Celebrating Women in the Judiciary

Women Lawyers Association of New South Wales, 29 July 2010, Keynote address by Professor Rosalind Croucher, President, Australian Law Reform Commission.

Justice Jane Matthews, Patron of this honourable association; Mary Snell, Madame President; Attorney-General; Your Honours and very Honourable Mesdames! Twenty New South Welshwomen appointed to the bench in the past two years. What an impressive statistic—and, I trust, as ever the optimist, a sign of the future. What an impressive statistic—and, I trust, as ever the optimist, a sign of the future. Seeing such a wonderful array of ‘elders’ I am reminded of the importance of respectfully acknowledging the traditional custodians of this land, the Gadigal people of the Eora Nation,and to pay my respects to their elders past and present. In the consultations I have just participated in for the inquiry into Family Violence I met many powerful Indigenous women, many of them elders. As custodians of their law I am sure they would enjoy the significance of this evening’s celebrations.

Tonight we are meeting in Bent St, a name given in honour of a judge, by Governor Macquarie, honouring Ellis Bent the Colony’s fourth Judge-Advocate and Judge in Vice-Admiralty—not his pesky older brother, Justice Jeffrey Hart Bent, Judge of the Civil Supreme Court constituted in 1814, with whom Macquarie had violent disagreements that led to the JH Bent’s recall.[1] Ellis, his wife and son had sailed to Australia on HMS Dromedary on the seven-month journey to Australia, leaving England on 22 May 1809. Over a long journey in confined spaces such as this you either become enemies or friends with your travelling companions. In this case it was the latter, and the Bents and their travelling companions, Lachlan Macquarie and his wife, became firm friends. Both were sailing to take up their appointments in the Colony. Thus, as Macquarie’s entry in the Australian Dictionary of Biography notes, ‘the last of the autocratic, and non-constitutional, governors came to Australia with the first properly trained law officer’.[2]

The club is also distinctly part of Sydney’s history. As the club’s website helpfully tells us, ‘The Union, University & Schools Club of Sydney has evolved over the past 150 years through the amalgamation of a number of Sydney’s finest Clubs. Most recently, was the historic merger between the Union Club and the University & Schools Club, which took effect in January 2007. This merger saw the coming together of two great Clubs, both with long histories steeped in Club traditions, an accomplished Membership base and a Club ethos characterized by Member’s enjoyment of culinary, cultural and sporting activities.’[3]

So, it is an historic occasion in an historic place—and a fitting time to celebrate the appointment of such fine women as judicial officers.

In musing about what I should say tonight, in such learned company, my mind drifted towards Shakespeare and his portrayal of women lawyers in the character of Portia in The Merchant of Venice. She had some fantastic lines:

The quality of mercy is not strain’d.
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

But Portia is a difficult character. She was fiercely anti-Semitic, albeit reflective of her times; and the famous trial doesn’t necessarily convey a good message for ethical lawyers—that a dodgy argument can succeed on a technicality. So, I despatched the beautiful, witty, rich, intelligent heiress of Portia—perhaps the Paris Hilton of her day—and looked for some other inspiration.

I then turned to the play from which my own name, Rosalind, is drawn—As You Like It. This is another wonderful Shakespearean role for a man dressed as a woman playing a man, as was Portia—the stuff of many gorgeous double-entendres. There is even a scene where Rosalind, played by a boy dressed as a girl, now dressed as a man, called Ganymede, engages in banter with her lover, Orlando—played by a man dressed as a man—who doesn’t know that Rosalind is Ganymede. Rosalind, as Ganymede pretends to be Rosalind to Orlando—so, boy dressed as a girl dressed as a man playing a girl—to teach him lessons in courting and, perhaps to avert some of Orlando’s environmental vandalism of nailing his love letters to Rosalind all over the Forest of Arden. Meanwhile, the shepherdess Phebe—played by a boy dressed as a girl—has fallen in love with Ganymede—boy dressed as girl playing a boy. Weird stuff, but deliciously engaging to the Tudor audiences who adored this sort of double, sometimes triple play.

Anyway, in As You Like It there is a marvellous soliloquy—one I am sure that is familiar to you all:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts
His Acts being seven ages.

… and so on. The speaker, Jaques,[4] is a rather discontented melancholy fellow, a lord in the court of the exiled Duke (also Rosalind’s father). One of the seven ages—the fifth—is ‘the justice’ and that’s what got me thinking that perhaps this might be a good centrepiece for my talk this evening. The ages in sequence are: the infant; the schoolboy; the lover; the soldier; the justice; the pantaloon—deferring to the Italian Commedia dell’Arte tradition and its character of Pantalone; and finally, old age, in the form of ‘second childishness’.

Tonight, I would like to give you my own version as a special rendering to match the occasion and in tribute to the wonderful women who do us all proud. To give the character of it properly I will need to give Shakespeare’s ‘Seven Ages of Man’ first, followed by my adaption of it as the ‘Seven Ages of Woman’.

The Seven Ages of Man

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages.

At first the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms;
Then the whining school-boy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,*
Jealous in honour, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation.
Even in the cannon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lin’d,**
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws*** and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slipper’d pantaloon,
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well sav’d, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank; and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion;
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.

Now, my version—with appropriate apologies to William Shakespeare. To give it a bit of added character I have added musical markings of mood and tempo—from my music studies—to reflect the character of each age.

The Seven Ages of Woman

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances;
And each in her time plays many parts,
Her acts being seven ages.

Act I—Leggiero

At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in her mother’s arms
(Not much she can do about this one—
For all her charms).

Act II—Allegretto giocoso

Then the schoolgirl—
Never whining; always with satchel—
With shining face and morning pigtails
Skipping trippinglyto school.

Act III—Allegro appassionato e con fuoco

And then the scholar—
Lectures, lovers and all—
Dreaming and preening.
‘Will he call? No—will I call?’
She couldn’t care less—they’re all in her thrall.

Act IV—Andante moderato e tranquillamente

Now a mother—or not;
All life in her handbag:

Books, briefs, lippie—the lot!
Calm, even-tempered,

Never quick to a quarrel.
Let the boys fubble and bubble—
She remains unruffled, upright and moral.



Act V—Largamente maestoso, ma non troppo

And then the justice,
In fair round belly—waistline lost;
Her wardrobe in three sizes: present, past, and past-past;
Full of wise words and timely inferences;
And so she plays her part.

Act VI—A piacere

The sixth age shifts—‘Hooray!’
Lean and slippered pantaloon? ‘No way!’
Spectacles—unavoidable, but elegant;
Her voice—still contralto, more resonant
Than before; her delivery—well-paced;
Ne’er a giggle, but a guffaw.

Act VII—Tempo commodo, ma con brio

Last scene of all,
That ends this proud, eventful history:
His second childishness and, yes, oblivion;
Her triumph, release, her very liberation:
Super, secure—post husband, or three;
New teeth; new eyes; new tastes, new everything!

And so to the women we honour tonight, may I say:


[1] JM Bennett, A History of the Supreme Court of New South Wales (1974), 155–156.

[2] ‘Macquarie Lachlan (1762–1824)’, <<adbonline.anu.edu.au/biogs/A020162b.htm>> accessed 26 July 2010.

[3] <<www.uusc.com.au/welcome.asp>> accessed 26 July 2010.

[4] The pronunciation is a vexed issue amongst Shakespeare scholars: see, eg, <http://www.shaksper.net/archives/2002/1733.html> accessed 26 July 2010.

* ‘Pard’, short for ‘leaopard’.

** A ‘capon’ was a castrated rooster and considered quite a delicacy.

*** Well-tried proverbs, or perhaps clichés.