Queensland Club Governor’s Dinner 2015
Mr President, Your Honours, Judge Brabazon, Mr McLay, ladies and gentlemen.
As your Governor, and as a member since I think 1971, I am very pleased to be here tonight, as is Kaye, as we see the re-instatement of the Club’s “Governor’s Dinner”.
As Her Majesty’s 26th representative, in the 156 year history of the State, the occasion gives me the opportunity to acknowledge briefly the role the Club has played in the development of Queensland.
Its location diagonally across from Parliament House is in itself immediately interesting, and politicians of the highest rank have visited here. A number of former and current parliamentarians are and have been members, and that greatly enriches the Club.
There has not however I think been any credible suggestion the Club’s influence on government has been overt, or direct. Any effect has been through the impact of individual members.
And what I would like to think has ruled them, is the measured approach which characterises Club members generally.
There have been occasional outbursts over the centuries including, in the late 19th century, from one of my judicial predecessors …reportedly! That was Sir Charles Lilley, an important and rather misunderstood Chief Justice, his biography written recently by the eminent legal historian Dr John Bennett.
Dr Bennett mentions a visit by the Earl of Carnarvon, former Secretary of State for the Colonies, to Queensland during a grand tour of Australia in the summer of 1887-8.
The measured Englishman was greatly dismayed and disturbed by the culture of hard drinking he observed here in Queensland, evident to His Lordship even when entertained to dinner here at our Club – how the culture has changed!
Dr Bennett records, from Carnarvon’s diary:
I observe a distinct difference in the general tone in Queensland socially… It shows itself in the drinking. Almost all the public men in Brisbane are said to drink hard – Sir A(rthur) Palmer who is President of the Council & now administering during [Governor] Musgrave’s absence drinks very hard – so too the Ch(ief) Justice Sir Charles Lilley – so Morehead the head of the Opposition (Sir S. Griffiths [sic] is said to be freer from this vice – but only freer).
Interestingly, Sir Arthur Palmer also lived during the mid-1870s at Fernberg. He was not to know then as Administrator, or even later as Queensland’s first Lieutenant Governor, that Fernberg would become the vice-regal residence.
Going on, Dr Bennett refers to Carnarvon’s visit to the Club. He says:
A night’s “entertainment” at dinner at the Queensland Club confirmed those impressions, and, although at second hand, what he heard of the proceedings after the formal dinner appalled him.
Dr Bennett quotes from Carnarvon’s diary:
After I had left about 11.p.m, the members sat up to 4.a.m & passed a very riotous time. There was a “set to” with fisticuffs between two members & a mock trial of [one] with the Ch(ief) Justice in the chair & a sentence of death pronounced [by] him.
Of course, in those days, a sentence of death ordinarily meant death.
Maybe I was fortunate to emerge from 16 years as Chief Justice largely unscathed. I can confirm to you however my utter amazement at the “firestorm” which followed my departure; as undoubtedly would have been our 21st Governor Sir Walter Campbell – and I mention him largely in the context of fires for that wonderful published photograph from so many years ago, when he as Governor, in black tie, watched, after a dinner here, the destruction of the upper structure by fire.
He watched with others similarly attired, from across the road. The photograph was published in The Courier Mail.
That cloud did however have a sterling silver lining with the wonderful redevelopment, including the Willis Room, which followed – made possible, I understand, by the insurance payout.
Reverting to the issue of the Club’s role in public life, I would say that the Club has over its long history fostered a stable and reliable, and I suggest circumspect, contribution to public life from its members, and I believe our State is very much the better for that.
Maintaining, at considerable expense, this wonderful heritage building, is itself a real public contribution by Club members.
I am confident passers-by still appreciate the elegance and dignity of the building on this prominent corner block.
I come back to the public role of the members.
Over my long span as Chief Justice, I found that collegial decision making was undoubtedly the most effective.
In my present position, I may have few “real” decisions to make, though my obvious capacity to influence impartial decisions of government is one which is informed by the views of a wide range of Queenslanders – and in one way or another I regularly consult them, particularly through regional visits.
The influence, potentially, of members of this Club, is also undoubtedly informed by the collegial interaction which occurs here. And that is a very good thing.
I was pleased when the Club saw fit to accord honorary membership to my Official Secretary, Air Commodore Gower, with whom as you would expect I consult daily. When I was sworn-in as Governor on 29 July last, he presciently told me that in my new career, every occasion would be happy, and how right he is. Tonight’s dinner has wonderfully exemplified that.
Before concluding these remarks – and I want to be known henceforth as a brief, rather than prolix, vice-regal after dinner speaker, I wish to express some commendation of two people, and I am aware of the risk of being selective, though I assess tonight’s risk as minimal.
The first is Club President Fred Wehl. Fred has taken his place in a grand constellation of Club Presidents, including my famous judicial predecessor Sir Samuel Griffith: our President assumed that mantle with great aplomb, and we are indebted to Tottie for her role in assuring that.
The second is de facto Club historian Dr John Campbell, and for a start, his monthly contributions to the newsletter, may I say, are instructive, entertaining, and sometimes beguiling.
But as, myself, a Club member of rather paltry record, I respectfully salute Dr Campbell much more broadly for his extraordinarily beneficial and signal contribution to the Club, it seems to me almost day by day, over so very many years, and with Margaret’s wonderful support.
Finally, and self-indulgently, may I say how very proud I am that the 26th Governor of Queensland should be a long-standing member of this most worthy Club.
Kaye and I wish the Club well as it continues, so well, to serve the interests of its members – and thereby, albeit indirectly, the greater good of the people of Queensland.