Murray Gleeson: The smiler
Federation Press $59.95 hb, 278 pp
Although a few can pull it off, most judges have the good sense not to attempt an autobiography. Judges’ personalities are not usually of such outstanding interest, and their lives generally do not so engage with the world, as to generate the stuff from which autobiographies worth publishing are made. The reserve which the judicial experience inculcates, and the general inability to expose judicial life in prose that does not condemn the reader to death by suffocation, are additional inhibitors. Even those tragics who think that the judiciary occupies a place of mystical significance use the autobiographies of their colleagues as a cure for insomnia.
Biographies of judges are almost as often mired in languor as their autobiographical cousins. But there are exceptions. Michael Pelly provides the proof. He has never been a judge, though he has a postgraduate degree in law. Rather, he is an experienced journalist. And he can write – very well. Nevertheless, he has taken on a hazardous task. He has attempted the biography of a man who was not only a judge but of whom a judicial colleague (Justice Roderick Meagher, of the New South Wales Court of Appeal) has said, not altogether in jest, that ‘he never utters an unnecessary word. He has written nothing outside his professional work. He takes no interest in either music or art. He does, however, like flowers. He stares at them to make them wilt.’