THE MACKAY BAR – ‘Mid North/Central Queensland’
Mackay is a major coastal provincial city. It is a commercial and industrial hub for the mining, sugarcane and agricultural industries of Central Queensland. The city has a population of about 125,000 souls. It is a thriving and picturesque locale.
I have heard it said that Mackay is too far south to be part of North Queensland and too far north to be part of Central Queensland. This geographic limbo found its way into the legal system with Mackay caught between the northern and central registries. Despite that, and the fact Mackay has never had a permanent superior court judge, it has long boasted a strong and dynamic bar.
The Mackay bar was established by Trevor Morgan in 1984. He developed a broad practice with an emphasis on civil litigation. Trevor – who was never hard to spot on the streets of Mackay other than in an immaculate tailored suit and bow tie – was joined at the bar in 1986 by Jerome Dowling. He too developed a broad practice. Jerome enjoyed a long and successful career at the bar despite the difficulties of living with multiple sclerosis.
Trevor left the bar in 1988 in order to work as a solicitor at a local firm. At around that time John Aberdeen set up at the bar in Mackay. John, a former police officer, quickly developed a strong criminal law practice. He remained at the bar until 2002 when he took up a role as a solicitor in the local Legal Aid office. In more recent times, John has worked as counsel assisting the central coroner (based in Mackay).
David Haigh briefly had a stint at the bar in Mackay in the late 1980s. David, a renowned environmentalist, moved to Townsville and worked as a legal academic at James Cook University.
Damien Dwyer joined the Mackay bar in 1990 after working in various courthouse registries around the state. Damien – who had a large criminal law practice – certainly had a way with juries. It certainly was not because he bombarded them with recitations of law. In 2004 Damien was appointed to the Magistrates Court. Apart from a brief period immediately following his appointment, Damien has presided for the entirety of that period in Mackay. He is truly a Mackay fixture!
Brian Harrison joined the Mackay bar in 1991. Many words spring to mind when I think of Brian; laconic and inscrutable are not among them. Brian came from a criminal law background, however, he branched off into personal injuries at the Mackay bar. It is not overstating matters to say that he developed one of the largest personal injuries practices in Queensland by the 2000s. Ultimately appointed to the District Court of Queensland at Cairns in 2010.
Several other barristers briefly practised at the Mackay bar in the early 1990s. They were Michael Whitten and Elizabeth Hall. Michael moved on to Victoria and forged a successful career at the bar. Indeed, he was appointed Lord Chief Justice of Tonga and President of the Tongan Court of Appeal in 2019. Elizabeth’s stint at the bar was unfortunately far too brief due to health difficulties.
Trevor Morgan returned to the Mackay bar in 1995. He quickly resurrected his civil practice and remained in Mackay until 2001 when he relocated to Brisbane. Shortly thereafter he was appointed to the Magistrates Court of Queensland.
Several others joined the Mackay bar in the late 1990s, namely Peter Land and David Strutynski. Peter had, by that time, been a barrister in Brisbane (and before that Townsville) for many years. He recognised the opportunities available in Mackay and relocated. He practised in the civil jurisdiction in Mackay before entering semi-retirement in Sydney.
David did not stay at the bar for very long. He did, however, enjoy a long and successful career as a solicitor in Mackay. This included a period as the principal of a firm.
I joined the bar in Mackay in 2001. I have happily remained here since. I took silk in 2018. I conduct a general civil practice.
At or about the same time as I commenced practice, so too did Rodney Clark. He had worked locally as a solicitor for a number of years prior to that. His career at the Mackay bar was brief as he transferred to Southeast Queensland.
Bronwyn Hartigan and Geoff Stenson commenced at the bar at Mackay shortly after me. Bronwyn – who can only be described as a force of nature – was a mainstay of the Mackay bar for some 15 years. She enjoyed a very successful criminal law practice. She introduced to chambers a “chamber dog”, to the delight of visiting lawyers and clients. Bronwyn was appointed to the Magistrates Court in 2019. Apart from a brief period immediately following her appointment, she has presided since in Mackay.
Geoff was well known to the Mackay legal fraternity for many years by the time he set up at the bar. He had been a solicitor of note, including as a principal of Barry Beaverson & Stenson.
Scott McLennan and Phillip Moore joined the Mackay bar in 2010. Scott is a Mackay boy. He returned to Mackay from Brisbane in order to establish a practice at the private bar. The move quickly paid dividends. He has a very large practice, primarily in criminal law. Indeed, he harbours the lion’s share of criminal law matters in the superior courts which frequently circuit to Mackay.
Phillip’s stay at the bar was all too brief. He remains, however, a valued member of the Mackay legal fraternity as he works with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.
In more recent times, there has been a turnover at the Mackay bar for one reason or another. Practitioners such as Stephen Byrne, Matthew Heelan and Laura Burrows have come and gone. Each remains connected to the Mackay legal fraternity in different roles.
Mackay has been, and remains, an important regional bar. I commend it to any legal practitioner who may be looking for a career at the bar. Come join us in “mid-north/central” Queensland.