Volume 14, Number 2
Australian Law & Librarianship
18th IALL Course, Melbourne, Australia
Tulane University Law Library
If there was ever a doubt in my mind whether to attend the IALL session
in Melbourne, a remote and unfamiliar place, it was quickly dispelled
during the IALL sponsored program at the annual meeting in Washington,
when Ruth Bird, director of the law library at University of Melbourne,
gave a lively and informative introduction to law, life and politics in
Australia. And during the social hour following there was much enthusiastic
testimony to all good things down under.
My flight to the southern hemisphere lasted one long night but I arrived
in the beautiful city of Melbourne at the same time spring was breaking
out and people were filling the parks and outdoor cafes. Disconcertingly
at first the sun warmed from the north at midday and the shadows pointed
south. I gradually got my bearings. Melbourne is an elegant and modern
metropolis with an efficient public transportation system. Meals and services
are provided with style and at very reasonable prices. The rchitecture
is serene with a blend of two worlds, the old and the new, Europe and United
States. I strangely felt as if I had been there
The days of expertly planned meetings and excursions resonated with
superb presentations, hospitality and fine meals. The neatly finished papers
were handed out at registration for anyone to read ahead. There were 45
participants altogether, one from Europe and one from East Asia, the rest
divided between North America and Australia. The small size of the group
allowed for an unhurried and intimate atmosphere with ample opportunity
to establish new contacts which is sometimes the most valuable thing to
bring back. IALL members may never have had such good value.
Most of the meetings were held at the charming Old Treasury Building,
close to the Parliament of Victoria and other governmental buildings, bordering
beautiful gardens where officials, as well as IALL members, were sprawling
on the grass during lunchtime. University of Melbourne hosted the meetings
one day and during our excursion we visited Monash University for a presentation
and a tour of the law library. The Parliament and Supreme Court of Victoria
libraries hosted gracious evening receptions in their old world architectural
splendor. Wildlife and wine were, as might be expected, also included in
the program on a delightful tour to Healsville Sanctuary and Yarra Valley.
These altogether pleasant contours never diminished the seriousness
and substantive contents of the meetings. Justice Peter Gray of the Federal
Court of Australia, the first key note speaker on the day dedicated to
issues related to indigenous people worldwide, acknowledged at the outset
of his presentation that we were meeting on land that traditionally belonged
to the Aborigines. This was a gesture that is part of the reconciliation
process now going on in Australia with the delicate issues of apologies
and restitution of land rights. Justice Gray gave an insightful and fascinating
presentation of the difficulty in reaching legal settlements with members
of a culture that acknowledge first and foremost their own laws and dreamings
handed down to them by ancestors and of the efforts of the bar to gain
access and understanding of these laws. This presentation set the tone
for the meetings as well as for my brief experience in Australia, later
enhanced by Bruce Chatwin's book Songlines, a travel book with a personal
insight into the life and customs of the Aborigines. It was a great surprise
to me with my rudimentary and outdated notions of Australia that this country
with an indigenous population of only 1.5% has made the reconciliation
process a cultural policy with commitments on all levels of society.
AustLII, The Australian Legal Information Institute with its seven gigabytes
of Australian and regional legal and free access databases, has taken a
leading role, stepping in where the government has been afraid to tread,
by creating the Reconciliation and Social Justice Library, a project providing
public information on indigenous issues. It began in 1995 with the publication
of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, making countless
volumes of out of print reports available electronically and free of charge.
The goals are to continue to search for relevant material, to develop techniques
for easy access to all
documents, and to increase access to legal information in remote areas
and train indigenous people in internet e-mail use and evaluate its usefulness
at that level.
There were other topics of great interest and curiosity from my perspective.
In a lighter vein but highly educational, the former Chief Justice of the
High Court of Australia and a friend of libraries, Sir Anthony Mason, reflected
on his experience as an itinerant judge in the Asia-Pacific region and
the role of libraries in Australia and the small struggling jurisdictions
of Fiji and Solomon Islands. A constitutional scholar from University of
Melbourne gave a fascinating account of the constitutional intricacies
of Australia and the then upcoming referendum. We now know that the Australians
rejected the proposal of giving up the monarchy for a republic.
A panel of librarians rounded out the meetings by presenting their views.
A law firm librarian was concerned with the trend in mergers, the academic
librarians with the proliferation of law schools (in Australia an undergraduate
degree), a court librarian was indulging his judges and a government librarian's
problem was facing budget cuts, "downsized, capsized". Those are a
few things I recall and the overall impression was that they are fighting
the same battles as librarians in most places. What impressed me was their
unqualified professionalism and confidence that, no matter what, librarians
are needed to get the job done.
With this IALL course the Australian law librarians have raised the
standards for what a meeting of this kind can be like a true learning experience
in a most delightful setting. It was a privilege to attend.
to the next article, "Education Committee Update on Accepted Programs"
to the Table of Contents