Diarist-at-large Richard Ackland flies about the nation. By Richard Ackland.

Trial and Canberra

There was a top-drawer launch at barristers’ chambers on the 60th floor of a Harry Seidler tower for Stephen Walmsley’s book The Trials of Justice Murphy

Walmsley is a former judge and the son-in-law of another former judge, Paul Flannery, whose allegations against Murphy were one of the reasons the High Court judge was charged with attempting to pervert the course of justice. 

The charges related to Murphy allegedly seeking to improperly influence Flannery and then chief magistrate Clarrie Briese in criminal proceedings against his little mate, solicitor Morgan Ryan. The High Court judge went through two senate inquiries, a trial, a conviction, an appeal, a trip to the High Court, another trial, an acquittal and a parliamentary commission of inquiry, which ceased business after Murphy became terminally ill. 

Among the launch crowd were Ian Barker, QC, Murphy’s barrister at his second trial, Justice Anna Katzmann of the Federal Court, journalist Kate McClymont, former DPPs Nicholas Cowdery and Ian Temby – who had brought the charges – author Anna Funder, various Flanneries, and assorted members of the bar ’n’ grill. 

Journalist and biographer David Marr sent the book down the slipway of sales success with a speech that left everyone slack-jawed. According to Marr, Murphy’s problem was that he took Sydney’s ways to Canberra. 

“Sydney is a place where one judge asks another judge to meet at City Tatts to deliver a message that the premier wants a favour for a mate who is facing trial. That is still the city we live in.” 

Hushed silence, which only got darker as Marr wrapped up by saying: “Stephen, congratulations. In the 30 years since these unhappy trials, we’ve made up our minds about Lionel. He was a crook. And the truth your book points to in the most subtle way is that juries acquit, but history doesn’t.” 


1 . Bench potato

While in the general territory of the High Court, this week’s announcements of new judicial appointees sent a tingle of excitement down the spine of lawyers and judges across the wide, brown land. Malcolm Turnbull explained the process at his press conference on Tuesday: “Study law, get admitted and become the chief justice of Australia.” 

Some of New South Wales’s finest barristers in Phillip Street were sniffing their disapproval at the appointment of James Edelman from Perth, via Brisbane. Never mind his brilliance, youthful success and charming disposition, this was some sort of political stitch-up with minister Christian Porter who, as Western Australia’s attorney-general five years ago, appointed Edelman to the state Supreme Court. 

Quite smartly, Bookshelves Brandis put him on the Federal Court and then just over a year later there’s one more leg-up to the High Court, where he can serve until the sea level is lapping at the court’s door on the edges of the old Molonglo River.

What an insult to the fabulously self-regarding senior lights of the Sydney bar to have three Brisbane-based members of the High Court. But even more alarmingly the Federal Court, from where Edelman was elevated, is now awash with panic that Gorgeous George Brandis “QC” will appoint himself to the vacant slot in Brisneyland. 

Surely, by now, the penny must have dropped that Bookshelves is too soiled a political potato to be an adornment to any bench.

2 . Encroaching gangster, smitten juror

A whole pile of previously suppressed judgements relating to the Brothers for Life gangland trial have emerged into the light of day, following convictions of senior members of the gang for shootings and related activities in Sydney’s south-west.  

Justice Peter Hamill entices people to read his penmanship by placing intriguing phrases in the catchwords. For instance, in a judgement dealing with one of the numerous applications for discharge of the jury, or individual jurors, the catchy-words read: “publication of newspaper article concerning alleged victim of shooting incident ... where article followed a television program in which victim and his mother were interviewed – both interviewees witnesses in current trial ... presentation of alleged victim – uninspiring performance – self-aggrandising gangster figure – buffoon...”.  

Initially, there was no application for a discharge when the ABC’s 7.30 reported on Michael Odisho, even though the report specifically referred to Odisho’s shooting, which related to several counts in the Brothers’ indictment.  

Justice Hamill said that at that stage the absence of a discharge application was unsurprising because Odisho “presented as a particularly unsympathetic character ... he came across as a buffoon and a self-aggrandising gangster figure”. 

When asked about one of his tattoos, Odisho said it read: “We trust in God, but just in case, keep one loaded.” Answering a later question, he said, “Nah – never seen a gun.”  

In another interim judgement, number 41, we find: “application to discharge juror – apprehended bias – smiling juror – whether interaction constituted flirting ... what is wrong with smiling?” And in judgement number 56 there was reference to “autoptic proference” and a juror’s “repeated smiling and staring at particular accused”. 

No wonder it’s been one of the longest running trials in NSW criminal history.

3 . Tony dancer

The Serbian community in Sydney sure knows how to have a smashing time. What better way to have a fun evening than invite Tony Abbott along to join 26 dancers on stage in a Serbian jig at the Bonnyrigg Sports Club?

The merriment didn’t stop there, because Australia’s former prime minister then took to the microphone for a rousing speech about the achievements of his government. In particular, he extolled family values, by which he said he did not mean “two men and a poodle”, but a man and a woman with children, who went to school where boys are boys and girls are girls. 

Whatever, it struck a chord with the Serbian bishop who praised an increasingly demented-looking Abbott as an upholder of Judeo-Christian values. He was presented with three books, including one on the history of Serbian wars – but maybe not war crimes. Abbo was sent home with a standing ovation ringing in his jug ears. 

A politician who never tires of dancing and spruiking at ethnic community festivities surely has his eye on a bigger prize.

4 . Editor exposed

Why haven’t more newspaper editors been painted naked for display at the Archibald Prize or other competitions?

A fetching nude of Erik Jensen, the editor of this newspaper, has been revealed in the latest edition of Look, the official organ of the Art Gallery of NSW.

The work is by McLean Edwards and Jensen says he didn’t hesitate before agreeing to sit, or in this case stand, for the artist. “His focus, and mine, was on making an interesting picture.”

It certainly is interesting. The tightly compact figure, a blaze of black body hair, and an appendage one critic told me looks like an uncircumcised Weisswurst. All quite appalling.

But why not more naked portraits of newspaper editors? Imagine a nude Paul “Boris” Whittaker from The Catholic Boys Daily; Monseigneur Paul Kelly, the same paper’s editor-at-large; Chris Dore at The Smellograph; Lachlan Heywood of The Bowen Hills Bugle; Darren Goodsir of The Sydney Morning Herald; The Financial Review’s Michael Stutchbury; Mark Forbes of The Age; Brett McCarthy at The Worst Australian, and so on.

The naked Jensen didn’t make the cut for the Archibald, the judges obviously worried about its impact on small children. Instead, after a tour with the Salon des Refusés, it will hang in the editor’s dining room as an aid to digestion.

5 . Trumpette #2

The word “trump” has been worrying me for some time. If you look up the usual sources, such as the Macquarie Dictionary, the word is associated with card games, although one of the definitions came close to the mark: “To trump up ... to invent deceitfully or dishonestly, as an accusation; fabricate.”

It also has a colloquial meaning as “a senior officer in a prison”. However, English Language and Usage says that “to trump” refers to the breaking of wind. This is especially the case in Wales, Norfolk and the north of England. The Oxford English Dictionary confirms this, describing the word as “vulgar”. Nonetheless, a language scholar advised me that many parents encouraged their children to use the word so that they would avoid the less socially acceptable “fart”. 

Mark Morton’s Dictionary of Culinary Curiosities defines “trump” as a verb: “To break wind from the anus, to ‘fart’. E.g. There’s a disgusting smell in here. Has someone trumped?” 

Further: “Over the centuries, ‘fart’ has not been without its linguistic rivals. Since the early 15th century, for example, ‘trump’ has served as a synonym for ‘fart’, or rather to denote an especially noisy fart.” 

Confirming, once more, that the English language is a thing of splendour.


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This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Dec 3, 2016 as "Gadfly: Trial and Canberra".

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Richard Ackland is The Saturday Paper’s legal affairs editor. He publishes

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