Roddy’s Folly

Last week to the launch of this book, which is a memoir by Damien Freeman of the late Roddy Meagher.

Richard Ackland has posted some video highlights.

Professor Bashir, attended by a woman in naval dress uniform who I presume was her ADC,  spoke briefly.  As Quentin Bryce was away somewhere, she was there as administrator of the Commonwealth.  She told how Roddy once invited her to a dance at St John’s college and had to take her home early (to Women’s College) when she fell ill.  MB referred more than once to Riverview (where Meagher went to school) as “one of the great schools of this nation.”

I’m constantly being told that Professor Bashir is a universally loved figure.   I have nothing against her, and have even spoken cordially to her when she sat next to me (ADC again in tow) at a concert, but I’m still at a bit of a loss to understand the reason for the ascribed love of a loyal people.

It all rather puts me in mind of the praise heaped on the substitute queen at the opening of the factory in Michael Frayn’s Tin Men.  It’s enough that she (in the Frayn it is a young man from accounts or somesuch, who, having stood in for the rehearsal, stands in when the Queen is a no-show.  “She was so natural!” exclaimed all) is in a position entitled to respect and that she is inoffensive in it.  Beyond that, I can only think the secret is MB’s ability to flatter serially her various audiences by appropriately buttering-up remarks to suit the occasion.

I just wish Professor Bashir had as many occasions to talk up, say, Brewarrina Central School, as one of the great schools of this nation as she does SIC.  Maybe that’s not entirely MB’s fault.  Maybe that’s the world.

Dyson Heydon delivered some enumerated points.  I think there were five.

Tony Abbott’s address is here.  It’s mostly the script of what he said, save that he stumbled over Michael Kirby, whom he first identified as Michael Kelly.  Just nominal aphasia and tiredness, I’m sure.

Meagher’s main claim to fame is as the first-named author of Meagher Gummow & Lehane (routinely, MGL), a textbook on Equity which pins its flagrantly conservative colours to the mast in a battle royal against fusionists and other would-be modernisers from standpoint of possibly (I have not checked) the last jurisdiction in the world to submit to the 1873 Judiciary Act reforms – the administration of equity and common law was not merged in NSW until 1970.  It was of course a shibboleth that only the administration had merged, and that the principles remained distinct.  It’s all to do with the confluence of the Rhone and some other river whose name presently escapes me.

When I was at law school Meagher was something of a cult figure.  Freeman’s book in fact quotes from a fanzine-ish interview produced for the Law School annual, Blackacre, from about that time.

All three MGL authors lectured to us.  We thought that was something pretty special and in a way it was, though why we had to spend quite so long on charitable trusts and assignment of causes of action still defeats me.

The launch was held in the Ass[embly] Hall, site of these lectures.  From memory, these were given at 8.15 am and 5.15 pm in parallel, which is an impressive commitment from a bunch of practitioners.  I can’t say they were particularly scintillating lectures.  Lectures given by people who have written the book often are not.

The book assembles a lot of material, mostly favourable, concerning Meagher.  It is the sort of book which counts “chattering classes” as a neutral term of argument, and it doesn’t mean by that the well-disposed-to-Meagher of the Sydney bar giggling over Meagher’s latest “naughty” remarks.

Some of Meagher’s jokes were kept up for a long time.  His affected ignorance of the geography of western Sydney goes way back, which is a bit rich for a man born in Temora.  More than once “epigone” has been pressed into duty as a a stunning Atticism. Freeman even light-heartedly dates one manuscript by reason of its predating Meagher’s adoption of “hairy-legged lesbian” as his chosen term for a species (to which he was averse) of woman getting ahead in the modern legal world.

From pages 379 to 387 there is an odd passage where Freeman riffs on Meagher’s conservatism by reference to enumerated characteristics of conservatism expounded in Tony Abott’s book, Battlelines.  I do wonder if some of this material crept in by osmosis from other pursuits Freeman was engaged in at the time of writing.

At page 36 the highest that Freeman can put the Meaghers’ claim of descent from the first Earl of Chatham (emblazoned in Meagher’s middle name, “Pitt”) is that “it is possible that Thomas Taylor was the medical man from whom William Lipscomb was descended.”

Freeman does attempt a more dispassionate analysis from time to time, but in the end the book is too cosily partisan to make good as a biography.  The chronology is also rather too general.  The book is more of an appreciation or even a tribute, tempered with conscientious inclusion of some of the leading criticisms (though mostly from still-friendly sources).  It will appeal to admirers of Roddy and otherwise strictly to the cognoscenti.  It would probably also annoy others but most of them probably won’t be bothering to read it anyway.

One Response to “Roddy’s Folly”

  1. Legal Eagle Says:

    Heh, my mother was born in Temora. I can’t believe that she shares something with Roddy Meagher! Other than that she grew up in the Sutherland Shire – very far from Riverview.

    Dare I say that it doesn’t surprise me that Heydon delivered enumerated points. I have noticed that he is very found of them in judgment, and his judgment in the recent Equuscorp case is an exemplar of this.

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