Frank Glynn Connolly Obituary
Frank Glynn Connolly was one of the great characters of the post-war Bar. Although he was not called until he was 33, he remained in practice for nearly six decades. In 1949 he was one of 70 practising barristers; today there are 900. Through these changes, he would remain, in the words of his old friend Sir Gerard Brennan, “true to his vision of the Bar as the defender of individual rights.” He was not only a well-known advocate but a devoted family man, a passionate poet, an abiding Catholic, and a popular colleague and confidant.
Francis (always Frank) was the elder son of Dr Francis Glynn Connolly and Mary Louise Earwaker; born at home at Wombah, in Racecourse Road, Hamilton on 23 January 1916. Frank’s great-grandfather, John Connolly, had emigrated from Ireland in 1842, settled in the Gayndah district and married Mary Glynn. He was educated at St Margaret’s Preparatory School, attached to St Augustine’s Church, next door. At eleven, he was already a performer – at the 3rd Annual Prize Distribution he played the Sandman, the Wolf, and sang ‘The Ti-Tree’. St Joseph’s College, Gregory Terrace followed.
At the University of Queensland, he was an inter-varsity debater and attained a BA with first class honours in English. In 1938 he went to England to write plays. On the boat he read the work of T S Eliot for the first time and poetry became a life-long passion. He met the great poet and shared some of his poetry with him. Eliot suggested he try prose first but, never defeated nor deflected, Frank continued to write for the rest of his life. As his daughter, Carolyn, recalled, he read deeply and had an extensive library but, for Frank, only two women could write – Jane Austen and Sappho – and a single Australian, Patrick White. Frank’s style was Tennysonian – romantic, idealistic, utterly uncontemporary, often inspired by myth - the Grail, Helen of Troy, Psyche and Cupid. His great aim was to give his poetry a musical quality and, though he never published his output, a friend of thirty years with whom he shared a love of the art, felt he achieved this.
Any observation on Frank’s facility for language must encompass his mastery of the expletive. Though not ‘in company’ (his much-loved wife found it neither clever nor funny) and never in Court, no one deployed the expletive with such polish, aplomb and profusion as Frank.
Frank returned to Brisbane after his health broke down just before the war. In January 1941 he enlisted in the Australian Army and served in coastal defence in New Guinea. When the British Army called for volunteers, he transferred to the Durham Light Infantry with whom he fought in India and Malaysia and attained the rank of Captain.
On 29 February 1942 at St Agatha’s Catholic Church, Clayfield, he married Mary Blair De Burgh Persse of Wyambyn, Beaudesert, after eloping – as her Anglican parents and his Catholic parents discussed whether they would be married in her family church or in his cathedral. During the war he wrote his MA thesis, on Eliot, ‘by the light of the moon’.
After the war Frank followed his father into medicine, but after a year’s study he switched to law, following his uncle, Hugh Glynn Connolly, of counsel and later a partner of Suthers Connolly, Townsville (subsequently Connolly, Suthers and Walker). Frank was called to the Bar on 15 February 1949, signing the roll just below his great friend and another memorable character of the criminal Bar, Colin Bennett.
Frank read, at first, in the chambers in the old Old Inns of Court in Adelaide Street of Rex King (later QC). It was King, Frank claimed, who taught him to swear. In response to a letter from Frank’s mother in May 1948 (promising not to tell Frank that she had written), Mr King wrote, "He has a most engaging and pleasing manner but lacks as yet something of maturity and self-reliance: these qualities I have no doubt will be added unto him and you may be sure that it will be my constant aim to aid nature and the effluxion of time in adding them. He talks well, is industrious and systematic in his work and possesses a genial enthusiasm which, with a little more maturity, should carry him a long way." This enthusiasm never dimmed.
Every era makes legends of its predecessors but the Bar in the late forties and fifties had more than its share of characters. The outstanding criminal advocate of his time, Dan Casey, had chambers beside King's. Octavius (Octy) North, (father of the Northern Judge and North, SC) was a colleague and friend; as were Kennedy Allen and Vince Fogarty. Ten months after Frank’s admission, his brilliant irascible cousin, Peter Connolly, was admitted to practice and his career was a source of pride for Frank. The Power family, a formidable legal dynasty in its time, were also cousins.
Frank refused, on religious grounds, to accept divorce briefs, which succoured most of the Junior Bar, but he appeared in maintenance actions. Frank must have been good copy throughout his career. The Courier-Mail's court reporter reported one exchange, "Wife to Mr F Connolly, barrister in Summons Court maintenance action, "I agreed to him sailing on these coastal vessels, but not to him having a girl in every port."
Frank became a keen defence lawyer; most of his work was criminal. In an affectionate tribute on the fiftieth anniversary of Frank’s admission, James Crowley QC, recounted an early meeting between Dan Casey and Frank, seeking advice in advance of a trial. Casey advised that the first thing was to fully consider all the facts. Frank had done that. “Next, you must know the law thoroughly.” Frank had done that too. “Well if you’ve covered the facts and the law, how can I help you?” “Oh,” replied Frank, “I wanted you to fill me in on the bullshit.”
His practice also encompassed some civil work. For almost thirty years he appeared before the Medical Assessment Tribunal on behalf of the Medical Board. He was also often engaged as counsel in building disputes. But his real area of expertise was crime. Over the decades he represented men charged with rape and women suspected of murder; he defended thousands of Queenslanders from the Gold Coast's Spiderman burglar to bottom-of-the-harbour's Brian Maher. As an advocate, he was meticulous, exuberant, and persistent – to the exasperation of his opposing counsel and sometimes his judge. His turn of phrase appealed to juries. Defending Maher, he told the jury that the tax man had had a bad name since Palestine 2000 years ago and that tax evasion had become a national sport. A Crown witness “couldn’t lie straight in bed” and “couldn’t be believed if he sold ice creams in hell”. He had the gift of making his jury laugh. Yet they also grasped the passionate intensity of Frank’s belief in his client.
Frank would go to impressive lengths in pursuit of a defence. He once had a doctor friend take plaster casts of the offending, distended appendages of two clients charged with sexual assault to establish that the offence could not have been performed simultaneously. Frank took the casts in his case to Court, determined to tender them; only to be dissuaded by his fellow defence counsel.
All his geese were swans and often his interest and concern would not end at their sentencing. He proudly displayed on the walls of his chambers the art of one of his clients who had taken up painting in jail. One of Frank's celebrated cases was R v Tonkin & Montgomery  Qd R 1, in which he succeeded in having Karen Tonkin’s conviction for murder reduced to manslaughter on the basis of diminished responsibility. And, typically, he stayed in touch with her while she was in Wolston Park. "How is Kaaren?" he would always ask as officers the Public Defender returned from a visit. And his concern continued after her release.
Frank also developed a practice in the Northern Territory and was at least twice offered an appointment to the Supreme Court of the Territory but life on the bench was not for him.
His Faith was, with his family, central to his life. The family motto – En Dieu est tout – was so apposite. A regular worshipper at St Stephen’s Cathedral, he would often arrange for people in strife, referred to him by the clergy, to be granted public defence, or would otherwise have a solicitor friend brief him, with both doing the job pro bono.
The St Vincent de Paul Society, of which he was a dedicated member, was also a source of work he did gratis. He would make weekly lunch time visits to men in various boarding houses around the City, Valley and Spring Hill areas, where he would listen to their plight, arrange for the delivery of any household goods they might need and to hand out vouchers redeemable at a major chain store. On one occasion the store refused to provide tobacco and papers for a voucher – only food. A furious Frank sought out the manager and blasted him; finishing (minus a few expletives) with, “They might be poor but there’s no need to treat them poorly.”
In a letter to The Catholic Leader, defending his friend, John Bathersby, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, after some reactionary Churchmen complained to Rome about His Grace's support for the Vatican II innovation - General Absolution, Frank exhibited not just his eloquence, his knowledge of history and love for his Church, but the importance of friendship. He wrote, "I am a Catholic. My mother was an Anglican as was my late beloved wife and I have seen intimately the splendid way of Christian life in that part of our divided Christian Church." He ended his letter, "But above all, let us respect our pastor. We are blessed with an archbishop of great goodness and wisdom. He is the one endowed by the Spirit of God to be our guide. It is sad that he should be undermined by those in his care who, like unruly sons, rebel against the guidance of their father."
Writing to an old friend a few weeks before his 80th birthday, Frank confessed, "Getting a bit slower but still fighting fit. I do a lot of Legal Aid work now - criminal cases. The law is becoming too complicated for the problems of this crazy age. Socrates the greatest Greek philosopher said the law can't make people behave. It's a moral problem - how to treat people decently.” And he finishes in characteristic style, "Well, you were always a man of few words. So I'd better stop now. Mary always told me, "You talk too much." But I told her that was my profession."
In January 2006, on the eve of his 90th birthday, he retired from criminal trials but for another eight years, he continued to care for his family, practice and defend his Faith, and polish his poetry.
His beloved wife Mary whom he nursed, then visited daily, through a long illness, died in 1995. His eldest daughter, Diana, whom he also cared for during her battle with motor neurone disease, died in 2008. He is survived by two daughters, Carolyn and Marina, and their children, who were with him when he died on 29 June.
Frank Glynn Connolly was a mighty man.
2 August 2014
[This is a revised version of the obituary that was published in The Courier-Mail on 1 August 2014 – Ed.]