Whitelocke on Lawmanship
Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Beguiling pastiche of barristerial posturing … The importance of looking the part … The Velvet Salamander transforms into the Silver Canetoad … James Hutton reviews Bullstrode Whitelocke’s essential text for advocates

Whitelocke on Lawmanship is something distinctive, even unique: an intentionally comedic legal textbook.

The form is so ripe with possibility that its true authors – who remain fashionably anonymous but can easily be identified on Google – may have invented a new genre.

The book purports to be a learned treatise on “lawmanship” by eminent Sydney silk, Bullstrode Whitelocke KC.

Lawmanship is not a concept capable of satisfactory definition (the closest Mr Whitelocke gets is “effective communication executed with an aristocratic dignity no longer common in the colonies”) but it is ultimately unimportant – the real subject of Mr Whitelocke’s book is Mr Whitelocke.

Apparently, the learned author was born in 1921 in Bowral, NSW, and was a boyhood friend of Sir Donald Bradman.

He attended the Kings School, Parramatta, where he was awarded colours for “punctuation and his dedication to the fagging system” and found early distinction by reason of his insistence on the archaic spellings “shewed” and “connexion”.

He proceeded, inevitably, to the NSW bar. There he became known as the “the Velvet Salamander” by dint of his “cunning, patience, and flamboyant garmentry”.

Sometime in the 1970s (chronological order is not one of his strengths) he appointed himself KC – rather than QC – on the basis that it had been “widely, and correctly, acknowledged that his achievements prior to King George V’s death had already warranted his elevation to that rank”.

His practice appears to have been evenly divided between the High Court of Australia, the Refugee Review Tribunal (where he took special pleasure dispatching unrepresented litigants) and the Dust Diseases Tribunal.

Despite copious statistical demonstrations of his success as an advocate (each triumphant graph “adjusted for errors of fact and law”) his talents do not appear to extend beyond an ability to lock his knees and so stand for days at a stretch, circular breathing, and a genius for distraction (including the patented “Whitelocke drop”).

Mr Whitelocke is at once magnificent and shabby. He is a vainglorious, name-dropping, self-referencing snob.

Yet he is so desperate for his readers’ admiration, so blatant and ingenious in his exaggerations and outright lies, so expansive in his range of historical, sporting and cultural references, and so proud of his dazzling array of cheap courtroom tricks that it becomes hard not to feel some perverse affection for him.

There is no better way to get the flavour of this unusual work than to set out a few passages. These are from the first substantive chapter, “How to Project Yourself: Image is Everything”:

“For men aspiring to greatness, the importance of a pleasant countenance is not a new development. Looks have been an important aspect of advocacy and persuasion since the birth of Julian of Norwich in 1342 at which time man first became able to discern the pleasant from the repulsive. Indeed, the great persuader himself, Heraclitus, was considered almost supernaturally handsome.”

Whitelocke explains that his natural good looks have not made him complacent:

“I was lucky enough to begin greying around the temples at age seventeen (17), and, indeed, in my halcyon days, was known as the “Silver Canetoad” around the Union Club. I am now blessed with probably the thickest head of hair of any octogenarian in Australia. But rest on my profuse, hoary laurels I do not: I continue to strive for perfection. Through dedication and the constant application of lemon juice and a curling iron, I have managed to train my hair to grow in the colour, texture and style of a judicial wig. This natural hairpiece gives me around-the-clock gravitas, whether I am drafting, hunting or even just visiting the corner store.”

And he warns against conventional anti-ageing treatments:

“As our friends in the Orient have discovered, age is strongly correlated with wisdom. Like fine wine and Mr Bing Lee, the modern lawman benefits from the depth, interest and character that age provides. I implore you to do what you can to prematurely age your face. Ian (Molly) Meldrum used to spend long hours in front of industrial grade heaters, periodically basting his face with a tonic of ammonia and basil pesto, to obvious effect. His inexorable rise in the face of a manifest lack of talent and suspected communist sympathies should be all the proof you need…”

And so Whitelocke goes on for 15 surprisingly well-sustained chapters, covering philanthropy, conversation, preparation, courtroom tactics, disruption (in and out of court), the written word and politics.

There is also a bizarre chapter titled “Dealing with Juniors, Solicitors and Inferiors Generally” where the reader is introduced to Tron J a computer simulated judge invented by the author and “programmed to deal out the withering personal criticisms necessary to prepare an aspiring lawman for his first appearance in a real courtroom”.

I found myself laughing to the point of pain when reading this book.

The subject-matter means it is unlikely to have much immediate appeal except to legal practitioners, academic lawyers and law students.

That is a shame because the humour is driven by Bullstrode’s Falstaffian personality and, based on a carefully controlled series of experiments carried out in my living room over the last few months, is appreciated by people without any particular training or interest in the law.

The tome is not without faults. Parts of it are dominated by undergraduate humour and it contains some errors that cannot be explained away by the unreliable narrator.

The last chapter, which covers Whitelocke’s time as senator for the Northern Territory, is comparatively flaccid (no doubt because, as he freely admits, it was “dictated but not read”) and, in my opinion, the deliberately amateurish pictures do not do justice to the genius of the text and should have been left out.

But these are minor irritations. The humour is prolific and at times attains a rare level of invention.

I am unlikely to forget Bullstrode’s “First Rule of Participative Conversation” or his retelling of the story of King Solomon and the two mothers.

The book is available at a very reasonable price on Amazon and Whitelocke even has his own website.

For lawyers and non-lawyers alike who are, as it has been put, “burdened with a sense of humour”, this book will provide hours of enjoyment.


Bullstrode Whitelocke KC, Whitelocke On Lawmanship (3rd edition), 2009, Gordon/Abbot Publishing, 171 pages.

Article originally appeared on Justinian: Australian legal magazine. News on lawyers and the law (http://justinian.com.au/).
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