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Welcome to Judge Ross Howie

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Cite as: (2002) 76(11) LIJ, p.29

Recently appointed County Court Judge Ross Howie was welcomed to the County Court at a ceremony on 24 October 2002. Among the speakers was Law Institute treasurer Judith Peirce. An edited version of her speech follows.

Your Honour was educated at Wesley College and the University of Melbourne, before being admitted to practice in 1968.

After working as a solicitor for McCracken & McCracken, you were based in Alice Springs as principal legal officer of the Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, and subsequently of the Central Land Council. Since that time it is arguable that you have handled more land claims than anyone else in Australia.

It is a credit to you that the Yorta Yorta people continue to hold you in great esteem, a fact that directly reflects the respect that you showed the Yorta Yorta witnesses when taking them through their evidence. It is on the record that your Honour has been described as unfailingly pleasant, kind, fair, patient and simply “a very nice person”.

In fact, your friends and colleagues are relentless in their praise; indeed, a continual complaint has been that you are such a prudent and sensible person that you do not put yourself in situations whereby we may have a laugh at your expense.

It has been necessary therefore to conduct an in-depth investigation to unearth any character flaws, and I am happy to report that, after a concerted effort, these were indeed found.

One, that you are the world’s worst self-promoter – a person who keeps his profile so low it is positively subterranean. Modesty becomes you. If someone gave you a trumpet and told you to blow it whenever you wanted people to take notice of you, we would still be waiting for that first toot, such is your unassuming nature.

Two, that you have a lack of respect for the dollar that is unusual – some might say downright sacrilegious – in the legal profession, many times charging your clients less than the minimum.

Last, and this comes from a colleague who once briefed your Honour, you are an endlessly cheerful person at any time of the day.

This particular colleague was forced to drive to Geelong day-after-day in the same car as you, and it is noted that you were incessantly jolly at the ungodly hour of seven o’clock in the morning. Similarly, when the car returned to Melbourne in the evening after a hard day in court, you stubbornly and deliberately persisted in being relentlessly chirpy.

It is just as well that you have a ceaselessly chipper disposition, not only to cope with the pressures of work, but to cope with what seems to be a taxing and masochistic use of leisure time.

After a long and arduous working week, you ostensibly relax with a Saturday morning game of doubles tennis. As has already been mentioned, your fellow players magnanimously moved the game to Saturday mornings instead of Saturday afternoons, when your constant interruptions to listen to the call of the doggies’ games proved too intrusive.

Your Honour has always enjoyed sport: swimming, cross country running, Aussie rules . . . in fact, in your youth you were a bruising ruckman for the local team, the very name of which used to strike terror into its opponents: the Williamstown Newport Methodists.

All jokes aside, your Honour is committed to your religious faith. However, according to your brother John, your devotion has certainly toned down somewhat since the days of your youth, when you insisted on sleeping on hard wooden boards.

Your Honour has given a lifetime of service, without thought to the financial benefits. Your Christian values, combined with a progressive and liberal attitude, and an innate ability to see both sides of an argument, makes you an ideal choice for the judicial life.

As junior counsel for the Yorta Yorta people, you appeared under a marquee at the Rumbalara Aboriginal Cooperative, where the presiding judge wore moleskins and sat behind a collapsible table.

When appearing for the Karajarri people, the Court was transported on the back of two four-wheel-drive vehicles and erected under a mango tree somewhere in Western Australia.

Presiding judge Anthony North used a picnic table as his chambers and a collapsible church hall table as his Bench, while a dog named Sandy lay asleep at his feet and a wild pig roamed dangerously close to his rear.

In one notable appearance, a Karajarri child dropped two turtles onto the courtroom floor, and you were asked by Justice North if you intended to call them as witnesses.

After so many years of roughing it in this manner, it is our fear that you may be continually lulled into a deep sleep by the comfort of your chair behind the Bench.

In addition, we shall not be surprised, if on entering the courtroom, you nervously check behind your chair for roaming wild pigs or amphibious witnesses who have lost their way.

On behalf of the solicitors of Victoria, I congratulate your Honour on your appointment to this Court, and I wish you a long and distinguished service in this Court.

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