Sunday, January 4, 2009

Michael Kirby

Michael Kirby is the High Court judge who's retiring.

Virginia Bell is taking his place.

I think he's gay.

That's about all I know....for now.

Kirby was born on 18 March 1939. I think Anthony Hopkins was born in 1939.

No. I'm wrong. It was 1937. Oops.


Birthday website time!

Kirby is a Pisces and a 7.

I think I'd totally love this type of person...well if the astrology/numerology thing was guaranteed to be true.

I imagine a 7 Pisces to be someone who is spiritual and well-educated. They would sit in a dark damp library late at night reading old religious texts and trying to figure out how to kill a demonic vampire. Or maybe they'd be the vampire themselves! I picture a total Anne Rice scenario here.

As a young child (before he became a vampire in the high court) Kirby attended Strathfield North Public School. This is located north west of Dulwich, it's near Sydney.

After he did that school, he went to Fort Street High School.

One thing I'm realizing with doing all this research. Schools stay around for a long time. Kirby must have gone to high school in the 1950's. And the school still exists. This particular school has been around since 1849. It's in the same general area as his primary school which gives me the idea that he spent his childhood and teen years in the same place. His family probably wasn't like mine....hopping all over the country.

My goodness. This guy got a lot of degrees at the University of Sydney. He got a Bachelor of Arts, Bachelor of Law, Bachelor of Economics, and then Masters of Law. If my math is correct, he finished all of this at the age of 28.

With all this studying, did he have time to make friends? Maybe. It seems he might have been popular; or at least well respected. He was president of the Student's Representative Council and President of the Sydney University Union. The SRC represents the undergraduates at Sydney University. It seems they fight for student rights. The Redfern Legal Centre (which I mentioned yesterday) has an office on the campus to give students legal advice.

It seems while the SRC deals with the serious stuff, the Sydney University Union is more about the fun stuff. They deal with stuff such as university clubs (they have a ton of them) and food. I'm impressed. They say they provide vegan and vegetarian menus. Although I'm guessing that wasn't available back when Kirby was a student.

Oh! Lord Wiki says that Edmund Barton was once president of the University Union.


Kirby was admitted to the New South Wales Bar in 1967. That's the same year my parents got married, and the same year that Tim was born.

From 1975 to 1983, he was deputy president with the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission. They dealt with labor disputes. Now they have a new name. Australian Industrial Relations Commission. They deal with employer/employee disputes, such as unfair dismissals.

From 1983-1984, Kirby was a judge in the Federal Court of Australia. Lord Wiki says he was the youngest man to get that position. He would have been 44.

He next became President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal.

Then in February 1996, he joined the High Court of Australia.

The man keeps himself busy. He has served on various boards, including CSRIO. This is the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. It seems their goal is to come up with scientific solutions. They work with various areas of science: Astronomy/space, energy, environment, farming/food, health, information technology, mining, transportation, etc.

Lord Wiki says these people are responsible for the Parkes Radio Telescope.

Kirby received a pat on the back from the UK. He was made a Companion of the Order of Australia. In that very same year (1991) he was given a Human Rights Medal. Eddie Mabo won the same award a year later. The organization that gives out this medal is the Australian Human Rights Commission. They deal with the disadvantages that the Indigenous Australians experience. They also deal with various types of discrimination.... age, disability, race, sex, etc.

Oh! Here's something interesting. Kirby does NOT want Australia to become a Republic. He was among the founders of Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy. I kind of pictured people who wanted to keep the connection with the UK as being more conservative. I guess it's a matter of me stereotyping. And maybe even my stereotypes are totally off. I don't know.

Here's something cute. At the launch of Victoria Arts Law Week, he did a rap of W.B Yeats poetry. Fun.

Kirby came out of the closet in 1999. He has a long term partner named Johan van Vloten. The two lovebirds have been together since 1969. That's a pretty long time.

He had some big problems with a liberal senator named Bill Heffernan. In 2002, Heffernan accused Kirby of using government resources to solicit under-age prostitutes. The evidence Heffernan presented turned out to be a forgery. He eventually apologized and Kirby accepted his apologies. Wow. He seems quite forgiving. I'd be still angry. In fact, I AM still angry and it didn't even happen to me!

All right. It's time to say good-bye to Lord Wiki.

I'm going to stalk Kirby elsewhere among the Internet.

This article talks about how it's sad that Kirby had to keep his sexuality hidden for thirty years. I completely agree. I think one of the saddest things is homosexuals locked in the closet. It would be horrible to have to keep a secret like that. It would be so sad to keep such a huge important part of yourself hidden. I think another tragic aspect is that people are so ashamed of their sexuality they'll push themselves into a straight lifestyle. How fair is that for the spouse?

I blame society. Things are getting better, but there is still shame. My feeling is every time you make a negative comment about homosexuality, you might be pushing someone further into the closet. What really bothers me is someone who says this in front of a child or teenager. What if that child is gay? My son Jack has known from a very young age that homosexuality exists and it's perfectly okay. If he's gay, I never want him to feel he has to hide this.

I'll TRY to get off my soapbox here.

I do understand that some people have religious objections to homosexuality. But rejecting your child's sexuality is not going to change who they are. It's just going to make them lonely, angry, and ashamed. Would Jesus want that?

This article is making me really sad. One of his fellow High Court judges talked about how he knew Kirby for so long, and how it hurt him that Kirby kept this secret. Finally, he came out of the closet and started letting his co-workers meet his partner.

There's a belief that what Kirby really wanted was to go into politics; maybe even be Prime Minister. But he feared that his homosexuality would hinder his career. Fortunately, I think there's more hope today. Australia has gay senators. Will there ever be a gay Prime Minister? Maybe. It IS possible. I think these days we can believe anything is possible.

Once Kirby was finally out of that damn closet, he worked hard to promote gay rights. He did school visits and fought against church prejudices. Kirby didn't quite fit in well with the other members of the High Court. He felt isolated. The article says he offered a minority opinion in 40% of the cases. I can TOTALLY relate to this. In the "real world" I'm often the one who is different. I've had many occasions in my life where I've been the guess-which-one-is-not-like-the-others.

I think that's why I prefer internet socialization. I feel comfort in finding like-minded individuals. I think what's difficult about me is I'm different, but I don't want to be. No, not exactly. It's not like I want everyone to be my clone. But I do feel comfort in knowing that I'm not alone. I don't mind being weird. It's just I want one or two people to be weird along with me.

It can be hard to speak up when you're the only one. And I do think it can be very lonely. One of my favorite quotes is by Ralph W. Sockman. The test of courage comes when we are in the minority. The test of tolerance comes when we are in the majority.

Okay. Cool. I might have been right about the Monarchy thing....or at least not alone in my thinking. The article mentions that it's incongruous that Kirby was a Monarchist. So, that IS a bit unexpected in a man like him.

Kirby's a workaholic. He works on the weekends. I wonder how his partner feels about that.

In August of this year, Kirby won the Australian Privacy Medal. I guess he got this because he was able to keep his personal life private for so long! No, I'm joking. It's regarding Australian Privacy Laws. I'm actually going to look at these. I wonder if any differ from American laws. Not that I necessarily know all of the US privacy laws. And I think George W. Bush probably got rid of some of them.

Recently, Kirby launched an Internet site where average people like myself can access data from law cases. That's pretty cool. So, instead of vampires studying in a dark damp library, they can now do law research on the Internet. Although I kind of find the website search thing to be confusing. Maybe you have to be a lawyer to understand. Or maybe you just have to be a little smarter than me. This website has the audio of Kirby's recent speech at a graduation ceremony. I'm embarrassingly awful at distinguishing between British and Australian accents. But this guy does sound more British to me.

Here's another graduation speech he did in 2002. I like this quote here. For example, it is now more difficult to hide the wicked acts of oppressors, the cruelty of war, the deceitfulness of leaders and the abuses of human rights that once were hidden because we simply did not know. In a real sense, the fall of the Berlin Wall was a result of the new technology. It became impossible to closet millions of people behind a physical wall that was so easily penetrated by informatics. So it is with the remaining autocratic societies or unjust laws at home. As more young people gain access to the Internet, it will become impossible to control their minds by the means of the past.

We are so less ignorant than past generations. The sad side of the Internet story though is we're more paranoid and cynical. Sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with all the conflicting information. Sometimes I wish I could just sit there and be spoon-fed simplistic information. I wish I could happily believe propaganda and not question everything I read. Back in the old days, we KNEW that Dorothy and Glinda were the good ones and the wicked green witch was the bad ones. Now we have new information that changes everything.

Here's a Christian website that speaks out against Kirby. Actually, they don't actually say anything negative here. I'm reading between the lines. They kind of just provide information. I'm trying to get a handle on this organization. They're not very open-minded when it comes to Islam. It seems they don't come out openly about their viewpoints. Instead they provide links to articles regarding various situations.

No. Wait. Here they show more openness about their viewpoint. They ARE against legislation that they feel endorses the homosexual lifestyle. I THOUGHT that's what they believed. I just wasn't 100% sure.

There's an interesting article in a Perth gay website. It says Kirby asked for an official apology to the gay community for past sodomy laws. The reason he asked for this is some assholes suggested he needed to apologize for BREAKING the past homosexuality laws. He said, I suggested that this was like saying that Nelson Mandela should apologise for… breaching the racist laws during the apartheid days. When the law changes, it is sometimes appropriate to provide apologies to those who were oppressed by the old law.

Holy shit. I'm almost speechless here. I'm glad Kirby has good comebacks. I think he's one of my new heroes....even if he might be a Queen Elizabeth groupie.

I love his quote here. To reform the law is one thing. To secure changes in social attitudes is another. To win changes in the attitudes of organized religion will be an even bigger challenge because of past interpretations of religious texts.

I also love this quote. There is a big difference between ‘tolerance’ (a most condescending word) and ‘acceptance’. It is acceptance that we should work towards.

In 2008, I was told by my dad that my family tolerates me; and I should learn to tolerate them.

My feeling is I don't want to be tolerated. I want to be LIKED. No, not everyone is going to like me. But why should I want to be around someone who merely tolerates me when I can be around someone who actually thinks I'm a cool person? Of course, it's impossible to love every aspect of our friends and families. For some parts of a person, the best we can do IS tolerate it. And sometimes even tolerance is a struggle. But if the highest feeling we feel for someone as a whole is tolerance, I say we should limit interaction with that person as much as possible.

Like Penny Wong and Bob Brown, Michael Kirby was chosen as part of SameSame's most influential homosexuals. This is sweet. He says that he's honored to be on the list, but his partner should really be the one who's on it. Although he says what makes his partner heroic is that he put up with him for forty years. I sort of don't like that. I know he probably meant nothing bad by it. It just gives me the idea of one partner in the relationship being nothing more than support for the other person.

It's hard for me to explain. I'll try....

I think in marriage, BOTH partners have to be equally in the limelight. Now I don't mean in the public limelight. There are many relationships where one person has more fame or public success. But within the relationship itself, I think each person needs to feel important. I once wrote this little line. I don't want to be the wind beneath someone's wings. I want to fly side by side with someone.

I wrote that at a time when I felt more like a pet than an actual human being.

Who is Johan van Vloten? Yes, he's Kirby's partner of 40 years. But he has to be more than THAT. What are his hobbies? What are his aspirations? What is he good at...BESIDES being a good spouse/partner? I don't know how Kirby could have made things better for me. I think it's simply his line of putting up with me that irks me.

I'm probably just being too sensitive and picky. I'm sure they have a lovely relationship.

In his recent speech to graduates, Kirby emphasized the importance of love. He said, Love, you see, transcends even scholarship, cleverness and university degrees. It is greater than pride and it's greater than wealth. It endures when all worldly vanities fade. That's very beautiful. And I agree with it.

I also like what he says there. Majorities can certainly err. They have done so in the past. They will do so again.

I was criticized by one of my mom's friends for breastfeeding Jack longer than average. When I argued about it using biology and history to back me up, she stated that, in these days, it's not socially acceptable. Yeah. And at one time, it was socially acceptable to have slaves. A few years ago, it was more socially acceptable to be homophobic. In many times (perhaps even today) it has been socially acceptable to be anti-Semitic. For a few months after September 11, it was socially acceptable to hate least in America.

My feeling is don't do something because it's popular. And don't do something because it's weird. Do things because you believe it's right. It's not just gay people who get stuck in the closet. There's other reasons to hide in that awful place. Each time one of us takes a loud step out, we give hope to the other people who are still imprisoned inside.


  1. Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy

    I am very surprised to learn that Kirby is a member. Another bit of info I have learnt from your research.

  2. Andrew,

    It is surprising. But I like incongruities like that....a pro life person who has no problem with homosexuality. A right wing vegetarian. Maybe a left wing person who owns a gun. A stockbroker who meditates and gets his tarot cards read on a regular basis....

    I think surprising people make life interesting....

  3. I understood that Michael Kirby was against the Republican movement because of the huge cost (and legal implications) of becoming a republic, versus the actual gain. Sure, we'd be rid of Queen Lizzie, but she's only a formality (via the Governor General) right now.

    Our entire legal system would have to change in many drastic ways.... at a drastic cost and at the risk of spending years trying to get things right (with potential for human suffering from confused legal verdicts etc).

    And there is no existing model for the type of republic that we want to become. It would take a huge amount of money to create even the agreed upon idea.

    I'm not a Monarchist. No way. But I'm not keen to become a republic right this minute. My impression has always been that MIchael Kirby felt the same way as I did.

    (Mind you, I would never join the Australians for a Constitutional Monarchy!).

    I love this post. Thank you again, Dina.

  4. Fe,

    I never thought about the practical aspects of being a Republic until I was researching Kirby. I was thinking only of the symbolic aspects. I like the idea of a Republic as an extension of Sorry Day. It's kind of like saying...we're something new now.

    Oh, I can't explain it. Maybe it's that some of the worse that was done to the Aborigines was by the British. So it would be like starting fresh. Unfolding a new leaf. A new chapter.

    But in light of all the practical aspects, if it's going to be expensive and difficult, I'm not sure the symbolic gesture is worth it. It would seem better to use the money and energy to help make improvements in the Indigenous communities.

    Maybe Australia can just IMAGINE that it's a Republic. And then I'll imagine I'm Australian. It would all totally work out. I think that's the best solution. Imagination can work wonders.

  5. Michael Kirby is one of my heroes. When I did a law course, I read some of his work. Absolutely amazing man.

    I volunteered one night for a charity event that has inspirational people on each table, and I was looking after Michael Kirby's table. He was a gentleman, immediately introduced Johan to everyone and made time to speak to everyone on his table.

    I'm so pleased he was able to keep his position in the High Court long enough for Labor to be returned to government. I would have hated to see him replaced by a conservative.

    He is a legal activist, which means he believes that part of the judiciary's job is to make law, not just interpret it. Since I spent a whole semester on common law, I must be an expert (snigger) but after looking at all sides, I think he is right, within reason. And his activism has always been within reason, from what I have seen. Common law has evolved this way, and I think it is the right answer. It creates a little uncertainty, and business doesn't like that, but I think the community needs it. It reminds us that the law is not certain, that it must evolve with our society and highlights that it is not only the domain of government. Law is for the people by the people.

    But it has earned him a lot of criticism, and I can imagine he has felt very lonely at times. Strangely, Magistrates (the lowest level of the judiciary) make decisions based on their own sense of justice rather than the letter of the law on a regular basis, and no-one comments. The middle levels don't do this so much (nor do I think they should) but I think the reason we have a High Court is to handle the difficult cases where the law is murky or just plain bad. We choose the 8 best legal minds to sit on it, and I believe those minds should be used to their fullest capabilities.

    Sorry - rambling on again - you did say you wished you knew more about law... :)

    Thanks for doing him, I learned some interesting stuff.

  6. Ariane,

    Thank you. I love learning stuff in comments. I had no idea about any of the making law-vs just interpreting it. I think you have a VERY good point. Why can't laws be changed? Some of them NEED to be changed.

    I really like Kirby too. He sounds like an amazing human being. I'm glad you had a good experience with him at the charity event.

    Oh and I agree with's good he waited to retire so another conservative wouldn't get in there.

  7. Dina, this is one of my favourite posts to date!

    I think Michael Kirby is a brilliant, brave and dignified man. Back in the days when I was a schoolteacher, he was frequently mentioned in the classroom. He will be missed. Virginia has big shoes to fill!

  8. Dina there is so much here to be going on with. Firstly he went to a State school...a lot of your previous people went to private schools.....Virginian Bell to the every exclusive SCEGGS. The reason I bring this up is because it is hard for me to accept that people who went right through their schooling in the private sector and then into the law or politics could ever really know the reality of life as the large bulk of Australians now know it. Especially today when educating two siblings privately may cost as much as the average home unit in Sydney or house in another state.

    Having said that a lot of people like Virginia Bell have devoted their adult lives to serving the average not the privileged was interesting to me though how many of your successful Aussies had a private education.....and in the days when it was not as necessary as it is today too. I was pleased that our public school system could actually do the job of equipping people for a life of public service...of course the high school could well have been a selective one...and you are right about the schools...unfortunately they are around for a long time and are not really keeping up with the needs of modern day schooling....most do not have halls etc and the toilet blocks are appalling. Oh just googled the high school and it is a selective old high school is a selective one now ..they thought they had to change something as it was becoming known for its suicides rather than its academics...guess the impact of stress on bright kids of study and exams is less stressful than of boredom which was the way it was before.
    I digress however and this is where again you come in as does your post...I too am slightly different and speak my mind...when it is not going in circles that is...but people who are like me do that I love your posts as they meander around and about the if we are talking to each other!!

    About Justice Kirby saying that his partner should be on the list because he put up with him for forty years...I think I know what he meant...he would not have been able to acknowledge his partner or introduce him at some of the major life events and that is trying on a partner and the relationship. We all see the news and the various Prime Ministers and their various wives...etc etc I imagine there were a lot of work related and charity events where he may not have been able to invite Johan and in fact I wonder if in early days he had to invite a woman as a cover? Who knows...can't wait for an autobiography...if that is allowed by retired judges.

    He is also a staunch Anglican so it cannot have been easy for him with the church's stance and the present two Archbishops of Sydney appearing to be so homophobic. It may explain his acceptance and forgiveness of Heffernan's appalling accusation....

    According to WIKI ...When Heffernan eventually apologised for these allegations, Kirby promptly responded: "I accept Senator Heffernan's apology and reach out my hand in a spirit of reconciliation. I hope my ordeal will show the wrongs that hate of homosexuals can lead to ....

    well said Justice Kirby and in fact that applies to what you were saying about breast feeding and people liking you.....people have their own preconceived ideas about how long one should breastfeed and what one has to be like to be liked instead of just accepting each other as we are..... acceptance is far better than tolerance as the quote said. And Dina is really condescending for someone to say to you that they tolerate you a matter of fact it is insulting in th extreme... I would be saying to that person "well I no longer have to tolerate you have just freed me from that burden"

    Great post and inspiration

  9. missdiarist: Thank you! I enjoyed learning about him. He seems like a really great man.

    Magikquilter: I never realized that all the people I researched had gone to private schools. I think it's hard for me to tell from the website. Or maybe I just didn't look close enough. I wonder if there is a correlation between going to private school and being successful. If so, that is pretty sad. I don't know how it is here. We have very bad public schools, but there are also some very good ones.

    It would be interesting to look at biographies online and compare how many people want to public (government) vs. private school. I'm too lazy to do that though ; )
    But I will start paying attention to the schools more when I do my biographies.

    If you think about it though, I haven't written about that many people yet. It might just be a coincidence.

    I agree about the tolerance stuff! I try to minimize my time with the people who merely tolerate me.

  10. It says Kirby asked for an official apology to the gay community for past sodomy laws. The reason he asked for this is some assholes suggested he needed to apologize for BREAKING the past homosexuality laws.

    I'm sorry, but the wording you used here made me laugh out loud.

    See, I'm pretty weird too. ;) Alas, weirdity is probably best practiced alone.

    I dunno, I suspect that in 100 years or so they'll look back at all of us and think we were positively barbaric, defining and confining ourselves with such limiting labels like "gay", "straight", and the ever-controversial "bi". Love is about people, not sexes. It sounds like Michael Kirby has had such love and support from his partner... what a blessing.

    Oh, and he seems to be a pretty awesome guy too.

    Australia already imagines it's a republic. Just ask us how much we care about the Queen.

  11. Tors,

    lol. I didn't even think of that!

    I agree with you. I think the labels are archaic.

    I would love it if we did away with those labels.

    My feeling is the majority of people are probably bisexual...and most people lean more one way than another.

    We limit ourselves.

    And I think you guys should pay more attention to the queen. I think she's feeling really neglected!