Robert Garran

Last updated

Sir Robert Garran

Robert Garran 1931.jpg
Garran in 1931
Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department
In office
1 January 1901 9 February 1932
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded by George Knowles
Solicitor-General of Australia
In office
1 September 1916 9 February 1932
Preceded byNew office
Succeeded by George Knowles
Personal details
Robert Randolph Garran

(1867-02-10)10 February 1867
Sydney, New South Wales
Died11 January 1957(1957-01-11) (aged 89)
Canberra, Australian Capital Territory
Hilda Robson(m. 1902)
Relations Andrew Garran (father)
Alma mater University of Sydney
OccupationPublic servant, lawyer

Sir Robert Randolph Garran GCMG QC (10 February 1867 11 January 1957) was an Australian lawyer who became "Australia's first public servant" – the first federal government employee after the federation of the Australian colonies. He served as the departmental secretary of the Attorney-General's Department from 1901 to 1932, and after 1916 also held the position of Solicitor-General of Australia.

Queens Counsel Jurist appointed by letters patent in some Commonwealth realms

A Queen's Counsel, or King's Counsel during the reign of a king, is a lawyer who is appointed by the monarch to be one of "Her Majesty's Counsel learned in the law." The term is recognised as an honorific. The position exists in some Commonwealth jurisdictions around the world, but other Commonwealth countries have either abolished the position, or re-named it to eliminate monarchical connotations, such as "Senior Counsel" or "Senior Advocate". Queen's Counsel is an office, conferred by the Crown, that is recognised by courts. Members have the privilege of sitting within the bar of court.

Government of Australia federal democratic administrative authority of Australia

The Government of Australia is the government of the Commonwealth of Australia, a federal parliamentary constitutional monarchy. It is also commonly referred to as the Australian Government, the Commonwealth Government, Her Majesty's Government, or the Federal Government.

Federation of Australia process by which six separate British self-governing colonies became the country of Australia

The Federation of Australia was the process by which the six separate British self-governing colonies of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia agreed to unite and form the Commonwealth of Australia, establishing a system of federalism in Australia. Fiji and New Zealand were originally part of this process, but they decided not to join the federation. Following federation, the six colonies that united to form the Commonwealth of Australia as states kept the systems of government that they had developed as separate colonies, but they also agreed to have a federal government that was responsible for matters concerning the whole nation. When the Constitution of Australia came into force, on 1 January 1901, the colonies collectively became states of the Commonwealth of Australia.


Garran was born in Sydney, the son of the journalist and politician Andrew Garran. He studied arts and law at the University of Sydney and was called to the bar in 1891. Garran was a keen supporter of the federation movement, and became acquainted with leading federalists like George Reid and Edmund Barton. At the 1897–98 constitutional convention he served as secretary of the drafting committee. On 1 January 1901, Garran was chosen by Barton's caretaker government as its first employee; for a brief period, he was the only member of the Commonwealth Public Service. His first duty was to write the inaugural edition of the Commonwealth Gazette , which contained Queen Victoria's proclamation authorising the creation of a federal government.

Sydney State capital of New South Wales and most populous city in Australia and Oceania

Sydney is the state capital of New South Wales and the most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Located on Australia's east coast, the metropolis surrounds Port Jackson and extends about 70 km (43.5 mi) on its periphery towards the Blue Mountains to the west, Hawkesbury to the north, the Royal National Park to the south and Macarthur to the south-west. Sydney is made up of 658 suburbs, 40 local government areas and 15 contiguous regions. Residents of the city are known as "Sydneysiders". As of June 2017, Sydney's estimated metropolitan population was 5,230,330 and is home to approximately 65% of the state's population.

Andrew Garran English-Australian journalist and politician

Andrew Garran, English-Australian journalist and politician, was the editor of the Sydney Morning Herald from 1873 to 1885.

University of Sydney university in Sydney, Australia

The University of Sydney is an Australian public research university in Sydney, Australia. Founded in 1850, it is Australia's first university and is regarded as one of the world's leading universities. The university is colloquially known as one of Australia's sandstone universities. Its campus is ranked in the top 10 of the world's most beautiful universities by the British Daily Telegraph and The Huffington Post, spreading across the inner-city suburbs of Camperdown and Darlington. The university comprises 9 faculties and university schools, through which it offers bachelor, master and doctoral degrees.

Over the following three decades, Garran provided legal advice to ten different prime ministers, from Barton to Joseph Lyons. He was considered an early expert in Australian constitutional law, and with John Quick published an annotated edition of the constitution that became a standard reference work. Garran developed a close relationship with Billy Hughes during World War I, and accompanied him to the Imperial War Cabinet and the Paris Peace Conference. Hughes, who was simultaneously prime minister and attorney-general, appointed him to the new position of solicitor-general and delegated numerous powers and responsibilities to him. He received two knighthoods for his work, one in 1917 and one in 1920.

Joseph Lyons 20th-century Australian politician, 10th Prime Minister of Australia

Joseph Aloysius Lyons was an Australian politician who served as the 10th Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1932 until his death in 1939. He began his career in the Labor Party, but became the founding leader of the United Australia Party (UAP) after the 1931 party split. He had earlier served as Premier of Tasmania from 1923 to 1928.

Australian constitutional law

Australian constitutional law is the area of the law of Australia relating to the interpretation and application of the Constitution of Australia. Several major doctrines of Australian constitutional law have developed.

John Quick (politician) Australian politician and author

Sir John Quick was an English-born Australian politician and author, who was the federal Member of Parliament for Bendigo from 1901 to 1913 and a leading delegate to the Constitutional Conventions in the 1890s.

In addition to his professional work, Garran was also an important figure in the development of the city of Canberra during its early years. He was one of the first public servants to relocate there after it replaced Melbourne as the capital in 1927. He founded several important cultural associations, organised the creation of the Canberra University College, and later contributed to the establishment of the Australian National University. Garran published at least eight books and many journal articles throughout his lifetime, covering such topics as constitutional law, the history of federalism in Australia, and German-language poetry. He was granted a state funeral upon his death in 1957, the first federal public servant to receive one.

Canberra capital city of Australia

Canberra is the capital city of Australia. Founded following the federation of the colonies of Australia as the seat of government for the new nation, it is Australia's largest inland city and the eighth-largest city overall. The city is located at the northern end of the Australian Capital Territory; 280 km (170 mi) south-west of Sydney and 660 km (410 mi) north-east of Melbourne.

Melbourne City in Victoria, Australia

Melbourne is the capital and most populous city of the Australian state of Victoria, and the second most populous city in Australia and Oceania. Its name refers to an urban agglomeration of 9,992.5 km2 (3,858.1 sq mi), comprising a metropolitan area with 31 municipalities, and is also the common name for its city centre. The city occupies much of the coastline of Port Phillip bay and spreads into the hinterlands towards the Dandenong and Macedon ranges, Mornington Peninsula and Yarra Valley. It has a population of approximately 5 million, and its inhabitants are referred to as "Melburnians".

Canberra University College was a tertiary education institution established in Canberra by the Australian government and the University of Melbourne in 1930. At first it operated in the Telopea Park School premises after hours. Most of the initial students were public servants and all were part-timers. After WWII funding for the College was increased significantly.

Early life

Garran was born in Sydney, New South Wales, the only son (among seven children) of journalist and politician Andrew Garran and his wife Mary Isham. His parents were committed to social justice, Mary campaigning for issues such as the promotion of education for women, and Andrew advocating Federation and covering reformist movements as editor of The Sydney Morning Herald and later promoting them as a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council. [1]

New South Wales State of Australia

New South Wales is a state on the east coast of Australia. It borders Queensland to the north, Victoria to the south, and South Australia to the west. Its coast borders the Tasman Sea to the east. The Australian Capital Territory is an enclave within the state. New South Wales' state capital is Sydney, which is also Australia's most populous city. In September 2018, the population of New South Wales was over 8 million, making it Australia's most populous state. Just under two-thirds of the state's population, 5.1 million, live in the Greater Sydney area. Inhabitants of New South Wales are referred to as New South Welshmen.

Social justice is a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges. In Western as well as in older Asian cultures, the concept of social justice has often referred to the process of ensuring that individuals fulfill their societal roles and receive what was their due from society. In the current global grassroots movements for social justice, the emphasis has been on the breaking of barriers for social mobility, the creation of safety nets and economic justice.

<i>The Sydney Morning Herald</i> newspaper published in Sydney, Australia

The Sydney Morning Herald (SMH) is a daily compact newspaper in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia owned by Nine. Founded in 1831 as the Sydney Herald, the SMH is the oldest continuously published newspaper in Australia and a national online news brand. The print version of the newspaper is published six days a week.

The family lived in Phillip Street in central Sydney. Garran's mother "had a deep distrust, well justified in those days, of milkman's milk" and so she kept a cow in the backyard, which would walk on its own to The Domain each day to graze and return twice a day to be milked. [2] The Garrans later lived in the suburb of Darlinghurst, just to the east of the centre of the city.

Phillip Street, Sydney street in Sydney

Phillip Street is a street in the central business district of Sydney in New South Wales, Australia. While the street runs from King Street in the south to Circular Quay in the north, the present street is effectively in two sections, separated by Chifley Square. Other cross streets include Martin Place, Bridge Street, and Bent Street. It is the hotspot of Sydney's legal elite.

The Domain, Sydney park in Sydney, Australia

The Domain is a heritage-listed 34-hectare (84-acre) area of open space located on the eastern fringe of the Sydney central business district, in the City of Sydney local government area of New South Wales, Australia. Separating the central business district from Woolloomooloo, The Domain adjoins the Royal Botanic Gardens and is managed by the Royal Botanic Gardens Trust, a division of the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, an agency of the Government of New South Wales. The Domain is a popular venue for outdoor concerts, open-air events, large political gatherings and rallies and is used daily by the people of Sydney for exercise and relaxation. Along with the Royal Botanic Gardens, The Domain was added to the New South Wales State Heritage Register on 2 April 1999.

Darlinghurst, New South Wales Suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Darlinghurst is an inner-city, eastern suburb of Sydney, New South Wales, Australia. Darlinghurst is located immediately east of the Sydney central business district (CBD) and Hyde Park, within the local government area of the City of Sydney.

Garran attended Sydney Grammar School from the age of ten, starting in 1877. He was a successful student, and became School Captain in 1884. He then studied arts and law at the University of Sydney, where he was awarded scholarships for classics, mathematics and general academic ability. [3] Garran graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree with first-class honours in 1888, winning the University's Medal in Philosophy, and a Bachelor of Laws degree in 1889. [3]

After graduating, Garran began to study for the Bar examination. He was employed for a year with a firm of Sydney solicitors, and the next year served as associate to Justice William Charles Windeyer of the Supreme Court of New South Wales. [3] Windeyer had a reputation for being a harsh and inflexible judge, particularly in criminal cases, where he was said to have "a rigorous and unrelenting sense of the retribution that he believed criminal justice demanded, [and] a sympathy verging on the emotional for the victims of crime." [4] Garran however offered a different view, saying that "those who knew him well knew that under a brusque exterior he was the kindest of men", and his reputation had to some degree been created by misrepresentation. [5] In 1891, Garran was admitted to the New South Wales Bar, where he commenced practice as a barrister, primarily working in equity.

Federation movement

Portrait of Andrew Garran, Robert's father, in 1896 Andrew Garran.jpg
Portrait of Andrew Garran, Robert's father, in 1896

Garran, like his father, was strongly involved in the Australian Federation movement, the movement which sought to unite the British colonies in Australia (and, in early proposals, New Zealand) into one federated country. The first Constitutional Convention was held in 1891 in the chamber of the Legislative Council of New South Wales in Macquarie Street, Sydney, around the corner from Garran's chambers in Phillip Street; Garran regularly attended and sat in the public gallery to see "history... in the making under my very eyes." [6] Garran would later recall with approval that the 1891 convention was the first with the courage to face the "lion in the path", the issue of customs duties and tariffs, which had previously divided states such as Victoria, who were in favour of protectionism, and states such as New South Wales, who were in favour of free trade. In Garran's view a clause proposed at the convention, which allowed for tariffs against international trade while ensuring free trade domestically (the predecessor to the final section 92 of the Constitution of Australia), "expressed the terms on which New South Wales was prepared to face the lion." [7]

Garran became involved with the work of Edmund Barton, who would later be the first Prime Minister of Australia but at the time was the de facto leader of the federation movement in New South Wales as Sir Henry Parkes declined into poor health. Garran, along with others such as Atlee Hunt, worked essentially as secretaries to Barton's federation campaign, drafting correspondence and planning meetings. At one late night meeting, planning a speech Barton was to give in the Sydney suburb of Ashfield, Barton coined the phrase "For the first time, we have a nation for a continent, and a continent for a nation"; Garran recalled that the now famous phrase "would have been unrecorded if I had not happened to jot it down." [8]

In June 1893, when the Australasian Federal League was formed at a meeting in the Sydney Town Hall, Garran joined immediately and was made a member of the executive committee. He was one of the League's four delegates to the 1893 Corowa Conference and a League delegate to the 1896 Bathurst Conference, informal conferences held between members of the League (primarily based in Sydney), the Australian Natives' Association (mainly Victorian) and other pro-federation groups. [9] At Corowa he was part of an impromptu group organised by John Quick which drafted a resolution, passed at the Conference, calling on the colonial parliaments to hold a directly elected Constitutional Convention to be charged with drafting the Bill for the Constitution of Australia. The proposal, which came to be known as the Corowa Plan, was later accepted at the 1895 Premiers' Conference and formed the basis for the federation process over the following five years. [10]

In 1897, Garran published The Coming Commonwealth, [11] an influential book on the history of the Federation movement and the debate over the 1891 draft of the Constitution of Australia. The book was based on material he prepared for a course on federalism and federal systems of government, which he had planned to give at the University of Sydney, but which failed to attract a sufficient number of students. [1] Nevertheless, the book was both unique and popular, as one of the few books on the topic at the time, with the first edition quickly selling out. Soon after its publication the Premier of New South Wales George Reid, who had been elected as a New South Wales delegate to the 1897–1898 Constitutional Convention, invited Garran to be his secretary. At the Convention, Reid appointed him secretary of the Drafting Committee, at Barton's request; he was also a member of the Press Committee. [12]

Garran recorded in a letter to his family during the convention's Melbourne sitting that:

The committee professes to find me very useful in unravelling the conundrums sent down by the finance committee... The last two nights I have found the drafting committee fagged [tired] and despairing, and now they have pitched the conundrums at me and gone out for a smoke; and then I worked out algebraic formulas to clear the thing up, drafted clauses accordingly, and when the committee returned we had plain sailing. [13]

Garran joked that the long work of the drafting committee breached the Factory Acts , the group (primarily Barton, Richard O'Connor, John Downer and Garran) often working late into the night preparing drafts for the convention to consider and debate the next morning. On the evening before the convention's last day, Barton had gone to bed exhausted in the small hours, Garran and Charles Gavan Duffy finishing the final schedule of amendments at breakfast time. [14] The convention concluded successfully, approving a final draft which would ultimately, aside from a small amendment arranged at the last minute in London, become the Constitution of Australia.

Throughout 1898, following the completion of the proposed Constitution, Garran participated in the campaign promoting Federation leading up to the referendums at which the people of the colonies voted whether or not to approve the Constitution. He contributed a daily column to the Evening News , and had humorous poems critiquing opponents of federation published in The Bulletin . The following year, he began working with Quick on the Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth, [15] [16] a reference work on the Constitution including a history, and detailed discussion of each section analysing its meaning and its development at the Conventions. Published in 1901, the Annotated Constitution, commonly referred to simply as "Quick & Garran", soon became the standard work on the Constitution and is still regarded as one of the most important works on the subject. [1]

Public service

Garran and his wife Hilda (second and first from left respectively) and their friends Sir Littleton Groom and his wife Jessie (first and second from right respectively), photographed at Telopea Park in 1926. Garrans&Grooms.jpg
Garran and his wife Hilda (second and first from left respectively) and their friends Sir Littleton Groom and his wife Jessie (first and second from right respectively), photographed at Telopea Park in 1926.

On the day that Federation was completed and Australia created, 1 January 1901, Garran was made a Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) "in recognition of services in connection with the Federation of Australian Colonies and the establishment of the Commonwealth of Australia", [17] [18] and was appointed secretary and Permanent Head of the Attorney-General's Department by the first Attorney-General of Australia, Alfred Deakin. Garran was the first, and for a time the only, public servant employed by the Government of Australia. Garran later said of this time that:

I was not only the head [of the department], but the tail. I was my own clerk and messenger. My first duty was to write out with my own hand Commonwealth Gazette No. 1 proclaiming the establishment of the Commonwealth and the appointment of ministers of state, and to send myself down with it to the government printer. [19]

In this role, Garran was responsible for organising the first federal election in March 1901, and for organising the transfer of various government departments from the states to the federal government, including the Department of Defence, the postal and telegraphic services (now part of the Department of Communications, Information Technology and the Arts) and the Department of Trade and Customs (now part of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade). As parliamentary drafter, Garran also developed legislation to administer those new departments and other important legislation.

Garran and his fellow staff aimed for a simple style of legislative drafting, a goal enabled by the fact that there was no pre-existing federal legislation on which their work would have to be based. In Garran's opinion the approach, which was put into practice many years before the similarly principled plain English movement became popular in government in the 1970s, was intended "to set an example of clear, straightforward language, free from technical jargon." [20] Subsequent parliamentary drafters have noted that Garran was unusual in this respect for deliberately setting out to achieve and improve a particular drafting style, and that it was not until the early 1980s that such discipline among drafters re-emerged. [21]

However, Garran himself admitted that his drafting could be overly simplistic, citing the first customs and excise legislation (the Customs Act 1901 and the Excise Act 1901 ), developed with the Minister for Trade and Customs Charles Kingston, as an example of the style taken to excess. [20] The style was also once parodied by foundation High Court Justice Richard O'Connor as follows:

Every man shall wear
  (a) Coat
  (b) Vest
  (c) Trousers
Penalty: £100. [19]

In 1902, Garran married Hilda Robson. Together they would have four sons, Richard (born 1903), John (1905), Andrew (1906) and Isham Peter (1910). At this time the family lived in Melbourne, and the boys all attended Melbourne Grammar School and later studied at the University of Melbourne, attending Trinity College there.

The Attorney-General's Department also managed litigation on behalf of the government. Initially the department contracted private law firms to actually conduct the litigation, but in 1903 the office of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor was established, with Charles Powers the first to hold the job. The other Crown Solicitors that Garran worked with included Gordon Castle (with whom he had also worked as a drafter) and William Sharwood.

Garran worked with several Attorneys-General as Permanent Head of the Department. Garran regarded the first Attorney-General, Alfred Deakin, as an excellent thinker and a natural lawyer, and on occasion "[spoke] of Deakin as the Balfour of Australian politics." [22] He was also very much impressed with the fifth Attorney-General, Isaac Isaacs, who was an extremely diligent worker, and two time Attorney-General Littleton Groom, who was "probably one of the most useful Ministers the Commonwealth has had." [23]

In 1912, Garran was considered as a possible appointee to the High Court, following the expansion of the bench from five seats to seven and the death of Richard O'Connor. Billy Hughes, Attorney-General in the Fisher government at the time, later said Garran would have been appointed "but for the fact that he is too valuable a man for us to lose. We cannot spare him." [1]


The Australian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Garran is in the front row, seated, second from left. Also pictured are Billy Hughes, front centre, and Sir Joseph Cook, seated, second from right. Paris 1919 Australian delegation.jpg
The Australian delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, 1919. Garran is in the front row, seated, second from left. Also pictured are Billy Hughes, front centre, and Sir Joseph Cook, seated, second from right.

In 1916, Garran was made the first Solicitor-General of Australia (the office was then known as Commonwealth Solicitor-General) by Billy Hughes, who had since become Prime Minister. The creation of the office and Garran's appointment to it was to some degree recognition of his existing role as Permanent Head of the Attorney-General's Department, in which Garran gave legal advice to several successive governments, [3] but it also represented a formal delegation of many of the powers and functions formerly exercised by the Attorney-General. [9]

Garran developed a strong relationship with Hughes, giving him legal advice on the World War I conscription plebiscites and on the range of regulations which were made under the War Precautions Act 1914 . The War Precautions Regulations had a broad scope, and were generally supported by the High Court, which adopted a much more flexible approach to the reach of the Commonwealth's defence power during wartime. A substantial amount of Garran's work during the war involved preparing and carrying out the regulations. Many of them were directed at maximising the economic aspect of the war effort and ensuring supplies of goods to Australian troops; others were directed at controlling citizens or former citizens of the enemy Central Powers living in Australia. On one occasion, when Hughes had been informed that at a party hosted by a German man, the band had played "Das Lied der Deutschen", Hughes asked Garran "By the way, what is this tune?" to which Garran replied that it was Haydn's melody to "Gott erhalte Franz den Kaiser", and as it was used as the tune to several hymns "it was probably sung in half a dozen churches in Sydney last Sunday." Hughes then said "Good Heavens! I have played that thing with one finger hundreds of times." [24]

The partnership between Garran and Hughes is regarded by some as unusual, given that Garran was "tall, gentlemanly, wise and scholarly", and patient with his staff, whereas Hughes was "short of stature [and] renowned for bursts of temper." [3] Nevertheless, the partnership was a successful one, with Hughes recognising the importance of Garran's constitutional expertise, remarking once about the World War I period that "the best way to govern Australia was to have Sir Robert Garran at [my] elbow, with a fountain pen and a blank sheet of paper, and the War Precautions Act." [9] Likewise, Garran respected Hughes' strong leadership style, which had been important in guiding the country through the war, although in describing the Nationalist Party's loss in the 1922 federal election, Garran later said that "Hughes also overestimated his own hold on Parliament [although] his hold on the people was probably undiminished." [25]

Garran accompanied Hughes and Joseph Cook (then the Minister for the Navy) to the 1917 and 1918 meetings of the Imperial War Cabinet in London, United Kingdom, and was also part of the British Empire delegation to the 1919 Paris Peace Conference in Paris, France. There he was on several of the treaty drafting committees, and contributed to many provisions, notably the portions of the League of Nations Covenant relating to League of Nations mandates. Though focusing mainly on League of Nations matters, Garran and John Latham (the head of Australian Naval Intelligence) had the status of technical advisers to Hughes and Cook, and so could attend the main conference and any of the associated councils. Observing the proceedings, Garran admired the "moral and physical courage" of French premier Georges Clemenceau, whom he regarded as determined to protect France from Germany but in a measured and temperate way; in Garran's words, Clemenceau "always withstood the excessive demands of the French chauvinists, of the French army, and of Foch himself." [26] Garran viewed some similarities between British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and United States President Woodrow Wilson where others saw only differences, since Lloyd George "also had a strong vein of idealism in his character", and Wilson could be pragmatic when the situation called for it, such as in discussions relating to American interests. [27] Garran also met other political and military leaders at the conference, including T. E. Lawrence, "an Oxford youth of 29 he looks 18", who was modest and "without any affectation... in a company of two or three [he] could talk very interestingly, but at a larger gathering he was apt to be dumb." [28]

The Garran family house in Canberra, 22 Mugga Way, Red Hill Garran house.jpg
The Garran family house in Canberra, 22 Mugga Way, Red Hill

Following the war, Garran worked with Professor Harrison Moore of the University of Melbourne and South Australian judge Professor Jethro Brown on a report about proposed constitutional amendments which ultimately became the referendum questions put forward in the 1919 referendum. Garran had been made a Knight Bachelor in 1917 [29] and was appointed as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in 1920. [30] Garran attended two Imperial Conferences, accompanying Prime Minister Stanley Bruce in 1923 and in 1930 joining Prime Minister James Scullin and Attorney-General Frank Brennan, chair of the Drafting Committee which prepared drafts of agreements on various topics, such as merchant shipping. He also attended the eleventh League of Nations conference that year with them in Geneva, Switzerland. At the Royal Commission on the Constitution in 1927, Garran was invited to give evidence by Prime Minister Bruce, where he discussed the history and origins of the Constitution and the evolution of the institutions established under it.

Through the 1920s and early 1930s, Garran prepared annual summaries of legislative developments in Australia, highlighting important individual pieces of legislation for the Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law (now known as the International and Comparative Law Quarterly ) published by Oxford University Press. [31]

Towards the end of his time as Solicitor-General, Garran's work included the preparation of the Debt Conversion Agreement between the Government of Australia and the governments of the states, which involved the federal government taking over and managing the debts of the individual states, following the 1928 referendum. [32] In 1930, he was asked by the Scullin Government to provide an opinion on whether Norman Lindsay's novel Redheap was indecent and obscene within the terms of section 52(c) of the Customs Act 1901. He concluded that it was, and the Department of Trade and Customs subsequently banned the book from being imported into Australia, the first book by an Australian author to suffer such a ban. It has been suggested that Frank Forde, the Acting Minister for Trade and Customs, had already decided to ban the book, and sought Garran's advice primarily as a buffer against political criticism. [33]

In 1927, Garran had moved from his home in Melbourne, Victoria to the newly established capital Canberra, one of the first public officials to do so (many government departments and their public servants did not move to Canberra until after World War II). He also worked within the Government to facilitate housing in Canberra for officials moving from other cities, and was involved in establishing cultural organisations in the city. In 1928 he was the inaugural President of the Canberra Rotary Club. In 1929, he formed the Canberra University Association in order to promote the formation of a university in Canberra, and in 1930 organised the establishment of Canberra University College (essentially a campus of the University of Melbourne) which taught undergraduate courses, chairing its council for its first twenty-three years. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, Garran "consistently advocated the establishment of what he prophetically called 'a National University at Canberra' ", [9] which would be primarily for specialist research and postgraduate study, in areas particularly relating to Australia, such as foreign relations with Asia and the Pacific region. [9] This vision was evidently influential on the establishment of the Australian National University (ANU) in 1946, [9] the only research-only university in the country (although in 1960 it amalgamated with Canberra University College to offer undergraduate courses). [34]


The presentation of the Charter of the Canberra Rotary Club, 1928, at the Hotel Canberra. Garran is seated, front centre. Canberra Rotary 1928.jpg
The presentation of the Charter of the Canberra Rotary Club, 1928, at the Hotel Canberra. Garran is seated, front centre.

Garran retired from his governmental positions on 9 February 1932, a fixed retirement date on the day before his sixty-fifth birthday. He soon returned to practise as a barrister, and within a month he was made a King's Counsel (KC). However, he occasionally carried out more prominent work. In 1932, he was selected on the advice of now Attorney-General John Latham to chair the Indian Defence Expenditure Tribunal, to advise on the dispute between India and the United Kingdom regarding the costs of the military defence of India. In 1934, along with John Keating, William Somerville and David John Gilbert, he formed a committee which prepared The Case for Union, [35] the Government of Australia's official reply to the secessionist movement in the state of Western Australia.

Garran was also involved with the arts; he was the vice-president of the Canberra Musical Society, where he sang and played the clarinet, and in 1946 won a national song competition run by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation. [1] Garran also published translations of Heinrich Heine's 1827 work Buch der Lieder ("Book of Songs") in 1924, [36] and of the works of Franz Schubert and Robert Schumann in 1946. [37]

In 1937, Garran was made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG), [38] the third time he had been knighted. Shortly after the establishment of the ANU in 1946, Garran became its first graduate when he was awarded an honorary doctorate of laws. He had already been awarded such an honorary doctorate from the University of Melbourne in 1937 and later receiving one from his alma mater, the University of Sydney in 1952. Garran served on ANU's council from 1946 until 1951. Garran's influence on Canberra is remembered by the naming of the suburb of Garran, Australian Capital Territory, and his link with ANU is remembered by the naming of a chair in the university's School of Law, by the naming of the hall of residence Burton & Garran Hall and by the naming of Garran house at Canberra Grammar School for his work with that school.

Garran died in 1957 in Canberra. He was granted a state funeral, the first given to a public servant of the Government of Australia. [9] He was survived by his four sons; his wife Hilda had died in 1936. His memoirs, Prosper the Commonwealth, [39] were published posthumously in 1958, having been completed shortly before his death.


Garran at ANZAC Day celebrations at the cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney, 25 April 1944 Garran 1944.jpg
Garran at ANZAC Day celebrations at the cenotaph in Martin Place, Sydney, 25 April 1944

Garran's "personality, like his prose, was devoid of pedantry and pomposity and, though dignified, was laced with a quizzical turn of humour." [9] His death "marked the end of a generation of public men for whom the cultural and the political were natural extensions of each other and who had the skills and talents to make such connections effortlessly." [1] At his death, Garran was one of the last remaining of the people involved with the creation of the Constitution of Australia.

Former Prime Minister John Howard, in describing Garran, said:

"I wonder though if we sometimes underestimate the changes, excitements, disruptions and adjustments previous generations have experienced. Sir Robert Garran knew the promise and reality of federation. He was part of the establishment of a public service which, in many ways, is clearly recognisable today." [40]

Garran's friend Charles Daley, a long time civic administrator of the Australian Capital Territory, emphasised Garran's contribution to the early development of the city of Canberra, particularly its cultural life, remarking at a celebratory dinner for Garran in 1954 that:

"There has hardly been a cultural movement in this city with which Sir Robert has not been identified in loyal and inspiring support, as his constant aim has been that Canberra should be not only a great political centre but also a shrine to foster those things that stimulate and enrich our national life... his name will ever be inscribed in the annals, not only of Canberra, but of the Commonwealth as clarum et venerabile nomen gentibus. [3] [41]

However Garran is perhaps best remembered as an expert on constitutional law, more so than for his other contributions to public service. On his experience of Federation and the Constitution, Garran was always enthusiastic:

"I'm often asked 'has federation turned out as you expected?' Well yes and no. By and large the sort of thing we expected has happened but with differences. We knew the constitution was not perfect; it had to be a compromise with all the faults of a compromise... But, in spite of the unforeseen [sic] strains and stresses, the constitution has worked, on the whole, much as we thought it would. I think it now needs revision, to meet the needs of a changed world. But no-one could wish the work undone, who tries to imagine, what, in these stormy days, would have been the plight of six disunited Australian colonies." [19]


The Canberra suburb of Garran, established in 1966, was named after him.

In 1983, the former Patent Office building - now occupied by the Federal Attorney General's Department - was renamed Robert Garran Offices. [42] The art deco building is within the Parliamentary Triangle of Canberra, and was constructed in 1932 at the corner of Kings Avenue and National Circuit, in Parkes, Australian Capital Territory.

Related Research Articles

Governor-General of Australia Representative of the monarch of Australia

The Governor-General of the Commonwealth of Australia is the representative of the Australian monarch, currently Queen Elizabeth II. As the Queen is concurrently the monarch of 15 other Commonwealth realms, and resides in the United Kingdom, she, on the advice of her prime minister, appoints a governor-general to carry out constitutional duties within the Commonwealth of Australia. The governor-general has formal presidency over the Federal Executive Council and is commander-in-chief of the Australian Defence Force. The functions of the governor-general include appointing ministers, judges, and ambassadors; giving royal assent to legislation passed by parliament; issuing writs for election; and bestowing Australian honours.

Prime Minister of Australia executive head of the Government of Australia

The Prime Minister of Australia is the head of government of Australia. The individual who holds the office is the most senior Minister of State, the leader of the Federal Cabinet. The Prime Minister also has the responsibility of administering the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and is the chair of the National Security Committee and the Council of Australian Governments. The office of Prime Minister is not mentioned in the Constitution of Australia but exists through Westminster political convention. The individual who holds the office is commissioned by the Governor-General of Australia and at the Governor-General's pleasure subject to the Constitution of Australia and constitutional conventions.

Edmund Barton Australian politician, first Prime Minister of Australia and founding justice of the High Court of Australia

Sir Edmund "Toby" Barton, was an Australian politician and judge who served as the first Prime Minister of Australia, in office from 1901 to 1903. He resigned to become a founding member of the High Court of Australia, where he served until his death.

Alfred Deakin Australian politician, second Prime Minister of Australia

Alfred Deakin was an Australian politician who served as the second Prime Minister of Australia, in office for three separate terms – 1903 to 1904, 1905 to 1908, and 1909 to 1910. Before entering office, he was a leader of the movement for Australian federation.

Chris Watson Australian politician, third Prime Minister of Australia

John Christian Watson, commonly known as Chris Watson, was an Australian politician who served as the third Prime Minister of Australia. He was the first Prime Minister from the Australian Labour Party, and led the world's first Labour Party government, indeed the world's first socialist or social democratic government, at a national level. From paternal German and maternal British ancestry, he is the only Australian Prime Minister not born in a Commonwealth country.

High Court of Australia supreme court

The High Court of Australia is the supreme court in the Australian court hierarchy and the final court of appeal in Australia. It has both original and appellate jurisdiction, the power of judicial review over laws passed by the Parliament of Australia and the parliaments of the states, and the ability to interpret the Constitution of Australia and thereby shape the development of federalism in Australia.

Samuel Griffith Australian politician

Sir Samuel Walker Griffith, was an Australian judge and politician who served as the inaugural Chief Justice of Australia, in office from 1903 to 1919. He also served a term as Chief Justice of Queensland and two terms as Premier of Queensland, and played a key role in the drafting of the Australian Constitution.

Sir David Iser Smith is a retired Australian public servant. He was the Official Secretary to the Governor-General of Australia between 1973 and 1990, in which capacity he served Sir Paul Hasluck, Sir John Kerr, Sir Zelman Cowen, Sir Ninian Stephen and Bill Hayden.

Richard OConnor (politician) Australian politician and judge

Richard Edward O'Connor was an Australian politician and judge.

John Latham (judge) Australian judge and politician; 5th Chief Justice of Australia

Sir John Greig Latham GCMG QC was an Australian lawyer, politician, and judge who served as the fifth Chief Justice of Australia, in office from 1935 to 1952. He had earlier served as Attorney-General of Australia under Stanley Bruce and Joseph Lyons, and was Leader of the Opposition from 1929 to 1931 as the final leader of the Nationalist Party.

H. B. Higgins Australian politician

Henry Bournes Higgins KC, known by his initials, was an Australian lawyer, politician, and judge. He served on the High Court of Australia from 1906 until his death.

The Solicitor-General of Australia is the country's second highest-ranking law officer, after the Attorney-General for Australia. The position is often known as the Commonwealth Solicitor-General in order to distinguish it from the state solicitors-general. The current officeholder is Stephen Donaghue, who took office on 16 January 2017.

John Downer Australian politician and lawyer

Sir John William Downer, KCMG, KC was an Australian politician who served two terms as Premier of South Australia, from 1885 to 1887 and again from 1892 to 1893. He later entered federal politics and served as a Senator for South Australia from 1901 to 1903. He was the first of four Australian politicians from the Downer family dynasty.

The reserved powers doctrine was a principle used by the inaugural High Court of Australia in the interpretation of the Constitution of Australia, that emphasised the context of the Constitution, drawing on principles of federalism, what the Court saw as the compact between the newly formed Commonwealth and the former colonies, particularly the compromises that informed the text of the constitution. The doctrine involved a restrictive approach to the interpretation of the specific powers of the Federal Parliament to preserve the powers that were intended to be left to the States. The doctrine was challenged by the new appointments to the Court in 1906 and was ultimately abandoned by the High Court in 1920 in the Engineers' Case, replaced by an approach to interpretation that emphasised the text rather than the context of the Constitution.

Albert Piddington Australian judge, reformer and politician

Albert Bathurst Piddington KC was an Australian lawyer, politician and judge. He served on the High Court of Australia for one month in 1913, making him the shortest-serving judge in the court's history.

Attorney-Generals Department (Australia) Australian government department

The Attorney-General's Department is a department of the federal government of Australia responsible for law and justice, and since 29 May 2019, industrial relations.

Section 116 of the Constitution of Australia precludes the Commonwealth of Australia from making laws for establishing any religion, imposing any religious observance, or prohibiting the free exercise of any religion. Section 116 also provides that no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth. The product of a compromise in the pre-Federation constitutional conventions, Section 116 is based on similar provisions in the United States Constitution. However, Section 116 is more narrowly drafted than its US counterpart, and does not preclude the states of Australia from making such laws.

Charles Kennedy Comans, CBE, OBE, QC was a lawyer, lecturer, the former First Parliamentary Counsel of the Commonwealth from 1972 - 1977. Comans died in Canberra on 12 September 2012, aged 97.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Irving, Helen (2001). "Garran, Robert Randolph". In Blackshield, Tony; Coper, Michael; Williams, George (eds.). The Oxford Companion to the High Court of Australia. South Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press. ISBN   978-0-19-554022-2.
  2. Garran 1958, p. 65.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Francis, Noel (1983). The Gifted Knight: Sir Robert Garran. Canberra: Noel Francis (Australia); Australian National University Press (worldwide). ISBN   978-0-9592095-0-1.
  4. "Windeyer, Sir William Charles (1834–1897)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 6. Carlton: Melbourne University Press. 1976. pp. 420–422. Retrieved 15 September 2006.
  5. Garran 1958, p. 78.
  6. Garran 1958, p. 92.
  7. Garran 1958, pp. 96–97.
  8. Garran 1958, p. 101.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Parker, R.S. (1981). "Garran, Sir Robert Randolph (1867–1957)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. 8. Carlton: Melbourne University Press. pp. 622–625. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  10. Garran 1958, p. 104.
  11. Garran 1897.
  12. "GARRAN, SIR ROBERT RANDOLPH (1867–1957)". National Library of Australia's Federation Gateway. Archived from the original on 8 July 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  13. Garran 1958, pp. 119–120.
  14. Garran 1958, p. 122.
  15. "The annotated constitution of the Australian Commonwealth (1901)" . Retrieved 9 March 2011.
  16. Quick, John & Garran, Robert (1901). The Annotated Constitution of the Australian Commonwealth. Sydney: Angus & Robertson. ISBN   978-0-9596568-0-0.
  17. "No. 27261". The London Gazette . 1 January 1901. p. 1.
  18. "Robert Garran CMG". Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 12 May 2007.
  19. 1 2 3 Rayner, Michelle (1950s). "Sir Robert Garran: a memoir of federation". Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Archived from the original on 15 July 2006. Retrieved 20 July 2006.
  20. 1 2 Garran 1958, p. 145.
  21. Penfold, Hilary (6–8 December 2001). When words aren't enough: Graphics and other innovations in legislative drafting. Language and the Law Conference, University of Texas at Austin ( Text-x-generic.svg RTF ). Office of Parliamentary Counsel. Archived from the original on 18 September 2006. Retrieved 11 December 2006.
  22. Garran 1958, p. 156.
  23. Garran 1958, p. 158.
  24. Garran 1958, p. 223.
  25. Garran 1958, p. 280.
  26. Garran 1958, p. 260.
  27. Garran 1958, p. 262.
  28. Garran 1958, p. 264.
  29. "Sir Robert Garran". Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 12 May 2007.
  30. "Robert Garran KCMG". Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 12 May 2007.
  31. For example, Garran, Robert (1930). "Commonwealth of Australia". Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law. Oxford University Press. 1930. OCLC 1680994. and Garran, Robert (1932). "Commonwealth of Australia". Journal of Comparative Legislation and International Law. Oxford University Press. 1932. OCLC 1680994.
  32. Garran 1958, pp. 336–338.
  33. Darby, Robert (2013). "The Banning of Redheap: Sober Facts about an Inflammatory Fiction". Labour History (105): 171–186. doi:10.5263/labourhistory.105.0171. JSTOR   10.5263/labourhistory.105.0171.
  34. "Canberra University College 1930–1960". Information Services @ ANU. Australian National University. Archived from the original on 21 July 2008.
  35. Garran, Robert; et al. (1934). The Case for union : a reply to the case for the secession of the state of Western Australia. Canberra: Government Printer.
  36. Heine, Heinrich; translated by Garran, Robert (1924). The book of songs. Melbourne: Keating-Wood.
  37. Garran, Robert (1946). Schubert and Schumann : songs and translations. Melbourne: Melbourne University Press.
  38. "Robert Garran GCMG". Australian Honours Database. Retrieved 12 May 2007.
  39. Garran, Robert. Prosper the Commonwealth.
  40. Howard, John (19 November 1997). "The 1997 Sir Robert Garran Oration" (PDF). Prime Minister of Australia. Retrieved 19 April 2012.
  41. Daley quotes Lucan's epic poem Pharsalia ; the phrase may be translated as "Among the people his name is honoured and distinguished."
  42. Patent Office (former) Archived 5 May 2007 at the Wayback Machine , accessed 16 June 2007


Legal offices
New title Solicitor-General of Australia
Succeeded by
George Knowles
Government offices
New title
Department established
Secretary of the Attorney-General's Department
1901 – 1932
Succeeded by
George Knowles