22 Austl. & N.Z. Mar. L.J. 1 (2008)

handle is hein.journals/ausnewma22 and id is 1 raw text is: The 34th Annual MLAANZ Conference
CANBERRA
27 SEPTEMBER 2007
Frank Stuart Dethridge Memorial Address
'FROM LUTINE BELL TO LAW REFORM -
A CASE STUDY IN AUSTRALIAN ADMIRALTY LAW'
The Hon Justice Michael Kirby AC CMG*
My Lutine Bell Tolls
In life, vanity ultimately gives way to reality. I am well aware that I have been invited to give this Dethridge
Lecture in a representative and not a personal capacity.
I do so, first, as a Justice of the High Court of Australia, our nation's final appellate and constitutional court
which occasionally decides cases involving admiralty jurisdiction and maritime law. And secondly, as the
erstwhile Chairman (as the office was then styled) of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC). It is
twenty years since that Commission delivered its important report on admiralty jurisdiction. It is therefore
timely to reflect on that achievement: on what has been secured and what may lie ahead.
If my life had turned out differently, I might have been giving this address in a personal capacity. As chance
would have it, I came within a whisker of a lifetime's dedication to admiralty and maritime law. The invitation
to contribute to the Dethridge Lecture series brings the memories flooding back.
In 1962, 1 had just graduated from the Sydney University Law School. With my brilliant school results and
outstanding university record, I was looking around for a worthwhile future in the law.
Out of the blue a letter arrived at my parents' home. It invited applications from new law graduates for
appointment as a starting solicitor. I duly made an application and was invited to call at the premises of Mr John
Bowen, solicitor. His office, in an old building since demolished, commanded a vista of Bridge Street in
Sydney. Engraved on the door in gold (or was it brass?) was the legend 'Ebsworth & Ebsworth'. Showing great
foresight, Mr Bowen selected me. He promised me an exciting career in admiralty and maritime law. My
youthful imagination conjured up images of the mighty ships and ancient precedents. I felt that I was being
piped aboard a vessel that would sail me forward into a life of calm and prosperous waters.
Imagine my surprise when an urgent letter arrived soon after from Ebsworths asking me to call again on their
office with its great city vistas. A misfortune had occurred. It was as if the Lutine Bell was being sounded for
the sinking of my professional vessel, full of hope. The Hon Fred Osborn CMG, DSC, VRD, Federal Minister
for the Navy in the Menzies Government, Member for Evans, had lost his seat in Federal Parliament. These
things have an unpleasant way of happening in federal elections. He was a partner in Ebsworths. Unexpectedly,
he had to be received back into the fold. In consequence, there was no space for an aspiring new recruit.
The offer of a lifetime in admiralty law was summarily, and unilaterally, withdrawn. With heart shattered, I
stumbled out into the sunlight of Bridge Street, my decks awash with tears. My great ambition had come to a
. Justice of the High Court of Australia. One-time Chairman of the Australian Law Reform Commission and Judge of the Federal Court of
Australia. The author acknowledges the assistance in the preparation of this paper of Mr Adam Sharpe and Ms Anna Gordon, Legal
Researchers in the Library of the High Court of Australia.

(2008) 22 A&NZ Mar LJ

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