Up bright and early for Day 2. I’m not staying at the conference venue, but at a motel some 800 yards away. When I booked it I anticipated that I would be able to walk to the conference venue but my thrifty ways have been thwarted by the Pacific Highway! I soon realized that there was no way that I would be able to cross the four lane highway during peak hour, so I’ve had to resort to getting a taxi the whole 800 metres. I guess you could say that this little chicken DIDN’T cross the road!
During the first session I room-hopped between presentations because there were several that I wanted to attend. While you do get to hear the papers you want, it is nonetheless a rather disjointed experience. I started with John Orth’s presentation on The Rule of Law, which has been defined by the Oxford Companion of Law as “a concept of the utmost importance but having no defined nor readily definable content”. As an American historian, he spoke mainly about the American concept of ‘rule of law’ and how it has been embodied through the constitution and its checks and balances.
Then off to hear Grant Morris who has recently published a biography of the 19th century NZ judge, Justice Prendergast, well known in New Zealand for his hostile attitude towards the Treaty of Waitangi. I was particularly interested to hear his perspective on legal biography in NZ (although I must confess to only having read one of the biographies that he mentioned).
Finally, off I scuttled to hear John McLaren whose recent book ‘Dewigged Bothered and Bewildered’ deals with 19th century colonial judges who had been removed from office, including my own Judge Willis. His presentation dealt with a 20th century judge this time, the Irish judge Sir Michael McDonnell, who was Chief Justice of Palestine between 1927-1936. It was an interesting paper, which drew connections between the British administration of justice in Palestine Mandate, and their handling of justice in Ireland between 1910-1921.
I stayed put in the one room for the second session which dealt with ENVIRONMENTS OF EMPIRE. Libby Connors started with a disturbing account of environmental oversight (or lack thereof) in Gladstone harbour. Her paper dealt with the industrialization of the harbour, especially after being declared a State Development Area, and the shortcomings in state and national law in complying with international protection protocols to protect the reef. All rather discouraging.
Rachel Young’s paper on the concept of ‘timber’ as a legal category explored the question of whether the English doctrine of waste (i.e. that tenants could not clear trees from their landlord’s land) applied to Australia: whether law devised for oak, ash and elm trees also applied to stringybarks and mallee.
Finally, Nicole Graham noted that Australian law is not English, but is only ‘local’ in that it is not-English and is perhaps better understood as a variation of English law rather than something completely different. After all, English law also has agricultural, pastoral and mining components, even though they differ. She suggested that ‘Antipodean Law’ might be a better description. not so much of a place, but a relation.
The session I attended after lunch(SHAPING THE FAMILY UNIT) had only two papers. Henry Kha gave an overview of divorce law and public policy in Victorian England, explaining the divorce process before and after the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1857.
Bettina Bradbury looked at property and inheritance cases that were referred from Lower Canada, Cape Colony, Victoria and New Zealand to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. She described a number of cases, many of which focussed on wills, where the mobility between colonies often made complex situations even more complicated.
Then, to finish the day, the final plenary lecture, given by Mike Grossberg from Indiana. He picked up on Joan Scott’s famous observation about gender as “a useful category of historical analysis’ and suggested that age, likewise, form a ‘useful category of analysis’ in legal history. He focused on childhood in this paper. He grounded his presentation in stories , most particularly Joseph who unsuccessfully sued his aunt and uncle for placing him into an institution where he remained, it seems, for the rest of his life; Pearl S. Buck’s daughter, and Charley Ross who was kidnapped. Even WonderWoman got a look in!