Australian Notes

Australian notes

18 December 2021

9:00 AM

18 December 2021

9:00 AM

A great reset of one’s own

When the last long New South Wales lockdown was imposed, I was probably exhausted. When I retired from my position as Deputy Senior Crown Prosecutor after 42 years in the public service, from age 18 to 60, I entered private practice as a barrister the very next day. That was nearly three years ago.

I had been briefed to appear for accused persons solidly throughout 2019 and in 2020 I had a back-to-back schedule of criminal trials, still overloaded with the postponements of the first Covid-caused cessation of business. Then, in July this year, criminal trials, the vast majority of my work, stopped.

I was staying at home. All week. This was my chance to experience ‘retirement’.

When I was a child in the 1960s I remember the ‘retirement’ of both my grandfathers. They, and their families, had excitedly and often referred to the prospect, and they could hardly wait. I recall a ‘canteen’ of silver cutlery proudly brought home on the last day.

Neither gentleman lasted long after that.

So I settled into it. Sometimes after a Zoom mention in court, which usually coincided with the arrival of two poodle-cross canines, the pets of two of my sons, I ditched the wig and bar jacket, resumed my gym gear and walked the dogs.

I trained in the carport with my sons, where they were holding up their martial arts business one single customer at a time. I walked to the shops and spent more time each day with my mother, who lives on her own close by. I wrote about some of my memorable cases, for a book that Andrew L. Urban has been putting together, about my career. I reflected, while I pored through archives of my working life which I had not had the time to dwell upon before. Sometimes it was painful to contemplate immensely difficult times in my professional life, particularly when they had trespassed into my personal life. Mostly it was hard to believe how many trials I have appeared in, speeches I’ve delivered and people I have been honoured to meet.

I cooked and shopped online and picked aphids from the avocado tree I planted the last time I had been at home during the week, during the ICAC fiasco seven years ago.

And a glorious thing happened! My eldest son and his lovely partner became the parents of a baby girl on 8 September. It was a Wednesday morning. Instead of being in court I was home, phones at hand, with my co-grandparents, waiting for news. I will always remember the day my beloved granddaughter was born because I had time to savour every moment of it with our immediate family. Neighbours in the street in which we have lived for thirty years, and to whom I have connected, or reconnected, over the months of being home left gifts and cards at the door when they saw the pink balloons on the front fence.

I wasn’t making much money. But I was spending less. I had time to talk with the Italian matriarch of my local greengrocer and fresh food store. There was no need to dress up or wear make-up. I had time for the dentist and the physiotherapist. I planned, but failed to achieve, the household clean-up I have procrastinated about for decades.

In fact I was doing less. Much less. Whereas I was used to fitting a dozen little jobs in before and after a full day in court, I was barely achieving one or two over the whole day. There was a sense of having to get around to it. Paperwork loomed as a greater chore and a greater intrusion on life.

Then came the opportunity, towards the end of September, to go back to court. I was briefed to represent a man who was charged with stabbing his brother-in-law in the buttock. The setting was my 40-year-old client’s parents’ substantial eastern suburbs home, where he had resided since childhood. He had had the temerity to enquire of his impecunious brother-in-law, to whom he had lent money, when the debt might be repaid. The brother-in-law stormed over, forced open my client’s bedroom door and started punching him repeatedly to the head as he lay in his bed. A pocket knife was within reach and the supine resident used it. Although the circumstances were explained to police and the claim of self-defence corroborated by an eye-witness – my client’s sister, to whom the other man was married, a charge of malicious wounding with intent to inflict grievous bodily harm was preferred.

The matter was listed in the Downing Centre Local Court and the date had been set for months. Part of me was inclined to the hope that this case would be postponed like so many before it. Then we were notified that the intrepid magistrate was keen to get back to hearing cases in person. The night before the hearing I had that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I had as a child anticipating a birthday party. I was viscerally excited.

The day was exhilarating: getting dressed up, going to the city, bumping into so many people I had known for years and for decades, and having someone going through one of the most difficult things in his life needing my help. The hearing was a triumph. The alleged victim was aggressive and discourteous. Cross-examining him was as simple as it was satisfying. His wife was calm and credible and related several instances in which she had been beaten by him. The case was dismissed and costs were awarded against the police. For me, a good day in court (and that is most of them) imbues a tremendous high.

Achievement engenders energy. As the next case loomed, and it was a trial of many weeks still underway as I write, I was back to packing all the things one has to do into the shorter time available.

Many people don’t need, or even hate, the stress of having too much to do.

But I thrive on it. Retirement will wait a long time for me.

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