Archive for October, 2011

A day in the life

October 26, 2011

This morning, I had to be in court at 9 am in a registrar’s list. My appearance was totally unnecessary and entirely for the sake of keeping up appearances. There had to be someone there for the plaintiff. I wasn’t otherwise in court so I agreed yesterday to be the someone there even as I immediately regretted it. I was supposed to be a person with knowledge of the matter but as the orders made were all by consent it would have been an unnecessary incurring of costs for me to become particularly familiar.

The orders were made, without any further registrarial inquiry. I guess they were sensible enough.

Senior counsel (Queen’s Counsel, if appointed long enough ago, and otherwise, literally, Senior Counsel) have a special long wig which they wear for ceremonial occasions. On my way into court I had spotted a long-bewigged barrister going through the (quite unnecessary in my view – we did fine for years without it except for paint being thrown on one judge) security check.

On my way back to the lift from the registrar’s court I saw an unusual sight. Justice Julie Ward was presiding. At the bar table were five or so senior counsel in full-bottomed wigs. There was a full panoply of court attendants. Obviously it was some kind of ceremony.

I slipped in, the solitary spectator.

I realised I was witnessing the ritual known as “making bows” – when newly-appointed senior counsel pay their respects to the court. I caught the end of her Honour’s speech. Maybe I’d missed the heavy-lifting part, but by now she was referring to her own past as a solicitor, and saying that she had previously had the opportunity of speaking with counsel in conference, but would now look forward to exchanges in the court. She invited the senior counsel to join her for coffee (maybe she said “morning tea”) “if you have time” and then the court adjourned.

As the ceremony broke up and the senior counsel started to stir from the bar table, I couldn’t resist a kind of barracking interjection. “Well, that didn’t get much of a public.” Some of them laughed.

As I left, they were being ushered back-stage to the judge’s chambers. I saw from the court list that it wouldn’t go for long: a matter was listed before her Honour at 10.00 am.

I went to the bar library. I finished an advice. I informed my instructing solicitors that the registrar had made the orders.

A fresh set of voting papers arrived for the bar council. (The first set were apparently distributed with a return-address envelope addressed to some Chinese Laundry or otherwise totally irrelevant address.) “Vote early and vote often” a colleague joked.

You have to vote for at least 5 senior counsel to cast a valid vote. I resent that deeply. I am sick of my profession being run by ambitious types jostling for appointment for senior counsel. It adds insult to injury that I am compelled to support this self-selecting cartel once they are ensconced by voting for some of them if I wish to cast a valid vote. I couldn’t find five on the list that I felt like encouraging.

You can tell from that that I don’t expect to be making my bows any time soon.

Should I vote at all given this requirement? There are a bunch of disgruntled unappointed would-be silks who are running on a platform to amend the process of selection. I’m not sure if the reform they seek would really solve the problem I complain of but I am currently weighing up my objection to the compulsory vote for senior counsel against the possibility of registering an even misdirected protest.

I attended to a few other tasks and then left early for a nap before the opera.

On the way to the SOH, I saw a few police cars parked in the vicinity of the now-cleared Occupy Sydney site on Martin Place, now reclaimed for the people of Sydney, or at least (or do I mean at most?) the homeless who congregate nightly for redistributed unsold lunches and a cup of International Roast.

The opera was Richard Mills’ The Love of the Nightingale, based on a 1989 play by Timberlake Wertenbaker.

There was a warning concerning partial nudity and that the opera was unsuitable for children. The warning was merited, not because of the nudity (as ever, male upper torsos and dancers in diaphanous outfits don’t count, so in this case Taryn Fiebig as “mighty Aphrodite” [groan] carried the mammary and nipplous burden) but because Philomel has her tongue ripped out, with tongs and a knife – you see the tongue in the tongs – before turning into a nightingale. You don’t see that quite so literally. Instead Philomel (Emma Matthews) has a long vocalise.

If the message from that is that music is a refuge from grief and suffering or even all the nasty things in this world, then on the strength of this opera and also Batavia, I’d have to say I prefer things that way. That, however, is or at least may be the subject of another post.

In the concluding section of the opera, there is a dialogue between a woman and a child. Why was it wrong to cut out Philomel’s tongue? (Her brother-in-law cut it out after he raped her and she wouldn’t keep quiet.) “Because it hurt?” asks the child. “Because,” says the woman, “it is wrong to stop the questions.” (OK: I may have got the words a bit mixed up but this was the drift. It’s a 1989 play, remember.)

Yes, it’s that clunky, but you have to take insights where you find them, however obvious. It’s not as if they were obvious to whoever ordered the clearing of Martin Place.

We will decide who protests on our streets and when they do so

October 23, 2011

Or rather, the police will decide for us.

Police have closed down the “Occupy Sydney” camp at the top of Martin Place. Of course it was done by means of a dawn raid.

They say that they had attempted to negotiate with the protesters – they would let them protest in daylight hours but not occupy the site overnight.

Doubtless they were hanging their hat on the various “no camping” provisions in the Local Government Act, but to me that misses the whole point of permissible levels of protest and at what point protest must or should be stopped. I walked past the “OS” gang a few times on my way to the dentist and on other errands around town. They seemed a pretty benign and peaceful bunch: the most menacing characters present were the police.

“It was time that we took steps to return Martin Place to the community of Sydney,” Mr Murdoch (the relevant police officer) said.

Here’s an earlier shot of the police returning Martin Place to the community of Sydney in the course of the demonstration on Saturday:


October 19, 2011

Straddling the weekend, I went twice to hear Stephen Hough, first with the Sydney Symphony on Saturday night (I also heard most of the broadcast of the same program on Friday night) and then, on Monday, in recital for Musica Viva.

The SSO program was Lutoslawski 4, Mozart 21 (piano concerto) and Dvořák 9 (symphony again). Mark Wigglesworth conducted.

It was good to have heard the Lutoslawski on air first. It had lots of interesting rippling textures and was always rhythmic/ Towards the end there was a bit of an outburst of vigorous percussion and forthright finale-ishness which I was less keen on, though perhaps a bit of conspicuous modern-style bombast was part of the point.

There was quite a lengthy feature on the broadcast (interview with Mr Hough) which matched a pretty lengthy stage re-set for the concerto. That concerto has rather oddly managed to be burdened with a nickname, “Elvira Madigan” which has nothing at all to do with Mozart or anything remotely related to him, and owes everything to the use of the slow movement in what I gather was a rather weepy film of the 1960s which involved somebody dying.

I’ve always thought the movement was more of a serenade – something akin to the cypress-tree-ish music in Figaro – breezy rather than tragic. I only really listened closely to this movement of the broadcast, but as I rather expected, SH took a rather breezy approach himself – he is not what I think of as a sentimental player. It was neat; it was cool; nobody died but you could still sigh with delight. The encore on Friday was Dvořák and on Saturday was a Chopin Nocturne in E flat.

How can one not enjoy the Dvořák New World? My only reservation was that at times I thought it a little short on lilt. Wigglesworth is a welcome visitor. More than one of my fellow concert-goers wondered if there is a prospect of seeing more of him when Ashkenazy’s incumbency comes to an end, which cannot be so far into the future. I like it that Wigglesworth has conducted opera as well as symphony concerts here – it must help when you conduct a Mozart concerto to be conducting a Mozart opera as he has been doing next door.

I felt ahead on the Monday concert even before I went because I had secured my ticket as part of an irresistible special deal. The program was also bold, with a coherent theme which made sense. SH introduced it as being about “strange sonatas” – first half, Beethoven “Moonlight” (ie, Sonata quasi fantasia Op 27 No 1), a sonata of his own, and then Scriabin 4; second half, Scriabin 5 and then Liszt B minor.

The Moonlight is not “strange” in the sense that it is unfamiliar, but as a sonata it is a bit strange because of the odd assortment and order of movements. SH took a rather cool approach to the first movement (accurately summarised by Peter McCallum in his review) before letting fly in the final movement.

SH’s own sonata was authentically him and his, despite his rather odd (to me) decision to read the music. He explained that he offered it in response to a request to play a piece by an Australian composer (SH has acquired Australian citizenship.) I wonder if there was any suggestion that he join all the other Musica Viva artists this year in doing something by Ian Munro?

Putting the two Scriabins either side of the interval was a canny move. The two sonatas have a lot in common though I think 4 is often thought of as the last of an earlier style and the 5th as the beginning of his mature style. The way they came out under SH’s hands was that the 5th seemed like a more successful working out of what was going on in the 4th.

Then there was the Liszt. It’s a monster.

SH is a pianist I really admire. He has something interesting to say and certainly from a technical point of view he can play the pieces he chooses the way he chooses to play them. I enjoyed his performance but not as much as I was expecting to. I’m still trying to put my finger on why. The best I can do so far is to say that in both the Scriabin and the Liszt I found him just a bit too cool and “objective” in his approach. In the big moments of both I yearned for something a bit warmer to go with all the power.

SH has blogged tantalisingly on the question of whether you can “tell” that a pianist is gay and though he doesn’t give a direct or simple answer to this question he edges towards yes, at least in relation to pianists of an earlier era, though not in any simple way (for instance, gay does not mean, he says, effeminate.) I myself am not sure if you can really tell and especially if you can tell from the sound of their playing alone. If you know a pianist is gay, you may then be able to see aspects of their personality in their playing which you think may well have something to do with their gayness. That will probably involve stereotypes galore which may or may not have anything to them at all. It’s only in the spirit of SH’s own observations on the topic that I found myself wishing (still struggling to put a finger on it) that his approach to those pieces was a little less “straight acting.” And boy oh boy is that a kind of stereotype squared.

On a side note, I saw that in Newcastle SH played this program on the Stuart piano. It was recorded for broadcast by the local fm station. That was brave of him and could be an intriguing broadcast to catch.

Guardianship Tribunal of NSW (now the Guardianship Division of NCAT)

October 5, 2011

I have appeared before this tribunal. It was a most unsatisfactory experience, and I don’t say that because my client lost because my client did not lose, but the path to that was much slower than it should have been and the tribunal was not as awake to obvious legal issues as I consider it should have been.

I don’t necessarily blame the members of the Tribunal before whom I appeared, or at least not all of them. The Tribunal is designed to be justice on the cheap and I am afraid that you get what you pay for. It is a specialist tribunal and there is much to be said for the expertise of its non-legal members. Its legal expertise is where as a lawyer you feel the economy.

There is an additional problem in that the tribunal has to deal with families and with people with mental problems, and much of its procedure and way of dealing with matters is designed to prevent parties pestering it, as one may reasonably expect that parties acting for themselves with mental problems or family disputes arising from the mental state of a family member might be inclined to do.

One undesirable consequence of this is that there is no proper procedure for initiating any steps in proceedings in the Tribunal or for getting the tribunal to do anything. Everything has to pass a gateway of a not particularly legally savvy kind of administrative assistant whose principal role (from my experience) seems to be to prevent parties bringing anything before the tribunal.

These are harsh words. It is rash of me to write them insofar as a member or employee of the tribunal might, with reasonable diligence, identify me from a careful reading of this blog. I would hope that such diligence would be better applied improving the performance of the tribunal. My rashness is fortified by my other hope and resolve never to appear before this tribunal again if I can help it.

Which is why I was pleased to read the judgment of Justice White (a judge whom I admire, not simply for this judgment nor for any particularly stunning successes I have enjoyed before him) in Re B (No. 1) [2011] NSWSC 1075.

His Honour (notice the title: of course he is also much better resourced than the tribunal) found various shortcomings in the approach of the tribunal to the matter in question. The question was: what should he do about this? It is sufficient that I quote this passage (at [80]):

One course would be to remit the matter to the Tribunal. That was the course adopted in W v G . I am reluctant to take that course in the circumstances of this case. There have been four substantial hearings before the Tribunal, three of which have miscarried. The delay in the provision of the Tribunal’s reasons for its orders of 24 February 2010 effectively deprived the plaintiff of a timely right of appeal. In the exceptional circumstances of this case I consider the court should come to its own decision as to the appointment of a guardian.

Much if not all of the jurisdiction of the tribunal is co-extensive with the Supreme Court’s parens patriae jurisdiction. In my opinion, if you have the money and can make your case with the more restrictive (but also possibly more rigorous) rules of evidence which apply in the Supreme Court, you would be better off taking your case there.

Note to potential commenters

Before you comment please read my policy about comments to this post at comment 90 below.

Update, April 2017:

Update from the NSW Law Reform Commission – April 2017
Please share this update with friends, colleagues and constituents.

Guardianship review – public consultations:

Should a guardian be able to make decisions for someone else? Or should people be supported to make their own decisions?

Tell us about your experiences with guardianship at our public consultations in Sydney on 30 May and in Parramatta on 1 June.

For more information and to RSVP visit our website.
NSW Law Reform Commission

Before I forget

October 5, 2011

And just for the record, other musical items caught by me on my recent jaunt.

1. Bonn, Beethovenhalle – Pittsburgh Symphony as part of the Beethoven festival. Expensive; dutiful rather than motivated performance of Beethoven 4 by Grimaud and the orchestra; Tchaikovsky 5 was where the orchestra’s heart was.

2. Erfurt, Opernhaus, MDR half empty house despite most expensive tickets only 28 euros- Sarah Chang not quite capturing what I think of as the charm potential of the Sibelius concerto, rather better return to form in Strauss Heldenleben; wonder if almost total lack of atmosphere owing to sparse attendance explained why the orchestra not as good as I had hoped it might be.

3. Prague, Rudolfinum, Midori and Czech Philharmonic – concert highlight of tour; wonderful hall and seats, intimate encounter with Midori in Beethoven concerto and Mahler 1 from the heart of post-Hapsburg lands, played relatively straight by an orchestra absolutely at home with the tradition the symphony draws on.

4. Cologne, Oper, Prokofiev, War and Peace (Krieg und Frieden). Finally seen all these years after it last played in Sydney at the SOH opening. You can see why it was chosen (21 principals – a part for everyone) and correspondingly, why it hasn’t had a run since (big orchestra, rather schizophrenic relationship between the acts, need for big cast and spectacle[)] – here generously supplied.

5. Essen, Krupp Saal, Essen Philharmonic – not particularly persuasive performance of Strauss Don Quixote (soloists all drawn from orchestra) but rather better go at assorted Liszt which was mostly tosh (Mephisto Waltz the best; Hungaria showing part of what got up Gavril Prinzep’s nose) by relatively youthful orchestra.

Dresden, Semperoper

October 3, 2011

Waiting for the curtain to go up:

Going up!

(NB more romantic colour balance)

The famous clock above the proscenium arch – it goes in five minute increments:

Curtain calls – at least someone can guess what we saw that night:

The view at interval across the Theaterplatz to the Schloss and Schlosskirche:

The ballet, on a Tuesday, was for D. On Monday we approached the prince/water-being theme from a different angle, in an utterly engrossing (even while in many ways quite incomprehensible on the spot) production of Rusalka which featured some of the most brilliant stage-craft I have ever seen. An informative account of the production’s previous outing in Dresden (it was previously mounted in Brussels and Graz) is here.

On Wednesday I shook off my museum-leg with a quick shower and climbed to the back of the fourth Rang for a stehplatz (standing room was all that was available) and eased off my shoes for a more conventionally (in the German sense) minimalist production of La Traviata. The set featured a red chair and a matching colour-bond fence which twisted and tilted: the chorus, rather than any furnishings, provided the backdrop; Violetta was more street-walker than courtesan; the party she returned to after Germont pere warned her off was an underpants party; waiting for Alfredo and death, Violetta slid down the colour-bond fence as it tilted up: simple also is good.

Hearing the splendid Dresden orchestra in the Semperoper’s bright but clear acoustic just made me weep for our subterranean post-box-mouthed pit in Sydney.

Riding the ‘bahn

October 3, 2011

What is this?

Another view, more information:

All clear now?

For Victor, perhaps more particularly with Andrew in mind.

Seen in Shanghai

October 3, 2011

For Neil.

Just next to the Shanghai Conservatory (of music, that is):

There and back again

October 3, 2011

I am just back from a holiday. Home is where the unwashed coffee cups are.

The furthest point of our travels, logistically and psychologically at least, was Prague.

On the Charles Bridge there is a bronze statue with outreaching hands which have been rubbed golden from the touch of visitors intending to return. It’s a pennies-in-the-fountain kind of thing and hardly unique to Prague – there is a pig in Florence copied in some other cities, and a monkey in Heidelberg.

Up the the hill at the castle, others have taken a different approach.