Michael Kirby, Roddy Meagher, and the challenge of friendship

22 May 2012

Join Michael Kirby at the next Sydney Connections Breakfast.
Join Michael Kirby at the next Sydney Connections Breakfast.

Justice Michael Kirby has spoken publicly about many controversial subjects over the years but rarely about personal friendships. On Thursday 24 May, at the next Sydney Connections Breakfast, he will speak about his friendship with former fellow judge Roddy Meagher.

The two Sydney alumni sat on the NSW Court of Appeal, where Meagher once passed Kirby a note, saying: "I lived in a fibro house for 10 years in the poor white area of Bowral". In reply, Kirby was inspired "to sketch the portly figure of Meagher sitting on the ground outside his fibro, beggar's bowl in hand, as the Protestants walked by on their way to church," writes Damien Freeman, author of Roddy's Folly, a new biography of Meagher.

Kirby's humorous sketches of the view from the Bench were sketched by him in court and presented to Meagher when the two judges sat together. These previously unpublished sketches have been reproduced for the first time in Roddy's Folly, shedding light on the lighter side of life on the Bench.

They form an intriguing backdrop to Freeman's biography, the first book-length study of Meagher's life and work, which focuses on his relationship with the University of Sydney, the Catholic Church and the Australian Bar. Freeman tries to get inside the mind of the man, and offers an analysis of Meagher's attitude to feminism and political correctness, as well as his place in Sydney's bohemian and establishment circles.

Michael Kirby will be joined by Damien Freeman as he speaks about his friendship with Meagher, in the second of this year's Sydney Connections Breakfast series, which feature orations by University of Sydney alumni who inspire, inform and invite discussion. The breakfasts provide a great opportunity to catch up with old and new friends and colleagues, over a delicious breakfast with plenty of 'food for thought' - and all are welcome to attend.

The relationship between the two men was complicated and often misunderstood, says Freeman. "Kirby's biographer concluded that 'despite legends about their enmity, Kirby ... came to see Meagher as 'one of the best-read, wittiest, quickest, most civilised people' he knew, deciding that 'nobody in the court' was 'a more agreeable person', Freeman wrote in an essay published when his book was released last month.

"Such evidence clearly undermines the popular assumption, but it is not clear exactly how friendly they became. The warmth of their relationship, which was genuine and valued by both of them, was real, if not nearly as well known as their public bickering. The question, however, is whether they were really ever friends," Freeman continued.

The answer, and other fascinating details about the private side of life on the Bench, can be found by coming to the Sydney Connections Breakfast.

Copies of the Roddy's Folly, as well as Kirby's own autobiography, will be available. Both Kirby and Freeman will be available to sign copies.

Event details

What: Sydney Connections Breakfast with Michael Kirby 

When: 7.15 to 9.15am, Thursday 24 May

Where: Swissotel Sydney, level 8, 68 Market Street, Sydney

Cost: $35 for University of Sydney alumni, staff and students, $45 for friends or guests tables of eight can be booked for $280

Book now online 

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