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 Appointment and Contribution to the Court

Martin Kriewaldt arrived in Darwin in the Northern Territory in March 1951 and initially took up an acting position as the sole judge on the Northern Territory Supreme Court. The position was confirmed in April 1952 and Kriewaldt stayed on until his death in 1960. On his appointment to the Northern Territory Supreme Court, the Australian Law Journal noted that Kriewaldt had the ‘wide experience and capacity to commend him’ to the position. Indeed, he would need all this experience and capacity to cope with the conditions that confronted him in Darwin.

In 1951, when the judge arrived in Darwin, the court house and its associated offices were very simple. Much of Darwin had been damaged and destroyed in the Second World War and many people who moved to Darwin in the 1950s were brought in to service and rebuild the town. There was an extreme shortage of houses and of buildings more generally, so prefabricated Sidney Williams huts, named after the company that made them, were brought in great numbers. When Kriewaldt arrived, the court and his offices consisted of two steel–frame, corrugated iron–clad Sidney Williams huts. There was no ceiling in the A–frame roof and no wall lining. The outside walls were reinforced by steel cross bars and the push out windows were covered with mesh. There was no air conditioning, only a few fans buzzed so the windows were always open. If there was a trial involving an Aboriginal defendant, Aboriginal people would be crowded around the outside looking in through the windows. If there was rain, the court would be adjourned as it was impossible to hear.

The issue of a new court building became important in 1955 when it became clear that the current court buildings were set for demolition. In 1954 the Prime Minister, Robert Menzies, had visited the Darwin Supreme Court buildings and, on seeing them, had expressed to Kriewaldt the ‘urgent necessity’ of the provision of a new building.

Kriewaldt was active in making recommendations about the structure and design of those new buildings. He forecast a dramatic increase in the Northern Territory population over the coming years and noted the already heavy workload of the court. Kriewaldt put a good deal of thought into the requirements for a future court, drafting designs that took into account local features, including a banyan tree dubbed the ‘tree of life’. His suggestions were extremely ambitious, justifying his requests on the basis of the importance of the administration of justice in Darwin as a frontier town. He said, quoting the Chief Justice of the High Court, that:

“It is important to maintain the prestige of the judiciary. The status of the judiciary is perhaps first and foremost, the responsibility of the judges themselves...’ These remarks have special force in a pioneer locality such as the Northern Territory. In what may fairly be regarded as a frontier area the importance of the administration of the law is greater than in more settled localities.”

Eventually, in 1965, Justice Bridge could sit in a new courthouse which was described by Lockwood as the city’s finest building, it cost $1,000,000 to build, an extraordinary expense at the time. The building was completed five years too late for Kriewaldt to enjoy.

In 1953 he was awarded a coronation medal for his services to the Northern Territory Judiciary. He received this award in good company, at the same ceremony medals were also given to Fullagar, Kitto and McTiernan JJ of the High Court.

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

Morning Tea, Norman C Pearce
Collection © Northern Territory Library

Aerial view of the Supreme Court, Peter Spillett
Collection © Northern Territory Library

Supreme Court, David Veal
Collection © Northern Territory Library

Plaque, Kriewaldt Chambers, Jane Chaloupka
Collection © Northern Territory Library

Back to ‘The Northern Territory in the 1950s’   Forward to ‘An Isolating Role’  
Or, read the full articleBeginnings’  
by Heather Douglas