John Toohey interview, 11 December 2012

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John Toohey interview, 11 December 2012




John Leslie Toohey AC, QC (born 4 March 1930), Australian judge, was a Justice of the High Court of Australia from 1987 to 1998. Toohey studied law and arts at the University of Western Australia. He graduated with first class honours in law in 1950, receiving the FE Parsons Prize (for the most outstanding graduate) and the HCF Keall Prize (for the best fourth year student). He completed his Arts degree with first class honours in 1956. He was a Senior Lecturer in Law at the University of Western Australia from 1957 to 1958, as well as a Visiting Lecturer from 1953 to 1965. He was well known for his lectures in property law.


Toohey, John


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


John Toohey


Cottesloe, W.A.


53 minutes 5 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 John Leslie Toohey. Born 1930.
00:10 UWA Law School began in 1927. Professor Beasley was Dean for 20 years and his last year was in 1947 – the year that John enrolled at the Law School. Professor Beasley was succeeded by Douglas Payne who had come out from Oxford.
01:20 There were many ex-servicemen among the students in 1947.
02:08 Went to Meekatharra aged 5 or 6 and then to Lake Grace. Educated at High School in Perth as there was no high school at Lake Grace. Went to St Louis, Claremont which was a Jesuit School from about aged 10. At the time John’s father was in the RAAF, so John became a boarder. A year later, his mother and siblings moved up to Perth. Went back as a boarder in his last year of schooling.
04:42 Began to think about law as a career. Interested in humanities. Encouraged by David Walsh, a senior criminal lawyer in Perth who came to school debates.
06:14 Entered a law course in 1947. Had a good matriculation and this was sufficient qualification for enrolment in those days.
07:10 A student from 1947 to 1950. Impact of ex-servicemen on the Law School. Many were good at sport. Several law students took part in the State Rugby Union team.
09:18 Ex-servicemen benefited from advice of younger students with studies.
09:56 Three or four women students on the course.
11:25 At that time (post WW2) the Law School was located on Fairway in a building that had been used by the US Navy. New Law School built in 1967.
12:26 Professor Beasley dragooned ex-students into helping move the Law Library to the new premises. He was very proud of his library and would not have contemplated the law library being subsumed by the University library.
14:08 Temporary building constructed of wood or asbestos. All lecturers and classes held here.
15:29 Fairy conventional lecturing style. Tutorial system developed more in later years. Limited academic staff at that time. Use made of part-time lecturers from the legal professional.
16:50 John began tutoring at St George’s College during his second year of articles. He tutored Randolph Stow
17:34 Would lecture part time during his time in legal practice. Dean invited Ian McCall and John Toohey to join the Law School as full time lecturers. By this time the academic staff had grown to 6 or 8.
18:19 There was still a need for more academic staff and John taught part time for several years but found that the hours impinged on his legal practice. He would lecturer at 8.30am.
18:52 John Toohey taught property law. Certain subjects benefited from having teachers with practical experience.
20;00 John found that teaching part time did not give the students time to interact with the lecturer and ask questions. He had to be back in the city at 10am in order to run his practice so it made the teaching element a bit rushed.

Track 3
00:00 LLB degree took the form of 17 units. 12 of them were law units and 5 were broader – Philosophy, Eng Lit, Economics. Gave the degree a breadth. Some people took a law degree and went into the diplomatic or public service.
02:01 John Toohey did a double degree and graduated with an honours degree in Arts in 1956. Did a major in Philosophy .
04:17 The Law School was self-contained. Very strong inter faculty sporting rivalry.
05:25 There were pranks but they were not malicious. There was a particular rivalry with the engineering students.
06:03 In those days the law students were required to attend lectures in gowns.
06:28 There was a refectory where students could get food plus there were shops in Broadway.
07:18 At that time politics were very popular among the students. Communism was a subject of much discussion. There was a University Labor Club. John Toohey and Bob Hawke were members at one time. This was later felt to be too left wing and a university branch of the ALP as established on campus.
09:34 The student guild also was divided along political lines at this time. There was a national union of Australian university students and reps would attend conferences in Europe.
11:53 The guild did a range of things. At this time, there was an outbreak of TB. The guild set up a small committee and they did work associated with that. Testing was done at a building which became the Fire Brigade HQ in Murray Street.
13:39 Socially students were hampered by finances and lack of independent transport. Dances were held at the refectory. There was an annual law ball each year. The Blackstone Society held dinners.

Track 4
00:00 Some students were supported by their parents. Many worked part time at weekends. Commonwealth scholarships were available. If you earned money independently of the scholarship then the scholarship grant was reduced.
01:34 John supported himself by working in the holidays. He worked shovelling coal at the East Perth Power House and at Robbs Jetty Abattoir. The jobs were well paid and he enjoyed the physical work.
03:06 Some students who had parents in the law would work at a firm during the holiday.
03:53 It did help to know people in the profession once you had qualified in order to get a job.
04:25 John Toohey worked with David Walsh for a little while but he did not have wide contacts in the profession.
04:52 He graduated with First Class Honours so he was able to find employment quite easily. [Out of 18 students that graduated from the Law School in 1950, John was the only one to be awarded First Class Honours].
05:32 John is unsure how many people in his year graduated with First Class Honours.
06:17 John won the Frank Parsons prize was for the most outstanding graduate. The H C F Keall Prize was for the best 4th year student. These prizes were awarded by the Law Faculty.
07:10 There were assignments as well as exams. The tutorial system later became more developed.
08:50 A lot of weight was placed on the exam. If you failed a unit you could retake it. Contract was found to be a very difficult subject by all the students.
09:46 Exams were taken in the Law School and administered by them.
11:57 The results were posted on a board at the Law School.
12:35 University class mates. Had no friends at school that attended UWA Law School. Made a lot of new friends including Bob Hawke and Alan Barblett.
15:24 Friendships made irrespective of differences. They would meet each other working as lawyers at the courts. John also kept up with people through the Law Society.



Toohey, John, “John Toohey interview, 11 December 2012,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed May 29, 2024,