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May 2007 Issue
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Legal lives explored in new book


A close look at the lives of South Australia's Chief Justices has led a University of Adelaide scholar to discover more about the University and the city of Adelaide than he had ever expected.

Dr John Emerson was commissioned by South Australian Supreme Court Justice Tom Gray to write a book about the five Chief Justices in the State since Federation. At the time, Justice Gray was president of the John Bray Law Chapter of the alumni.

"Justice Gray said he wanted someone who didn't know too much about the law, because then I could tell a story to a broader audience than just lawyers and historians," Dr Emerson said.

By his own estimation, Dr Emerson said he was up to the task: "I never even knew what a Chief Justice was when I first started it - my background is in French. So I had to start from scratch," he said.

More than three years later, the results of Dr Emerson's hard work have been published. His book, First Among Equals - Chief Justices of South Australia Since Federation, provides a unique insight into the lives of Sir Samuel Way, Sir George Murray, Sir Mellis Napier, John Bray and Len King, and their impact on the State.

"The book is first and foremost a social history of South Australia, which happens to be seen through the lives of five of our Chief Justices," Dr Emerson said.

What Dr Emerson discovered when writing the book was how important many of the Chief Justices were to the history of the University of Adelaide.

"The book is partly a history of the University of Adelaide because four of the Chief Justices (Way, Murray, Napier and Bray) were also Chancellors of the University, over a period of 100 years," he said.

"They are all men who, particularly in Samuel Way's case, were visionaries and were all determined. Way was one of the main driving forces for the whole foundation of the University of Adelaide, and the University's development would have been much slower without him driving things along.

"During Murray's term in particular the University really expanded, and he put a lot of his own money into that.

"Murray is one of the biggest single donors to this University - as far as I can tell, he gave a total of about £150,000 of his own money to the University.

"The Murray Building itself cost him £10,000, which back then was five times his salary as Chief Justice," Dr Emerson said.

Dr Emerson, who is now a Visiting Research Fellow with the University's Law School, said writing First Among Equals was a very satisfying experience. It has given him a greater appreciation of how Adelaide has developed over the years and the roles that key figures have played in that development.

"I never saw any sign of them flagging," he said of the Chief Justices. "They never doubted themselves. If something didn't work they'd pick themselves up and have another go."

First Among Equals - Chief Justices of South Australia Since Federation is published by Barr Smith Press and sells for a RRP of $60. The book was launched by the current Chief Justice of South Australia, the Hon. John Doyle AC.

Story by David Ellis

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Dr John Emerson with his book <i>First Among Equals</i>, standing near Lauren-Jade Ryanís artwork, <i>Chief Justices of South Australia</i>.  The art, on display outside the Moot Court in the University of Adelaideís Law School, also features on the cover of Dr Emersonís book.
Photo by David Ellis

Dr John Emerson with his book First Among Equals, standing near Lauren-Jade Ryan's artwork, Chief Justices of South Australia. The art, on display outside the Moot Court in the University of Adelaide's Law School, also features on the cover of Dr Emerson's book.
Photo by David Ellis

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