Last Sunday there was a concert in the main reception area of the High Court of Australia. A local Canberra choir joined another from Sydney and the imposing, dignified building rang with enthusiastic clapping as the choirs sang Gospel and African music to an appreciative audience enjoying the first sun-filled days of spring.
Canberrans, rather to the surprise and perhaps, disapproval of visitors to the Territory who, staring, walked past the concert-goers, understand that the High Court, like others in the Parliamentary Triangle, are symbols of governance, national monuments, and so are respectful but not overwhelmed by our national monuments.
We attend the free Sunday concerts in the High Court as we attend free lectures in the National Library, at the Manning Clarke Theatre at the ANU or Parliament House itself, as assurance that the national capital is, indeed, running as it should.
And, just as it was a Canberra habit among some to read the Vice Regal column once printed in the Canberra Times, now discontinued for security reasons, to see who was being entertained at Government House, we sometimes refer to the website of the High Court to see what is taking place in that important symbolically, but architecturally brutalist building.
And behold, neatly listed, one under the other, the names of the parliamentarians at the heart of the citizenship issue, starting with the ‘Reference by the Senate to the Court of Disputed Returns Senator Nick Xenophon’ followed by Senator Fiona Nash, Senator Matthew Canavan, Mr Scott Ludlam, Ms Larissa Waters and listed as ‘Reference by the House of Representatives, the Hon Barnaby Joyce MP’.
This is where it begins and where it will end, in this huge, cream-textured building, neighboured by those other institutions beloved of Canberrans, the National Portrait Gallery and the Australian National Gallery, the High Court with its fountain of gurgling water.
This is where the tangle of citizenship, bestowed by parents born overseas who burdened their Australian-born children with unwanted legalities, will be sorted, everything ironed out in due course, with firm rigour and due procedure.
Things will be put right, justice handed down. This, after all, is Canberra.
But, as if to lighten and humanise the High Court and those who work within it, there’s a website press release on the new robes for judges. It states:
The design of the new robes juxtaposes Australian merino wool with silk. They are made to be lighter and more practical than the previous robes, with a design reflecting the function of the High Court in the Australian Federation. The robes embody three symbolic features. There are seven equal tucks reflecting the seven components of the Federation — the States and the Commonwealth. There is a hand-woven element in the sleeve ends based on sand ripple patterns and a triangular motif suggestive of the High Court’s function as the final court of appeal.
So the High Court stands, symbol of our governance, our nationhood, justice but with a human face. Hopefully, our parliamentarians will find it so.
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