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 An Isolating Role

“I think I can safely claim to be the loneliest of Her Majesty's judges because my nearest judicial brother is about 2,000 miles away.”

As the sole judge of the Northern Territory, Kriewaldt was required to traverse a vast circuit. The position was isolated. On arriving in Darwin, Kriewaldt knew only one fellow called ‘Gibby’. Gibby had been a tutor of Kriewaldt’s at Adelaide University, but by the time Kriewaldt arrived in Darwin Gibby, who by then worked for the public works department, had become a renowned drinker. Although their reunion was apparently cordial it is likely that they had little in common. Douglas Lockwood, a journalist, became a close friend and the pair would often talk for long periods in the judge’s chambers. Generally though, the judge felt compelled to keep himself largely aloof from friendships in the small community of Darwin.

In order to cope with the intellectual isolation he experienced in Darwin, Kriewaldt wrote regularly to academics and judges seeking their views and advice about various cases and ideas. Significantly, he corresponded frequently with Geoffrey Sawer, a well-known academic and constitutional lawyer. He also corresponded with Ken Townsend, later a judge of the Queensland Supreme Court, who he had worked with on the Manus Island war crimes trials. He often sought copies of books and periodicals from interstate libraries to assist him with his considerations. He was recognised as a very scholarly judge and the references in his judgements attest to his wide reading both in law and in other fields. One field that Kriewaldt was particularly interested in was Anthropology, this was very much a developing area at the time and many anthropologists visited the Northern Territory during the 1950s. He began corresponding with Lord Evershed of the English House of Lords, after Evershed had stayed with Kriewaldt in Darwin in 1953. In some of these letters Kriewaldt included messages to be passed to Lord Denning, generally these were messages of praise about one or other of Lord Denning’s judgements. For example, in one 1953 letter to Lord Evershed, Kriewaldt noted that whenever Denning presented a radical opinion or dissented: ‘I am wholeheartedly on his side.’ In this letter he enclosed a copy of one of his own judgements and a clipping from a magazine and commented that it ‘might serve to illustrate that even in this remote part of the empire we endeavour to uphold the traditions of the Common Law.’ He then asked a favour:

“I think I can safely claim to be the loneliest of Her Majesty's judges because my nearest judicial brother is about 2,000 miles away. I correspond with some of the judiciary in Australia but do not know anybody in England. If you would be good enough to ascertain whether one of your colleagues would be prepared to exchange an occasional letter I should be very much obliged.”

In the late 1950s he began a project of documenting a history of the Northern Territory Supreme Court. In this endeavour he wrote a number of letters to relatives and acquaintances of previous Territory judges searching for information and anecdotes. However, this history did not come to fruition. His writings on Aboriginal justice were published posthumously, as a journal article edited by his friend Sawer.

Read On
See the full article ‘Beginnings’ by Heather Douglas

Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls

Douglas Lockwood, book cover, 1963.

Back to ‘Appointment and Contribution to the Court’   Forward to ‘Characters of the Territory’  
Or, read the full articleBeginnings’  
by Heather Douglas