Herbert Vere (“Doc”) Evatt (1894-1965), was a brilliant Australian lawyer, politician and writer, whose controversial stances, and erratic behaviour invited strong criticism at times. However, he did have a strong band of supporters. Evatt’s career included representing Australia in the British war cabinet (1942-1943), being one of the architects of the United Nations and later, President of the UN General Assembly. He served as a: member of the NSW parliament; King’s Counsel; High Court justice (1930-1940); federal Labor parliamentarian (1941-1960), and, Chief Justice of New South Wales (1960-1962). Author and journalist, Gideon Haigh’s book, The Brilliant Boy: Doc Evatt and the great Australian dissent, focuses on Evatt the lawyer, rather than the politician, and largely relates to Evatt and his dissenting judgment in the NSW case of Chester v Waverley Municipal Council (1939). In that case, Mrs Chester, sued Waverley Council for shock caused by the death of her seven-year-old son, Max, who drowned in a trench which had been left exposed by Council workers. The other justices in the case found for the defendant, their views including that the Council did not owe a duty of care to Mrs Chester. Writing in The Weekend Australian (July 17-18, 2021), human rights barrister, academic and author/broadcaster, Geoffrey Robertson QC, noted that Evatt’s intellectual power and compassion in his “ground breaking judgment”, opened the door to compensation for all foreseeable victims of corporate carelessness, laid the groundwork for changes to the common law that addressed the challenges of a changing world, and took account of the needs of the poor and vulnerable. Never a man to lack confidence says Haigh, Evatt was nonetheless an attractive personality, who strived to make his judgments readable for a wide audience. The Brilliant Boy illustrates Evatt’s ability to see a plaintiff’s perspective through his own experiences of having loved, lost and suffered.
Geri Bryant-Badham is a Canberra-based freelance researcher and journalist.
Geri has substantial experience in advocacy, policy and organising and managing projects, including handling budgets and finances. She has worked in various offices for a small business, a university and in the parliamentary, political, government and non-government sectors.