Thursday, February 25, 2016

WHEN I WAS TOWARD THE LAW Part III ME 1958


There were things to learn as one lurched toward a lifetime choice in 1958 , after leaving the Seminary in 1957. 



THE GREEN HOUSE - RAILWAY HOUSE WYNYARD
So here I was, working in the GREEN HOUSE, Head Office of the New South Wales Government Railways ( NSWGR), in the Office of the Solicitor for Railways. As I showed in an earlier post, it was not a huge office ,but top heavy with Legal Professionals a smattering of clerical staff and me at the bottom of the pile!

On reflection, the Solicitors were a really varied lot, the Solicitor for Railways was a brooding, rather unpleasant person, his Deputy was a mild seeming rather pleasant chap, there were others varying from Victorian era avuncular to modern day sex- obsessed sleaze, to financially distressed totally pre-occupied wreck, to modern calm self- possessed and efficient, to modern slightly amused by it all,to  prim "this is all a bit beneath me" and to  "after what I saw in the war, nothing impresses me"and one or two others, I forget or would rather forget.

My immediate boss was The Chief Clerk. He was a really nice old gent, whose whole demeanor would have been suitable to someone in the 1900s. He was a good, honest person of very conservative attitudes although he was a Labor Party man through and through. He was talking about an acquaintance one day, and described his shock and disapproval at seeing the fellow "driving a NEW car...and him a good Labor man too!" I managed to keep a respectful straight face.

On arriving at the Office each day , he would remove his suit coat and don a lightweight alpaca working jacket for comfort. But the time would come, several times a day, when the direct line phone from the Solicitor for Railways himself would ring. He was immediately galvanized into action, dropping what he was doing, seizing the handset and responding "Yes Sirrrr". Then the phone would be replaced and his swivel chair would creak and groan as he stood up with a sigh, removed the alpaca and donned his suit coat -to enter ...the Presence. On most occasions he was back out in no time flat, charged with some trivial task. That would be entrusted to an underling and then he would do the coat for jacket swap, and settle back to work. His name was Harry Bateman and I remember him with affection. He told me that his staff records were among those privileged to be marked " LOYAL DURING THE GREAT STRIKE 1917" - a matter of great moment as it was for my Grandfather Beckmann, who being German by birth and , in view of WW I, already under attack on that account, had no alternative to be anything but " LOYAL" and to be seen to be!

Another principal figure in the office was Miss Burden the Secretary to the Solicitor for Railways and Head Typist. A lady of considerable standing in her view - if not that of her charges!

The Supreme Court Sydney
My role was to go about the Courts,High (rarely), Supreme,District, and Workers'Compensation Commission and the various Solicitors' Offices and Barristers' Chambers, filing documents and delivering Briefs and correspondence. It was a close community of several hundred people and I very quickly found that I could hardly go anywhere in the City without seeing several people I knew. My daily round was full of characters. Those were still the days when there remained in the legal fraternity some people who seemed to be straight out of Dickens, whether in dress ,affected manner or actual personality. Characters abounded, and firms which were very old, were numerous. Just to mention those which I came to know did work for the Archdiocese of Sydney : there were Makinson,D'Apice, and Murphy and Moloney ( where my future Wife worked as a long term and valued employee) and J.J. Carroll and Cecil O'Dea (where poor old Mr Carroll still came in, bent over at near 90 degrees, his head painfully turned up to speak) and numerous others.Legal history was around not only in that personal sense , but also in the premises. Most were rather dingy, more early 1900s in style, and in buildings often dating from the late 1800s. The city was still free of most of what we see to-day. The tallest structure in town was the AWA Tower above the building in York Street which housed the then Protestant Radio Station 2CH.

The AWA TOWER York Street Sydney
Don't worry we had our Catholic Radio Station 2SM which became in the 1960s Sydney's leading Commercial Radio Station - not because of its Catholicity - which was far from being dominant but because of its Hit Tunes programming and characters like Tony Withers  and Mike Walsh etc., etc. But I digress.

So I had to get around the City as quickly as possible doing a morning run filing Court documents and an afternoon run picking up documents and the various daily emergency deliveries as required. To do this efficiently I had to learn all the alleys and back ways and buildings which connected with one another (sometimes surprisingly) providing short-cuts.It was all a very "in" sort of thing , though I rather felt like a rat, scurrying here and there, but I enjoyed doing it well. I got to know a number of the Solicitors who had small but lucrative Workers'Comp. practices because of Trade Union associations. And I got to be recognized by the Barristers' clerks whose principals we regularly used - a strange lot, the Clerks too -well portrayed in the Rumpole T.V. series - as was the whole English and Australian legal scene of the time. Unlike many of the workers in the game, I had the advantage of understanding the Latin used in the titles of the various documents   : the Subpoenas - Orders to do something "Under Penalty" "Duces Tecum"-(" you shall bring with you") ordering the production of documents in Court, " Ad Testificandum" ordering presence in order to testify. There were many other phrases too but the Queen of them all was, and is (leaving English floundering in its wake) "Mutatis Mutandis" (" Having been changed as much as it needs to be changed")! Take that you jabberers in English!

Getting to know people was important in getting things done, as was helping people out when they or their matter needed help - it might be you in need of their help another day. But the people it was important to get to know most of all, were the registry officials in each of the Courts. They could, if they wished, cover up your mistakes or those of your Solicitors. Or on a bad day, they could hang you out to dry and leave you mercilessly swinging in the wind . They were critically important when there were filing deadlines to be met or when you wanted a specific hearing date and things of that nature. And their decisions were often quite arbitrary. If they had a bad night out the previous night , you were done. And although your office could sometimes formally appeal to a Registrar or Master of the Rolls, it wasn't the done thing and they knew it !

Sometimes I had to feel sorry for the clients of some solicitors. On one occasion a young clerk I knew came to us to re-activate a Workers Comp. case in which his office had physically lost the file for 7 years! Perhaps the client was too badly injured to get to complain!

One of the biggest groups of actions we had against us were the Mangoplah Fires cases, which originated in a simple trip by a steam -hauled goods train one hot Summer's day.(Yes until "Global Warming" Ha Ha! We used to have hot Summers' days) Dozens of claims came against us.

But it wasn't, always busy. When the Courts were closed we had time to catch up on things that accumulated during the year.On one fateful day, I was asked to clean up and organize the rear Store Room. I hopped into the task with a will, and had it looking quite spiffy in half a morning - all very rational, tidy and all that. There was some rubbish to be disposed of including a lump of wood- of all things. Out it all went, and everything was fine. That is until two or perhaps three weeks later, when Mr.Crawford a Solicitor who looked as if he has just been demobbed from some dull section of the R.A.F., came after me ferret- like asking in an accusing tone, "Did you clean up the Store Room?" "Did you see a portion of timber?" ("Lump of wood thought I") Yes was the answer of course. "What happened to it?" I threw it out with the other rubbish, was the reply. He had long since guessed the answer and had plenty of time to work up his spluttering rage! But, all things pass, and in due course I learned that it had been a vital piece of evidence in a case between NSWGR and a New Zealand supplier of Sleepers! He never did apologise for not having the piece appropriately marked and, I never heard of the matter again.

One of my daily contacts was a slightly older, perhaps 21/22 yrs old bloke who was newly married- D.S. He was a good bloke - a Baptist of some description, but not particularly prudish. We had good yarns as we headed out for the morning runs - he was more concerned with conveyancing matters and the Registrar General's Office, which was of course close to the District Court.

At a late stage the Office employed a young fellow even junior to me who used to walk out with us - his name was Richard........ Who had gone to School at Barker College (Bah Kuh) and he was filling in time until Uni started. He was "frightfully pukka" in speech and everything that needed to be explained to him was greeted with "Oh! I catch!"(Evidently a bit of Barker jargon.) One got the impression he had not had much exposure to the Plebs- as he seemed to consider us!. A few years later his time at University was interspersed with tussles with the Law over censorship Laws! He became a media sensation, briefly.

But all this daily rat running around the City was not getting me formal training in the Law. Despite representations from a number of the Solicitors in the Office, including his Deputy, the Solicitor for Railways in his bunker- like large office overlooking Wynyard Park would not accept the idea of having an Articled Clerk so that was the end of my hopes of Articles! Since he was the Solicitor of Record in the office no-one else could grant me Articles.

 However, he was prepared to allow me time to attend lectures during the day, as long as I made up the time before normal working hours. The result was that I started work each morning at 7.30 a. m. and had just a half an hour for lunch. Basically, he was just an old softie!! The real result was that after my exhausting rat running around town, I would find myself nodding off during lectures when the University Law School Year began in 1959. I enjoyed most of the lectures including Jurisprudence and Roman Law in particular. But when the end of the Year came, it was a case of failure. That was that!It was humiliating.

To contemplate being a clerk in yet another organization based strictly on advancement by seniority - having just fled that in the Commonwealth Public Service - was ridiculous. I began to cast about for an alternative.














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