Barwick, Garfield

Garfield Edward John Barwick, PC AK GCMG Kt KC QC (1903-1997)

was born on 22 June 1903 in Cannon Street, Stanmore to Jabez Edward Barwick and Lily Grace (nee Ellicott) who had married on 27 February 1902. When they wed, his father was 29 and his mother, 19. His father was a journalist and then a compositor in the printing trade. Barwick said “Theirs was a successful marriage; my parents and my two brothers and I were a close-knit and happy family.”[1]

He grew up in Glenview Street Paddington. While Barwick was at Fort Street High School, doctors diagnosed that his father had lead poisoning and could no longer continue as a typesetter and also said that his son, Garfield, had asthma that would be helped by moving to a drier climate. So Barwick’s parents acquired a gift shop in Burwood and the family lived above the shop. [2] They continued to run this shop until his mother was struck down by an attack of tuberculosis and had to be admitted to the RT Hall Sanitarium in Hazelbrook in the Blue Mountains in the early 1920s. As a result of this stress, the business failed, his father travelled to western NSW to find work and the boys were boarded out, his two brothers to farming families in the Monara and Barwick to live with the Keir family in “Tolosa” Selbourne Street Burwood. The Keir family were manufacturers of the Akubra hat.  3]

Barwick’s father was skilled with word and hand, had suffered lead poisoning; had to retire with ill health from one job, had another fail, suffered through the potentially fatal ill health of his wife and see his young family scattered through his inability to provide for them. As he tried to re-establish himself the father was thrown from a horse and sulky, damaging his hands so that he could not typeset for two years. His son financially supported him and gave him the money to establish a newspaper but this, always risky chance, soon failed. He was voluntarily declared bankrupt. The words of a journalist in 1961 that Barwick’s father was a “dispirited man somewhat disabled by the weight of life” therefore seems unduly harsh.[4]

Schooling was at St John Darlinghurst preparatory school, Crown Street Primary, Cleveland Street High School and then Fort Street High School.[5] Walking to catch public transport to get to Fort Street High led him to crossing the Botanic Gardens “pausing now and then to look at a plant that gained my attention. This passing interest in plants did not emerge into active gardening until after I married, but my later deep interest in plants and garden layout probably had its source in those daily walks through the Gardens.”[6] Later, in his first position in the law another young lawyer remembers strolling together with him through the Gardens with Barwick talking about trees, their history, soils, botanical names.[7] The Fortian motto was “each man the maker of his own fortune.”[8] When Barwick built his Tudor style home, ‘Mundroola’ in Cheltenham he had the Fort Street coat of arms carved into the mantle piece. Later a house was built right at the base of The Crescent and was lived in by the daughter, and her family, of Barwick’s former School Principal of Fort Street, Mr Alexander Kilgour (principal 1905-1926), who would then walk past the Barwick home. [9] Of Kilgour one school inspector said: “Whatever forms of education were available to those with money, not necessarily with ability, Fort Street, under Kilgour, stood out like an Evening Star, as an inspiration.” [10]Kilgour decided that Barwick was too small and lonely to graduate to university at age 15 and so held him back at school – “Even to this day the Chief Justice feels that was a wasted year because he is convinced that a student learns as much from his peers in daily contact, as he does from his teachers.” [11]

Winning a bursary at the age of 16 years, Barwick studied Arts and Law at Sydney University. Graduating in Arts in 1922 he commenced articles with HW Waddell in Martin Pace Sydney [12] and then with a fellow Fortian Roy Booth until admitted to the Bar in 1927. [13] He won the University Medal for Law.

His mother was a Wesleyan Methodist and so he regularly attended the Sunday School of the Bourke Street Methodist Church that met in Flinders Street, Darlinghurst. [14] At the age of 10, Barwick topped the State in his Sunday School exams. [15] Early reading and his religious upbringing taught him “that self-help and whole-hearted application to the daily task could lead to prominence and success in life….Success has come from my own efforts, and there is an intrinsic satisfaction in that.” [16] After the family moved to Burwood he started attending the Burwood Methodist Church and jointed its tennis club. [17]

At University, Barwick was active in the Student Christian Movement, becoming Secretary in 1921, [18] and came into contact with Dr Sam Angus of the Presbyterian St Andrews College at the University. Dr Angus distinguished between the religion of Jesus versus the religion about Jesus which led him to question the historicity of the birth, death, ascension and acts of atonement of Jesus. Because of his lack of orthodoxy commencing from the 1930s there were a number of Church procedures questioning whether his beliefs aligned with Christianity. [19] “Over time [Barwick] became less convinced of the theology of the Christian church, as did others of my companions in the student movement. But of the validity of the Christian ethic I remained and still remain convinced.” [20]

Through the church tennis club Barwick met Norma Mountier Symons. Her mother, being a widow, conducted a millinery shop in Burwood Road and lived there with her grandmother. While still a teenager Norma had travelled to New Zealand – demonstrating that despite the apparent similarities in their childhoods she had the more financially comfortable upbringing. As soon as she completed the Leaving Certificate she left school to help her mother in her millinery shops. She did however study the piano under Frank Hutchins of the Conservatorium of Music in Sydney. [21] They married in 1929 after Barwick had been working for two years. [22] Barwick said “We had early resolved that we would not attempt to start a family until we were in a financial position to maintain it properly. When searching for a name for the cottage amongst Aboriginal names, we found the name Mundroola which meant in the tribe which used it ‘only two’. So we chose that as indicative of the fact that we were remaining only two. Of course later, when we only had two children, the name was kept and had other significance.” [23]

Upon marriage Barwick purchased in the same year a small brick two bedroom cottage at 94 The Crescent, Cheltenham from Aubrey Wilfred Lofts a draftsman from Granville. They called it ‘Mundroola’ which was an Aboriginal word meaning ‘only two.’ Located adjacent to the railway line which was hidden in a deep cutting, it had bush and valley views was adjacent to what became a national park and was situated in a suburb without shops or other commercial establishment. It was an idyll for these two young people. Their car was an old Fiat “the duco is practically all off the body, the mud guards are rusted through, the upholstery is worn out and torn, the hood is perished.” [24]

About the same time Barwick guaranteed a new business venture of his brother that failed in the Depression sending Barwick into bankruptcy. The bankruptcy, when only 27, nearly led to him ceasing to practice as a barrister and certainly damaged his ability to acquire briefs. [25] In the late 1940s, when another of his brothers had difficulties in his business, the Barwicks used their family company, called Mundroola Pty Ltd like their home, to inject capital. [26] This company later raised issues concerning conflict of interest for Barwick while exercising judicial functions. [27]

The Barwicks kept their house because its value had sunk by such an amount during the Depression that it was not worth the while of the Trustee in Bankruptcy to sell. [28] It was not until 1937 that Barwick had become sufficiently established to make significant alterations to the home this was done ‘following the ‘Old English’ style of domestic architecture they favoured and spent several years studying details of technique and materials….The Barwicks were both keen gardeners and built up the shallow soil with bush compost collected nearby, and made paths and walls from loose bush stone. Large trees with stone seats beneath and a formal garden were planned in character with the house.” [29] While described by Marr as “a fairytale of a place, a Compton Wynyates in the bush, brand new and visible for miles.” [30] It is in fact quite secluded and more visible by bush tail possums than humans. Their first child, Ross, was born in 1938 when Barwick was 35. [31] Title to the house was transferred to Norma in 1939. The house was sold in 1955 to Lindsay Aynsley, a public accountant. [32] 

While Mundroola was being built, and with Norma about to give birth, they rented another house in The Crescent one block north of Lyne Road. [33] 

 Barwick bought some 20 acres to the south of the golf club but north of Murray Farm Road and built on it in 1954. It had on it a weatherboard cottage at its western end and otherwise covered in wattles, lantana and blackberry. Barwick’s parents lived in the house and Barwick used the stables attached to the house for the horses for hacking. He later employed a gardener to grow vegetables, mushrooms and the like as the land was cleared. [34] He built a Georgian style house on the Maher’s Road The builder was initially John Grant & Son but was completed by another builder after that firm went into receivership. [35]

Barwick’s practice continued to grow. One of his most notorious cases was that stripping William Dobell of the Archibald Prize. Another was the High Court appeal concerning the Chifley Governments proposed nationalisation of the banks. The latter case, and others, meant that he also started to gain a number of briefs before the Privy Council sitting in London. [36] This led to he and Norma being absent from home, on some occasions for more than 10 months to accommodate both work and the sea voyage. To facilitate this lengthy absence, relatives stayed in the home to care for the children and the house.[37]

Barwick became the most successful barrister in twentieth century Australia [38] and the greatest Australian jurist of his generation. [39] He played a critical role in the constitutional crisis of 1975. He served on the NSW Bar Association, was Chairman of the Law Council of Australia. He was a Judge of the International Court of Justice (1973-74) and was Chief Justice of Australia (1964-1981). 

At the time he stood for Parliament he described his personal circumstances as: “We were a close-knit family. We were all of us fond of motoring and holidaying together. At that time Norma had a 2.4 Jaguar and I had a 3.4 Jaguar, and Ross had his own car. We had a fine house and saw many friends in it. It was splendidly furnished by Norma and we lived quite graciously.” [40]

His working day started with a horse ride around the district, often up to Pennant Hills, and then he would be driven into his chambers in the City while he continued his dictation from the previous evening in the back seat. Despite his continued financial success the Barwicks continued to enjoy living in Cheltenham. At night he travelled home in the car, again dictating; he spent family time and often discussed the events of the day in detail with his wife before retiring to his study around 9.00 or 9.30 pm where he would continue to work until 1.30 in the next morning. [41]

In 1953 he was knighted. The motto which he adopted for his armorial bearings was “work with courage to achieve.” [42] In relation to being knighted he later commented:

“Somehow, I think as Australians we unnecessarily consider ourselves demeaned by looking up to somebody. We do it readily enough in sporting activities but not in public service, sometimes I think even in family life. We too readily dub due deference as a mere cringe or describe it as pulling the forelock. The possibility of the improvement of standards of behaviour by example is reduced by this attitude. As the national immaturity which has created such attitudes pass and a more nationally adult society develops – a society that does not have any semblance of a sense of inferiority-the regime of a rough, and to some degree, course egalitarianism may disappear.” [43]

From before he had memories Barwick took pleasure in the countryside, it was there that he said “I rediscover my senses of sight, sound and smell.” [44] Around the late 1930s, as his financial position became clearer, Barwick commenced regular skiing in Kosciusko National Park [45] – an area that he had been visiting since his honeymoon there in 1929. [46] He became a founding trustee of the park in 1944 – the first such appointment outside of the Bar that he assumed. [47] As trustee he regularly visited the park, usually twice a year, and would ride around it by horse. Amongst those that he rode with was Baldur Byles, of the Beecroft Byles family, who he described as “a forrester and a grand character.” [48] As Barwick described it he “had much interest and pleasure … in the rehabilitation of its land area, in the return of pastures with the natural grasses, the redevelopment of the sphagnum moss bogs and the glorious summer wildflowers…the development of the Perisher Valley, Smiggins and … Thredbo.” [49] This work as trustee also led to his being appointed in 1965 as the inaugural president of the Australian Conservation Foundation. [50]

Apart from Baldur Byles, another person with connections to Beecroft with whom Barwick formed a friendship was David Littlemoore the architect. Because of this friendship Barwick took a close interest in the building of the Opera House and he encouraged Littlemoore to join the Council of Macquarie University. [51]

In respect of his political background Barwick said: “My father was of a conservative turn of mind, perhaps staid, but very rational and particularly fair minded. My mother was ready for change and had those radical leanings so often associated with Wesleyanism.” [52] He was first approached to stand for a seat in the Federal Parliament in 1954 by Mr Lyle Moore then President of the NSW Liberal Party. While Barwick was not a member of the Liberal (or any other) Party at the time Moore had a reputation of trying to introduce new ideas into the Party. [53] With changed circumstances and the possibility of preselection for a seat that would not require him to move from Beecroft he nominated and was selected in 1958. During that first campaign Barwick set out the core of his political beliefs in a speech at Harris Par where he said:

“I stand for people. I stand for individuals and their freedom to live their own lives. I stand for their freedom to retain the fruits of their own labour and improve themselves and their families by their own efforts. I believe in encouraging their enterprise and giving them heart. I have no time for any ‘ism’ which would subject people to the will of others.” [54]

Barwick had a distinguished political career in which he was Attorney-General (1958-63) and Minister for External Affairs (1961-64). As Attorney–General he led significant reforms in company law, trade practices and divorce. He was Attorney-General at the time of the Petrov spy affair. Thereafter he was appointed in 1964 as Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia. He was a leading jurist. In this role he also controversially gave advice to the Governor-General in the dismissal of E G Whitlam as Prime Minister. In understanding the man, it is of interest that unlike other judicial advice given to Sir John Kerr, Barwick insisted that his visits appear in the Vice-Regal notices and that his advice be provided in writing. [55] He retired as Chief Justice in 1981.

Outside of politics he was the first Chancellor of Macquarie University, President of the Australian Institute of International Affairs and President of the Royal NSW Institute for Deaf and Blind Children.

He was not a tall man, being 5’ 4” tall and was slim of build. He had a thin piping voice. H V Evatt who was often opposing him in court or in politics called him “Bushy Tail” after the Sydney possum because he was had a busy, bright eyed sharpness and was ever dapper in going about his business. [56] This was a feature of how he was known in Beecroft and Cheltenham. Imposing in intellect and gravitas rather than height; always immaculately dressed and gentlemanly and very proper in manner.

Sir Garfield and Lady Barwick gave generously of their time and home in aid of many local committees. In particular, for many years he was inaugural Patron of the Beecroft and Cheltenham Garden Club.

One local resident described him attending a local meeting this way:

“He was a learned man of course, but a bit of a larrikin under it all. You’d hear him coming up the side paths to meetings, whistling. He’d have a joke and you’d feel quite at ease. He would come down to your level for five or ten minutes, and make a remark you could never come back on, and leave it at that. Five or ten minutes. You looked forward to him arriving.” [57]

The Mahers Road home, like other grand homes in the district, was purchased in 1955 and again was frequently used for fund raising functions. [58] Barnsby Byrne was one local musician who supported Parramatta hospital and would organise the musical content for fund raising evening. He described them as:

We could pack 40 or 50 into the drawing room. That was on the right of the lobby as you came in: a long room with doors at one end opening onto a terrace. The musicians sat on the terrace between items. On the other side of the lobby was his study. It was almost, but not quite, as big as the drawing room. I remember a lot of leather, big desk, and bookshelves floor to ceiling. There was a lion or tiger skin on the floor of the lobby near the spiral staircase, with its mouth open. The staircase went three floors, leading down to the billiard room which was also book-lined. The billiard table would be covered and a supper spread out. We all knew not to each too much because at the end of the night they auctioned the sponge cakes. They might be sold for L2 or L3 each.

Our programs were mostly Gilbert and Sullivan. A couple of times we did all G & S excerpts though there were normally art songs, lieder, and a little bit of opera: ‘One Fine Day” that sort of thing. Sir Garfield was always there, not taking up a place at the centre, but standing off to one side or through the doorway in the dark. He gave a short speech at the end to thank us. One year he complained we hadn’t done the Judges song from Trial by Jury, so we sang it for him and he sang along with us. It was his favourite and he knew all of the words. He had a light voice.

After the house was sold we continued with the musicals in the nurses’ sitting room at the hospital, but attendances fell away. The interest was in the house.” [59]

The house was featured in an article, with a number of photographs, in 1964. [60] These photographs show some of the extensive landscaped gardens and Barwick tending his begonias for which he was well-known. The wedding reception for their daughter Diane, upon her marriage to William Robbins, was held at the home in 1968. [61]

In 1963 the Barwicks initially subdivided 17 acres of the garden to his home into a number of building blocks which were then sold. [62] This subdivision created Glenwood Street and extended Lamorna Avenue. The subdivision was advertised as “beautifully located in the secluded natural bushland area of Beecroft …one of the finest estates in the Sydney Metropolitan Area.” [63] He then sold the home and moved to live at Careel Bay – looking up Pittwater. He took the house name with him. [64] As he was selling his home in Beecroft plans for the resumption of most of the estate for the building of a motorway were announced. Barwick spoke at an initial public meeting. In 1994 all of the homes along Mahers Road and the top two in Orchard Road (including the Barwick home) were demolished for the M2 Motorway. [65]

In 1981, Lady Barwick was invited back to her former home as part of the then owner’s hosting of a function to raise funds for St John’s Ambulance. [66]

Sir Garfield Barwick died on 13 July 1997 and Lady Barwick died a few months later.


 Achictects plans of  the renovation of Mundroola

[1]       G Barwick A Radical Tory (The Federation Press, 1995, Annandale) p ix 

[2]        A Radical Tory  p 9

[3]        A Radical Tory  p 11

[4]        P Hasting The Bulletin 1 July 1962

[5]        A Radical Tory p 6

[6]        A Radical Tory p 7

[8]        A Radical Tory p 299

[9]   Letter G Barwick to I Rimanic 10 June 1994

[10] C Morris The School on the Hill: A saga of Australian Life (Morris Publishing, Sydney, 1980) p65

[11] C Morris The School on the Hill: A saga of Australian Life (Morris Publishing, Sydney, 1980) p78

[12]  A Radical Tory p 13

[13]  A Radical Tory pp 16-17

[14]  A Radical Tory pp 16-17

[15]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 4

[16]  A Radical Tory p 5

[17]  A Radical Tory p 9

[18]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 9

[19]  Australian Dictionary of Biography Vol 7 pp 73-4

[20]  A Radical Tory p 12

[21]  A Radical Tory p 10

[22]  A Radical Tory p 10

[23]  Letter G Barwick to I Rimanic 10 June 1994

[24]  Quoted from the bankruptcy papers of G Barwick in D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 19

[25]  A Radical Tory pp 26-27

[26]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 79

[27]  E Campbell, E M Campbell and I P Lee The Australian Judiciary (Cambridge University Press, 2012, Sydney) pp 175 ff

[28]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 21

[29]  H Barker Houses of Hornsby Shire Vol II 1880-1938 (Hornsby Shire Historical Society, 1998, Waitara) p 65.

[30]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 31.

[31]  A Radical Tory p 29

[32]  H Barker Houses of Hornsby Shire Vol II 1880-1938 (Hornsby Shire Historical Society, 1998, Waitara) p 64

[33]  Letter G Barwick to I Rimanic 10 June 1994

[34]  A Radical Tory p 101

[35]  Letter G Barwick to I Rimanic 10 June 1994

[36]  At that time the Privy Council was the ultimate court of appeal for Australia.

[37]  A Radical Tory p 67

[38]  C Bridge “Obituary: Sir Garfield Barwick” The Independent 22 July 1997

[39]  As noted by the journalist Paul Murphy quoted in A Radical Tory p 305

[40]  A Radical Tory p 105

[41]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) pp 95, 97

[42]  A Radical Tory p 299

[43]  A Radical Tory p 84

[44]  Quoted in D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 8

[45]  A Radical Tory p 56

[46]  A Radical Tory p 152

[47]  A Radical Tory p 97

[48]  A Radical Tory p 155

[49]  A Radical Tory p 157

[50]  A Radical Tory pp 259ff

[51]  A Radical Tory p 234

[52]  A Radical Tory p 5

[53]  A Radical Tory p 101

[54]  Sydney Morning Herald 1 March 1957 quoted in D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 136.

[55]  J Hocking The Dismissal Dossier (Melbourne University Press, Melbourne, 2015) p 28

[56]  C Bridge “Obituary: Sir Garfield Barwick” The Independent 22 July 1997

[57]  Quoted in D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 95

[58]  For example The Cumberland Argus 8 June 1960 p 14; The Australian Woman’s Weekly 6 November 1968, 18 December 1968.

[59]  Quoted in D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) pp 166-7

[60]  The Australian Woman’s Weekly 20 May 1964 p 8

[61]  The Australian Woman’s Weekly 3 July 1968 p 12

[62]  P Read “The destruction of Mahers Road Beecroft” Journal of Urban History (1998) Vol 24 No 6 p720.

[63]  Quoted in P Read “The destruction of Mahers Road Beecroft” Journal of Urban History (1998) Vol 24 No 6 p720

[64]  D Marr Barwick (Allen & Unwin, 1980, Crows Nest) p 225.

[65] C Staples From Fruit Bowl Farms to Housing Boom (Ray Park Heritage Group, Eastwood, 2018) pp 152-3

[66]  The Australian Woman’s Weekly 22 July 1981