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Peter, Wilmshurst, --- "Owen Dixon by Philip Ayres" [2003] AltLawJl 27; (2003) 28(2) Alternative Law Journal 102

Owen Dixon

by Philip Ayres; Miegunyah Press, 2003; 400 pp; $49.95 hard cover.

Lionel Murphy would have loved this book. He is not mentioned it at all. I am only up to Chapter 8 but what it tells us about the High Court is something every citizen is entitled to know, preferably sooner rather than later.

Dixon is clearly an intellectual powerhouse, acknowledged as such by judicial luminaries from the UK and the USA, as well as locals. The book provides comfort for any job applicants wishing to teach in Australian law schools given Dixon did not have an Honours Degree in law - he had to leave University to help in the family law firm before getting one. He obtained his MA, in the traditional way by paying the prescribed fee to upgrade his BA.

Can't you imagine a contemporary University Selection Committee piously rejecting Dixon in favour of some applicant with a higher degree, espousing the post structuralist aspects of liquor licensing decisions from a feminist perspective?

Chapter 5 is really the foundation to this work: we read of Dixon discussing the decisions desired, with other judges, Dixon writing the decisions for other judges on cases where he did not sit, and Dixon writing decisions in opposition to his own arguments. Lionel all you did was invite someone for dinner.

The material about the personal relations among the members of the court, especially Evatt, Latham, Duffy and Starke, justices all, seems to reinforce the view of the 17th century Swedish Chancellor, Oxensjerna: 'You see, my son, by how little wisdom the world is ruled'. Dixon seems so far to be above it all.

A wonderful book, and later chapters promise much the same, especially Dixon's time in Washington, during WWII [I sneaked a look, before starting at Chapter 1).


Peter Wilmshurst is a Sydney lawyer.

[Ed: A fuller review will follow in a later issue.]

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