(2 April 1928 – 26 April 2021)
Barrister, Queen’s Counsel, Judge of the District Court
G eorge Richard Rummery (Rummery QC) hailed from Newcastle NSW from a Catholic family, to parents Richard and Melville Rummery. The family was well-known, not least for Richard, the former Registrar of the Newcastle Court in the 1950s, who was legendary. He was so well liked that even up to the 1990s people would remember and speak about him fondly.
Rummery QC was educated in the care of the De La Salle Brothers in Ashfield. The family lived in several locations around New South Wales until they arrived in Newcastle where they remained for decades. Incidentally, at the age of 12 years old, a playground incident involving a rock resulted in Rummery QC losing sight in one eye. Rummery QC would recover in due course but it was a traumatic childhood incident that had lifetime consequences.
He was an avid reader of wide-ranging subjects. Later in life Rummery QC avidly collected books, especially on the subject of ethics and philosophy, as a pastime.
Rummery QC was unable to attend university in his youth due to his circumstances, but this did not hinder his interest in and pursuit of the law. He began working as an articled clerk in 1945 and subsequently as a solicitor with Frank McNeil in Newcastle, which in later years became McNeil & Rummery until his departure in 1963 for the Sydney Bar. Rummery QC was admitted on the same day as several familiar old names: Bill Nash QC, Jeremy Badgery-Parker, Jim Macken and David Opas, all of whom would take judicial appointment in the years to come.
Rummery QC came to the Sydney Bar in the heady days when common law, personal injury was at its height. Personal injury, medical negligence and the like, including commercial cases were in endless supply and especially in the post-war period.
However, Rummery QC’s best-known area of specialty while a barrister was in the field of liquor licensing. It was his niche area. Those involved in liquor licensing were few in number– viz the Honourable Anthony Whealy QC and Stephen Austin SC. Rummery QC often appeared in the Licensing Court which at the time was a creature of Jim Fitzmaurice, Tom Ratcliffe, Jim Bowerman, and also Grenville Reidy. Rummery QC took those cases on appeal, no less than five occasions, to the Privy Council in London in the years before 1986 when appeals to that court ceased.
The commercial reality of pubs, clubs and bars in the post-war years made this area extremely busy with the proliferation of sales and bottle shops and pubs and clubs. It was a burgeoning industry.
Rummery QC practised from the Tenth Floor of Selborne Chambers and was often briefed by the likes of Messrs Freehill Hollingdale & Page, Smithers Warren, Abbott Tout, and Asher Gold & Jones. At the time he began practising, Selborne Chambers was filled with some of the luminaries of the profession: Sir John Kerr QC, Gough Whitlam QC and Keith Mason QC. His great friends on the floor were Joe Bannon (later a judge of the Land and Environment Court), Morling QC (later a judge of the Federal Court), Larry King SC, Peter Hall QC, and Stephen Austin SC. Rummery QC was famous for his corridor conferences and for conviviality and hospitality in chambers. He was a most sociable barrister and is remembered for his affable and kindly nature to all. To exercise mind and body, he used to walk between his home in the eastern suburbs and chambers in the city
Ironically, despite having a large practice in liquor licensing, Rummery QC did not indulge in any alcoholic beverages except on the odd occasion when he travelled overseas. For example, before trips to the Privy Council he would have a pre-departure or pre-prandial sherry, or on odd occasions while staying at various London clubs. Interestingly enough, he had vast knowledge on the liquor licensing and liquor laws in general, often tracing back idiosyncratic elements of the law to the time of Captain Bligh, the Rum Rebellion and the early days of colonial Australia.
Rummery QC was highly cultivated and was able to discuss with clients and colleagues on many and various areas outside of the law, for example, music, opera, art history, religion, culture, philosophy, poetry. Particularly, Rummery QC loved the French Algerian novelist Albert Camus – the high priest of existentialism, and the poet W.H. Auden.
Rummery QC was also highly knowledgeable in cricket commentary and had a vast collection of Wisden Almanacks. As a young man he enjoyed Don Bradman’s How to Play Cricket and even modified the Bradman-recommended field placements. Every year, Rummery QC and his friends would attend the January Sydney Test (some of those friends still attend).
Throughout his career, Rummery QC was grateful for the continuing support from his wife Barbara, with whom he had seven children. Sadly, in 1982 their only son George died in tragic circumstances aged 13 near their home at Dover Heights. This left Rummery QC grief stricken, in an intensely private grief, (which never faded), but his ebullience and personal joy were never affected by it.
In 1988 at the age of 62, Rummery QC wanted to fulfill a long-held ambition, so he travelled to the United Kingdom and enrolled at the University of London for twelve months, where he took a Master’s degree in Law. Years after, some academics in the University of London system would still recall him and remember him to Australian students.
Rummery QC returned to the Sydney Bar after earning the LLM and was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1991. Soon afterwards, he was appointed a judge of the District Court where he was known to be a compassionate, diligent and kind judge. His associates included Rosie Traill, Catherine O’Brien and Elisha Rose.
In his retirement from the District Court, aged 72, he would return to London to indulge a passion to study philosophy and ethics, once again at the University of London. He remained passionate and engaged about both subjects during his retirement years.
Rummery QC was lively in company and loved to combine adventure and academic pursuits. He was spry and spritely. Rummery QC and Barbara indulged their interest in travel to the UK, Europe and in Australia, when they could.
In his spare time, Rummery QC liked to wave-ski and found solace and inspiration on Sydney Harbour. It was also some quiet time to grieve for Georgie, the son who predeceased him, which grief he would never get over and which he carried with him, courageously and bravely.
In the latter years, Rummery QC and Barbara moved to an apartment in Rose Bay next to St Mary Magdalene Church. Rummery QC loved living in the eastern suburbs and particularly enjoyed the harbour views. Being able to live in that part of Sydney was his solace and reward after the years of toil at the Bar and on the bench of the District Court.
All who knew Rummery QC, a man of such rare goodness and faith, will miss him dearly.
Kevin Tang, 8 Wentworth Chambers