all from the bank and lived on overdrafts for about the first three years when files started to close and the money started to come in.
Can you remember the first client that you had?
The first client we had was a lady who wanted a will done. She worked for one of the hospitals in Adelaide and at that time I was with University Squadron on the Reserve. The commanding officer of that squadron had just retired and he became the administrative officer at the hospital. He suggested to this lady that she come to us to get her will done. We did her will for her and I was there the day she came in to pay the bill. Richard Gask said “the lady’s come in to pay her bill is it okay if I give her a kiss” and I said “look I don’t think the Law Society would be too happy about that”.
So it was a memorable moment?
It was indeed.
I did read somewhere that you also got plenty of time to go to the trots, the two of you.
It’s a bit of an exaggeration on the part of those who wrote that story. We did go a couple of times.
You’re working up a business - would you recommend that to someone nowadays to go out by themselves?
No. I don’t think I’d want to do it these days. The problem these days is getting the work.
In my day there was no advertising whatsoever. In fact we weren’t even allowed to have business cards.
Nowadays television, print media, advertising is very expensive and the reason for that is you need to get the clients. If you start up a young firm these days I think it would be a terrible worry about getting enough work to keep going. That’s my view.
My granddaughter took up law and she’s very young and very inexperienced, but she found difficulty in getting a job in the first place, found difficulty in getting a placement for that six weeks or whatever is they have to do. Eventually we were able to help a little bit with that. She’s now practising in an office but most of her work is criminal work. Most of that is subsidised. Criminal work has never been work which is well paying. It’s enough for bread and butter but it’s not enough to go out in practice. You have to get into other specialties.
Did you make a conscious decision when you set up the firm about what type of work that you would want to take on?
We had both been trained in insurance type work, civil work, mostly running my own cases. Now I’ve done a bit of public liability work as well. I kept up doing deceased estates. I’ve done a lot of that as well. We were going to concentrate on what we knew - well we’re not going to go into fields where we didn’t know what we were doing, because we both thought the worst thing to do was be a dabbler. We didn’t want to dabble in things that we didn’t know anything about. We stuck to what we knew which I think really was a good policy, at least for our firm anyway.
That was, well, more than 40 years ago. How did you see the firm grow? Obviously at some point Richard Gask joined.
Well he was one of the original partners.
Sorry Bentley, Ron Bentley.
He came much later. We decided that what we wanted was a happy firm but not a big firm. We thought we might eventually have about four practitioners. I think the first person to join us was Russell Harms who’s now at the Bar. Roseanna Kean was also quite early. And Gail Wicks was also quite early. When we got to that point we thought, well we’re full up.
Looking back now did you ever expect that it would grow to what it is now?
No. Not at all, no. I had no visions of the firm becoming what it now is.
Obviously you had the four practitioners and you thought that was going to be it, but things must have kept going?
Things developed quite a lot when I was at Court. In 1979, having been at the firm for nine years, the workload was getting very heavy and I thought a change of direction might be a good idea. At that time the Magistracy was not terribly well thought of. It was seen as a sort of dead end job because there was no promotion from magistrate to judge or anything like that. But there was a vacancy, they told me, that cropped up in the Children’s Court. That appealed to me because it was an area in which I thought I could perhaps do some good. I applied for the job and eventually got it on the understanding, at least from my point of view, that I would remain in the Children’s Court. I was there from 1979 to 1985. During that time there were a lot of developments in the office. New people came in and I really can’t speak too much of those years because my contact with the office was fairly minimal.
How did you find your time as a Magistrate in the Children’s Court?
I said it before I found it a little bit frustrating because I was never sure that I was doing anything worthwhile. There were a couple of things that I do remember. I had one young lad who came up before me on a stealing charge and they prepared what they called a social background report and in that report someone had noted that the lad was dyslexic. I said to the Department “what’s being done about that?” And they said “nothing”. I said “look I’ll adjourn this case for six weeks and when you come back I really do want to hear that something’s been done”. When they came back they said we’ve got someone onto it. I get a bit emotional about these good things.
For good reason because you probably changed that young lad’s life, I would imagine.
I hope I did.
The other good thing that I remember is one day I was walking around in the Central Market area. An Aboriginal boy came towards me and he was staring at me. I was a bit apprehensive and then he stopped right in front of me. He looked at me and he said “g’day” and I said “good morning”. He said “I did what you told me” and I said “can you remind me of what I said”. He said “you told me to get a job and save my money”. I said “oh good”. I said “did you get your job?” He said “yes”. He said “I work for one of the councils on the rubbish truck. It’s a good outdoor job and I love it and I’ve saved my money”. I said “that’s remarkable”. He said “see ya”.
I always wonder what that boy is doing today. Now that’s going back going back well in that period of 1980s.
Nearly 30 years now. There must have also been some tough cases that you dealt with - I guess it would be emotionally draining to see the situations of some of the children.
Yes. We got amongst the criminal matters. We did cases which were called “in need of care” where children were brought before the court to see what could be done to improve their situation. They were quite stressful because on occasions the children had to be placed under the control of the Department and that sort of thing. I was never terribly keen on those cases.
Is there any reason why you chose the Children’s Court as opposed to an adult court?
I had young children and I just thought it was something I would like to do. I was not at all impressed with the adult work. That’s the reason I left at the end. Someone in Government decided that there would be a rotation of magistrates around various courts. Now I assumed from what I thought was an undertaking that I’d remain in the Children’s Court. I was then told by the Chief Magistrate that that was not so; that unless I had that in writing the Government was not keen to honour that understanding. I said “well what can I do to avoid being transferred into the adult jurisdiction which I’m not keen on” and the Chief Magistrate said “we need someone to do a Circuit Court at Kadina and Maitland once a month, which will involve both children and adult jurisdictions. If you are prepared to do that I am prepared to delay your rotation”. I did that for quite a few months. Then eventually it became clear that rotation was just about to happen and I thought “no I’m not having that because I don’t want to be in the adult area”. I found it very difficult to send people to jail.
Even if they’ve done a terrible crime?
Even if they’d done a terrible crime. I found it very difficult to do it. I think sentencing it’s one of the most difficult areas of sitting on the Bench. I know someone has to do it but it was something which I found extremely difficult.
Did you have a good mentor while you were on the Bench?
None at all.
So you were really on your own?
I went to the Children’s Court at 9 o’clock one morning and at 10 o’clock I was sitting hearing a conspiracy case. Now conspiracy was never, ever heard other than by Judges, but because the Children’s Court exercised jurisdiction in any type of matter other than murder and that sort of case, I wound up on a conspiracy trial which lasted five or six days. One of the counsel was David Peek who’s now Supreme Court Judge. I found that case extremely difficult coming from what was essentially a civil background but with some long term knowledge of criminal law. Quite a shock to the system.
So not a lot of support for you?
No training. Nothing. Just straight in and away you went. That’s terrible because I know in other jurisdictions when they want a Judge they have training courses to teach you all about it. They don’t do that here. You’re just straight in, bang.
Sink or swim.
Well, it is.
So you decided to leave your position as Magistrate and go back to private practice?
Yes I tossed that in. The other factor was there was a vacancy in my old firm. I said “can I come back?” and they said “yes”. I didn’t want to come back as a partner because that involved buying in and I didn’t have enough money to do that, so I said “look I’ll come back as a solicitor on the staff if that’s okay”. And that’s the way I came back.
Eventually you became partner and went back into the partnership?
No. No, I didn’t become a partner again. I stayed on as a solicitor and then eventually after I had a heart attack I cut back on my work and then they called me a consultant after that because I wasn’t working full time.
What type of work were you doing then on your return?
I was still then handling files and still working full time. Again it was running down type cases but mostly public liability. At that point, and whilst I was away, quite a lot of insurance companies had come to us to give us work. I took over the insurance company side of the business handling claims on their behalf in relation to all sorts of matters.
I think I read somewhere where you were described as being a public liability specialist.
I don’t know about a specialist, but I did a lot of public liability work.
Any major cases that you were involved in that you took a lot of time?
None that I can think of except the bushfire case. There was a major bushfire on the West Coast where there was a lot of property damage. That involved a Supreme Court trial and an appeal. Darryl Trim QC was our leading counsel. Our junior counsel was Russell Harms. I did the solicitor’s work on that. That was a very stressful case and in the middle of it I had a mild heart attack.
You were working too hard?
I think that was probably a combination of a lot of stress over the years. Stress is very real.
And for a legal practitioner it is quite real too.
I think it’s one of the reasons why I did not encourage any of my four children to take up the law. I found it extremely stressful. You did a lot of after hours work. In the early days we were working every day bar Saturday.
What sort of hours would you be working on a normal day?
The hours varied but in those days I’d start about 9, finish about 6, and then I’d come in Saturday morning work from 9 till about 2 o’clock. Sunday morning I’d come in about 8:30 work till about 1 o’clock.
That’s a big chunk of your life.
I used to do that every week. Later on the hours decreased after the heart attack. I had to cut back quite a lot.
Was that life changing in the way that you approached your work too?
It’s a big wakeup call, I can tell you that. Fortunately the one artery was 50% blocked and one 25% so that I didn’t need surgery or a stent. I’ve been on medication since then. I’m sure, and I think it’s now been medically recognised, that stress is one of the factors that produces cardiac problems. Stress is very real.
Do you worry about some of the young practitioners that are in your firm or any firm?
Yes I do. As a consultant - and this is where I’ve been very fortunate - I’ve had the opportunity to pass on to the younger ones some of the things that I’ve learnt over the years, to assist them in handling their files which I think is terribly important to have someone to call upon when you get a problem. If you haven’t got that then you’re really floundering.
You’ve taken on the mentor role for some of those junior solicitors. Who did you have as your mentor? Who have you relied on throughout your career?
No-one really, but my great trainer was Bob Clark from Alderman Clark. He taught me all the practical things. He taught me all the traps in drafting documents and he gave me an excellent base for the rest of my career.
Do you think on a personal level that a lawyer also needs someone who they can almost off load, not just on the technical side of things, of what to do?
I’m sure that’s right and I’m sure that that is what Richard Gask has been to me over the years. When you’re in a partnership you’re in a very, very close relationship. That doesn’t mean that you spend your lifetime in each other’s pockets. You don’t. But when you’ve got a work problem or something that you really want to talk about or even sometimes a personal problem that’s when you need someone to talk to. That’s where Richard Gask has been for me so marvellous over the years.
You went back as a consultant, did you cut your hours back significantly?
I had a heart attack in 1998. I then cut back from full time to three days a week. Subsequently I found that even that was a bit too stressful and I cut it back to two days a week. Two days was better because the third day that I was working consisted mostly of attending chamber applications. They cut out at some point because they changed the rules a little bit, so I really didn’t need that third day, so I cut back to Wednesday and Friday.
During this time where was Tindall Gask Bentley located? Whereabouts was your office?
In Light Square. In 1972 that building was an engineering workshop and Richard and I were paying rent in FCA building and this building came up. I said to Richard “well if we borrow enough money from the bank we ought to be able to buy it but I’m very dodgy about committing myself financially because I really don’t want to lose my house”. What we did was we talked to the late Ted Mulligan. Ted was a very, very good friend. Ted said “look I’ll come in with you”. The three of us actually bought that building with a huge assistance from the National Bank. When Ted left to go to the Supreme Court he sold his interest and when I left to go to the Magistrates Court I sold my interests because in those days it was considered that you shouldn’t have interests in property where there might be some conflict of interest arising. I got out of the building when I went down to the Children’s Court in 1979.
And now of course there’s a brand new building there.
Well I believe Morry Bailes bought the old building, knocked it over and put up what is a magnificent working building. Just like with this wonderful modern facility, plenty of natural light, wonderful view over Light Square. It was a great place to work.
Of course the firm had grown significantly. How many people are there now?
Well they tell me over 100 staff and about 50 lawyers. My problem is memory. As I’ve got older my memory is not as retentive as it was previously. Because I only worked two days a week, new people would come in on Monday, they’d be introduced all around the firm, I’d pop in on a Wednesday and I have to say “excuse me but who is that?”. It got to the point just before I left to retire - which I thought was quite funny - I was in the kitchen one day and one of the newbies came in and said “excuse me but can I help you?”
They didn’t know who you were?
As if they didn’t recognise me.
They thought you might have just rocked in off the street.
Yes. Funny things do happen.
What are some of the highlights of your career? Looking back, are there things that pop out and you think ‘I was particularly proud of that’?
One of the highlights of my careers has got nothing to do with practising law in Adelaide. It involves the Defence Force.
When I was 15 I joined the Cadets. When I was 18 I did National Service in the Army at Woodside followed by three years in the Citizen Military Force. Originally the Infantry then in the University Regiment Pipe Band and then finally in the Artillery down at Keswick Barracks. When I finished with the Army I joined what I always wanted to belong to which was the Air Force and I signed up as a Cadet in the University Squadron. I did two years as a Cadet and graduated as a pilot officer and then went on as an instructor in the Uni Squadron. In 1966 the Defence Force established the RAAF Reserve Legal Corp which I then joined. I stayed in that until they kicked me out when I turned 55. Towards the end they appointed me the Defence Force Magistrate, hearing the equivalent of Court Martial but on the lesser level. That side of my life is something which I’ve very thoroughly enjoyed.
When you were hearing these Court Martials where did you have to go to?
Edinburgh. I did one in Darwin, one in Edinburgh, one at Canberra, one at Wagga. They’re the ones that I can remember. Four or five in my time. They weren’t actually Court Martials, they were like summary hearings in the Magistrates Court, but you imposed a penalty or acquittal or whatever.
It was a disciplinary..?
There were a trial, a disciplinary. Yes.
And you must have made some great mates in your time?
Yes. Including those in the Air Force. Unfortunately as you get older you lose mates and you lose friends. I guess that’s just life, but it’s very sad to lose those friends.
Some people that you were with in the Defence Force, did they serve say in Vietnam?
David McCloud did. David McCleod is the Principal Panel Leader for Australia. He was until recently in practice. He’s now a Magistrate. He’s a Group Captain which is the equivalent of a Full Colonel in the Army and he did some time in Afghanistan. I don’t think he went to Iraq but he may have done.
No, Vietnam was just a bit before our time. When I was in the Defence Force they asked for volunteers to go to Vietnam to check over the Air Force wills and three of us from here volunteered, the late Ken McCarthy Q.C., the late Dean Page and myself. We went up to Edinburgh and we had heaps of injections including something called Black Water Fever. We were due to go to Vietnam, I can’t remember the date, but no more than ten days before we were due to go they cancelled the trip because a Reserve Officer in Saigon had been injured with a hand grenade and they realised that they had to pay him some compensation. They didn’t like the thought of that so we didn’t go at all. I was terribly disappointed at the time but looking back now I’m rather glad I didn’t go.
You were saying before that you’ve researched your family history.
Yes, we’ve done a family tree because my great uncle was killed on ANZAC Day 1918 in World War 1 and that’s been interesting. I like researching military history. It’s been another interest that I’ve had, but I haven’t had the time to follow it up and you need books and apart from unit histories which have been published, other books have been very difficult to get. For example, if you wanted to research someone in the Boer War the book that deals with all the contingents is out of print and it has been out of print for a long time. You have to go to the Mortlock Library to have a look at it.
It takes time to be able to do all that.
Which leads to retirement.
Well, fortunately last year I took the plunge and got a computer.
You resisted all that time?
Even while you were still consulting.
Even until the day I retired everything I did was handwritten. Everything. My office notes, drafts, were all handwritten.
I bet you’ve got beautiful handwriting.
No. It’s deteriorated with the use of a biro.
You were talking about computers. You’ve resisted the computers.
I did. We bought one and my grandchildren have given me a few lessons on it. I now know how to turn it on, which is good. There are sites available now where you can get some limited information on people who served in the Defence Forces and I’m sure that the amount of information I’ve been able to get through that source is fairly minimal. If I knew a lot more I could probably get a lot more information.
Do you think that’s something that you might be looking at in your retirement?
Yes I think it is.
Computer classes and more research?
We did go to Canberra at one point to check up on my great uncle. They have volunteer staff there who are quite good but unfortunately terribly busy. They get heaps and heaps of people who come in who want information. Although they’re helpful, the help is fairly minimal. I can understand that. You really do have to do it on your own. That may be something I can spend more time on during my retirement.
Any other plans for retirement?
No. People always talk about travel. I’ve had a couple of overseas trips over the years and I’m really not keen on going again because your health is a major consideration. You also find difficulty in getting a driving license because some countries limit your age. You find difficulty in getting travel insurance because of your health, if you’ve got a pre-existing heart condition, and although it’s a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, currently things are a little bit scary on the travel front.
They are. What about other interests and hobbies?
I do a lot of reading, do a fair bit of walking. Luckily I live in an area where there’s a lot of native vegetation and beautiful parrots and kangaroos and the other day I saw an echidna. I have only ever seen two of those in the wild. It’s amazing.
Thought it might have been too cold for an echidna to come out.
Yes well they’ve got a pretty thick coat haven’t they?
I suppose. Yes.
I used to be on the Council of the Royal Agricultural Society and I used to be on the Dog Committee. I was heavily involved in organising things for the Royal Show and things like that. I retired from that when I got on a bit. I thought it was time to give someone else a go because I’d been on it nearly 40 odd years. My involvement with the Royal Show these days is not great.
You still go along though to have a look at all the exhibits?
I do. They’re wonderful. Wonderful thing to go to.
Do I take from that that you must own dogs yourself?
We have had dogs over the years. We liked poodles, very intelligent dog. Unfortunately they’re susceptible to viruses and we had one knocked over. My brother lives across the road and he was trotting over to see him and he got knocked over and killed. Then we had two later ones who contracted viruses and passed away. Losing them was fairly upsetting so we decided that we couldn’t do that again.
We haven’t touched on involvement with the Law Society. Did you get involved with any committees over your time in practice?
No, much to my shame, I suppose. I didn’t. I go back to the old Law Society days when you were given Law Society assignments and they were extremely helpful because most of their involvement was then the Police Court.
Just explain that. I don’t understand - the Society would hand out assignments to different firms?
You belonged to the Society and you could either accept or not accept what they called assignments. I’ll give you an example. Someone with limited means comes into the Law Society - this is an actual case - and says “I’ve been charged with urinating in a public place. I went into a doorway in Rundle Street East on a dark night, urinated, and a passing patrol car caught me and I’ve been charged. The reason I did all of that was because the toilets in Hindmarsh Square were not open. The nearest toilet was in Victoria Square and I knew I wouldn’t make it.” That was sent to me and I acted for that man and appeared for him in the Police Court. He was fined, I think, a pound with comments from the Magistrate about how toilets should be opened at a much later time at night. I think it was only about 10:30. You then reported back to the Law Society that that assignment had been completed; you told them the result and I think there was a payment that was then made to you. I’m not sure what the percentage was of your fee but it was not a significant percentage.
So in effect you were doing Legal Aid work?
Yes that’s what it was - Legal Aid. That was one of the files that I took with me when we set up our own firm, one of those assignments.
That was one of your very first?
Apart from that I’ve had very little involvement with the Law Society. I certainly haven’t served on any committees at all. I got very disenchanted, I must say, with the way that the courts were being run at one point. They were listing civil cases and you had to appear before a Master and you had 50 or 60 legal practitioners sitting in the one court room while they went through the civil list trying to find what cases they can list for trial and what cases were not ready. I thought that’s an absolutely stupid system, it’s costing the clients a lot of money because they lawyers are not sitting there for nothing. I wrote to the Law Society and pointed all this out and nothing happened. When I came back from being a Magistrate I decided that I didn’t want to rejoin so I didn’t even rejoin the Law Society.
Bit of a protest at the time?
It was at the time, and then it gradually became a habit that I didn’t belong. It was only the last few years when Morry Bailes became concerned that I think I was the only person in the firm that didn’t belong to the Law Society; he asked me quite politely whether I would like to join. I then explained to him why I had not rejoined. He said “well I understand all of that but do you feel any differently now? We’re trying to make sure everybody belongs” and I said “well far be it for me to be the stand out so yes I’ll happily join”.
So you did. Looking back, you were admitted in 1958, what were some of the significant changes in the profession that you witnessed?
Can I talk about practical things? In 1958 the way in which you did your work was to have your shorthand typist sit opposite you at the desk. You would then dictate your work to her, she would then transcribe it, bring it back to you for checking and any corrections that were necessary. From there, and this was at Newman Page & Co in 1960, we graduated to a dictaphone machine which was a circular disc like a big gramophone disc. You talked into a microphone and mostly your routine correspondence was done on that. I still did my drafting in handwriting but routine correspondence on that. Later on they became tape machines where you had tapes that are discs. Then they tried the voice activated machine which was not much of a success and now they’ve gone back to tape. Over the years they were the practical means of recording your work but with the overall consideration in my case of doing everything by hand.
Do you think, looking back, once you get very competent with your computer which I’m sure is going to happen in the next few years, you can probably look back and think of all those hours that you’ve spent doing hand work?
No. Well, probably true to some extent, but the best thing about what I did in handwriting was that it was creative. As I sat there, no matter what document I was doing, as I drafted it, it was flowing. If I wasn’t happy with it I’d start again. Gradually I’d realise that I’d left things out so I had to put those things in. I was in effect creating a document. When I’d finished that document I would put it away, which is what Bob Clark taught me; put it away overnight, bring it out the next day or the day after, and look at it again and then realised what I’d left out. That’s the way I always did my work and I was very proud of the documents that I produced.
Do you think sometimes the lawyers of today, the young ones, are a bit too slapdash?
Yes. I’ve had to castigate them in polite terms about that. There is an element of ‘don’t worry about it we can amend it later on’ or ‘near enough is good enough’ or ‘what may or may not be true, no-one’s going to read this document anyhow’, ‘I’m not even sure that the courts look at it before the trial’ or ‘we’re going to settle this case in the long term, so what is the point in spending hours on a document at an early stage in the proceedings’. Those things all upset me.
You took a lot of pride in your work which perhaps isn’t the case today with some of the younger professionals?
I did. I don’t want to be too adversely critical of the current practitioners. Those at Tindall Gask Bentley are quite reasonable. There are one or two that need a bit of polishing but they will learn, they’re young. They didn’t have that practical training which we got in Articles.
Articles was a magnificent time to really learn what goes on in an office and to learn the practical skills. I know that GDLP is quite reasonable because at one point I was lecturing on the subject of interrogatories which have now disappeared. So they do get some practical exposure. It’s not quite the same as working in an office for two years as we did.
I guess too at the time that you were learning the ropes it was a much smaller profession. It’s a very big profession now.
It was. I look back and I must admit I was pretty hopeless. When I started that red ink used to distress no end. I can remember at one point I went to Bob Clark and said “will I ever get this right?” And he said to me “keep plugging on”, he said “you’ll get there in the end”. The last document that I can recall on which red ink appeared was an Executor’s Oath which I had prepared. In the middle of it was a red comma. I took it to him and I said “what’s wrong with that?” He said “look, I had to do something so I put the comma in”. Then I knew I’d made it.
The other question you asked me was, how the profession’s changed? These are my own personal views. When I started off in the law, everybody knew each other. As I recall, there were something like 300 practitioners here in Adelaide. Generally most everybody knew everybody else. We were very fortunate, we had expert senior practitioners like Doug McCloud, Frank Moran, and many many others; Trevor Taylor I’ve mentioned, Sir Shirley Jeffries, Bob Clark, Harry Alderman. They were all professional people in the true sense of the word and they were all thorough gentleman. I was very fortunate to join the profession at that time.
Subsequently, and I guess a lot of it’s got to do with advertising and commercialism, how many units we turned out each day seemed to become the measure of your competence. I’ve always thought it was wrong because I could sit there and churn out 50 or 60 routine units, but to draft a document would take me that amount of time and yet I couldn’t have charged that number of units for what I thought was a good document. I don’t think that units should ever be a measure of your ability or competence. The emphasis has gone from what I thought was true professionalism to a commercial arena. To some extent I can understand that because you want to be compensated for all the study time that you put in, you want to get a fair wage, costs are increasing. But there was a point when I thought that the legal profession was going to price itself out of business because the costs were going up very dramatically. Whether that’s true or not now I’m not sure but the legal costs are quite significant.
So it was a changing environment to work in?
It was a changing environment.
I don’t think I would like to start now as a new practitioner. That would be a very, very daunting task. I think you’re right about being a mentor, someone to talk to, someone to help you through. There are certainly financial difficulties which arise from the problem of getting work these days. So I’m not sure it’s a good time to take up the law. Yet, again, I’ve enjoyed my time.
On that note, is there anything else that you would like to share with us?
Thank you very much. It’s been lovely chatting with you.
Thanks Lindy. I’ve enjoyed my time.