November, 1995, Malvern Town Hall, Melbourne, Australia
Judge Curtain, Professor Crommelin, faculty staff, guests, students, ex-students, people who have attended lectures for five years without actually enrolling,
I remember when I was a student - young, idealistic, and ready to change the world. Unfortunately like a good many others in our faculty, I was also somewhat keen on sleeping. which meant changing the world had to be slotted somewhere into the early afternoon. Results were not initially forthcoming. Still. a group of us stuck at it for about two hours a day over five years, generally doing our most productive work in the upstairs coffee lounge. If we had to name our greatest success it would probably be achieving lasting peace in Northern Ireland - basically the culmination of a plan forcing Catholics and Protestants to negotiate, under threat of being set upon by Students for Christ.
For most of us, this is the last function we will attend in the law school as law students. A lucky few might have a supp or two to look forward to, but in general terms this is the last hurrah. The first function we attended as *law students was the First Year dinner - or First Year smorgasbord - as it is generally termed by the later year students who constitute the vast majority of those who attend. The Dean of the Law School, Professor Crommelin was doing his diplomatic duties on this particular evening and was sitting at my end of the table. I decided to get acquainted.
"Hello, I'm Tony Wilson."
"Michael Crommelin, pleased to meet you" came the reply.
I was happy with how the conversation was going. After all, if I'd learned nothing else from the Meatballs trilogy it was that I wanted to be on this bloke's good side when the inevitable misguided toga parties and itching powder raids took place. Then I decided to introduce my new friend to Kimberly Kane.
"Professor Crommelin have you met Kim? Kim this is the Dean"
Kim, whom I would later discover has an ability to raise the gaffe to the highest form of art, quickly began carrying the conversation. Yes she was excited about doing law. Yes she was enjoying her wonton soup. Everything was going smoothly and it seemed only a matter of time before Kim secured herself the editorship of the Law Review. Unfortunately, when it came Kim's turn to embark upon some introductions of her own, things went horribly, horribly wrong.
"Shelley have you met Dean? Dean this is Shelley".
Still, she wasn't the only one struggling to come to terms with the new language of university life. My own personal low-light came in the second or third month of semester when I finally plucked up the courage to ask my torts teacher why so many judges have first names that begin with "J". I'd simply assumed that all of Australia's Johns, Jeremys and Jemimas had opted for a career on the bench.
The early nineties came and went with barely a sigh. By second year most of us had bulked up enough to walk upright through the wind tunnels near the law library, which made getting to and from the Student Union quicker and easier. I toyed for a while with becoming a radical, inspired by the deeds and misdeeds of the Austudy 5, but eventually decided against it because of the great primary coloured hairspray shortage of 1992.
Surely the standout memory of second year must relate to Contracts law. Not to the subject matter itself of course, which eloped with my knowledge of Con & Admin to the far recesses of The Clyde about half an hour after the exam. but rather to the complete Fred Ellinghaus Contracts experience. The bad news is that this particular subject, and its eccentric bare-footed prophet had such a profound impact upon me that I decided to write a song about it. The even worse news is that I'm now about to sing it. For humanitarian reasons Sebastian Hughes, who for a period sported the greatest blonde afro of the post-Garfunkel era, will provide the accompaniment. The song is called "Killing Me Softly With Contracts".
We ventured to the lecture
And some were heard to muse
That person teaching Contracts
S’not wearing any shoes
He may have been a genius,
But boy was his class tedious
Running my hair through my fingers
Leaving some drool on the page
Killing me softly with Contracts
Killing me softly with Contracts
Ripping our hears out, with his gags
Killing me softly with Contracts
The casebook was quite yellow
The casebook was quite dear
The casebook had been written
In the latter Whitlam years
But still I went and bought it
Right from the one who taught it
I tried to dig implied terms
I really tried like hell
I even tried to love Dean J’s test for estoppel
What tragic inspiration
Made the bastards teach frustration
By 1993 the Law Library expanded to have two photocopiers in working order, causing the photocopier to law student ratio to plunge to 1 for every 500 students. Unfortunately these halcyon days of university administration couldn't last, and today students look back on the two working photocopier era as being part of a golden past. This was also the year many of us embarked upon Property Law. If Fred Ellinghaus had been killing us softly with Contracts, it's fair to say that Murray Raff was positively disembowelling us with Property. But whatever his faults were. you always had to have a soft spot for Murray for the simple reason that he was willing to share his slides of Europe with us to help explain the Torrens system. His basic reasoning seemed to be as follows - the Torrens system originated in Germany; the Torrens system has something to do with this course; I'm trying to teach this course, so here's a picture of me putting away a Wiener schnitzel on the streets of Berlin. It was inspirational stuff.
I always know when it's exam time because I start brushing my teeth five or six times a day. Can't be too clean. I say to myself. Wouldn't want my Equity notes to think I’ve got bad breath. Another fairly sure sign is the Motor Market. In swot vac I read it because strictly speaking it's part of the newspaper which strictly speaking is part of the greater educational order of things. And after all, isn't that what swot vac is all about? - Education.
It is amazing to think that those of us who are finishing will probably never go back inside the Exhibition Buildings again. Mind you, it is not inconceivable that the Exhibition Buildings will become a sort of 'Vietnam" for this generation of law student. I know that there aren't too many nights when I m not back in there ...dreaming ... dreaming of the crush for an exam number. Dreaming of fully loaded, fully tabbed sets of notes and of the silent smiling, geriatric invigilators stalking the aisles: dreaming of unstable desks and pens and booklets
and misplaced student cards; dreaming of the faces on the ones being left behind doing three hour examinations - some of them just nineteen, twenty years of age; dreaming of the horror … the horror of....(pause)
Look there'll be home and caravan shows at the Exhibition Buildings. Everyone will tell me that they're very informative and that it's safe to go, but I'll never go back. [Head in hands] Never ... go ...back....
But of all the exam nightmares to haunt us in the years to come, I daresay there will be none more vivid than the PA announcement nightmare. The Exhibition Buildings PA system. when it is working, basically exists to scare the living daylights out of students who may finally have settled down enough to begin to construct an answer. A typical one might go something like this:
"Students sitting for 730 301 Advanced Administrative Law ... There is an error on page three of the exam booklet - question two, paragraph three ... Would students please amend the sentence beginning "Phil gave the cherry picker to Abbey" to read 'Phil gave the cherry picker to Ainslie ... Thank you."
On the first day of first year law. Robert Evans said to his TPL class, "the study of law will alter your mind. None or you will ever be the same". He then read us some Elizabethan poetry, gave us a wide-eyed smile and struck a pose which would later be made famous by Krusty the Clown. Five years down the track and one can't help but think that Robert was right. Two days ago, a group of us were having a conversation as to who was the best House of Lords judge. The debate basically ran along two lines. One group thought Lord Morris of Borthy Gest should be number one, for the simple reason that he is from Borthy Gest. Another group were equally strident in singing the praises of Lord Wilberforce. who revolutionised not just tort law but life as we know it with his deceptively simple "but for" test.
An ugly verbal fracas eventuated with the Borthy Gestians refusing to give an inch until they were eventually persuaded to the Wilberforce line by the sheer strength and versatility of the "but for" test. After all, but for the fact Lord Morris was from Borthy Gest, he would not even have been considered in the first place.
The people who participated in this conversation probably should be named, for they surely they deserve to face some degree of social ostracism. But instead it will merely be offered as a catastrophic example of a mind-altering legal education spinning wildly out of control.
It's hard not to feel completely, ecstatic about the occasion of our finishing our degrees. Maybe it’s relief. maybe it's satisfaction, maybe it's just that five years is a hell of a long time and most of us are ready to do something else. Nevertheless, as time goes on and alarm clocks begin to play an increasing role in our daily lives, this attitude will no doubt change. I certainly plan to dedicate much of my later life to telling and re-telling long-winded meandering anecdotes about my university days as "the best days of my life". It will be my prerogative as an old person, and I encourage you all to do the same.
As the organ transplant salesperson said in Monty Python's 'The Meaning of Life "remember that you're standing on a planet that's revolving, revolving at 900 miles an hour", As we step tentatively into our post-university lives, one could be mistaken for thinking that the Earth has even shifted up a gear. If anyone needs further convincing on this point, consider this recent experience in a McDonalds drive thru:
"Hello sir, can I take your order?"
"Could I please have a McFeast and a large fries"
Two seconds later her headphones crackled with disturbing news regarding my order "Um, excuse me sir, there's going to be a thirty second wait on that McFeast. Will that be okay."
I didn't know what to say, but I did know that I had to say it quickly. After all, too long a delay and time would be up, and none of us would ever know if I was okay about the thirty second wait. After weighing the pros and cons, I squeaked out a yes, with barely five seconds to spare.’
Thank you to Julie, Shail, Anna and all the organisers for all the effort which has gone into making this evening a success. Thank you also for the invitation to do this speech - if you could call this hotchpotch of thoughts and memories a speech. Perhaps if U2's Bono were here tonight he might have assessed it as follows: "It's not so much a speech as a collection of bullshit'".
Long after most of us have forgotten that a charitable trust can be administered cy pres, we will remember our times at university for what they really were - a time for learning, living, falling in love, falling out of love, talking. laughing, sleeping, recovering and creative footnoting. To the academic staff who face an uphill battle each year to make the curriculum fresh and invigorating, we thank you. To the administrative staff who recently triumphed in having the paper dispensers in the Law Library toilets lowered to eye level, we thank you. And to the friends who have provided me with what undoubtedly have been the best years of my life, I thank you. In the words of that most politically incorrect advertisement for Roses chocolates - to everyone "thank you very much, thank you very, very, very much."