Learned 'white pointer' determinedly pursued justice




8-2-1919 12-5-2012


WILLIAM "Bill" Kaye, whose outstanding career in law spanned almost 45 years and included 19 years as a justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria, has died at his home in Kew. He was 93.

A man of outstanding intellect, immense courage and limitless emotional strength, he achieved much in several facets of his long and fulfilling life.

Early on in his legal career, he developed a reputation as a powerful advocate and as a fierce and relentless cross-examiner, which earned him the nickname "the white pointer".

As a leader of the Victorian bar he was appointed Queen's Counsel in August 1962 Bill was involved in a number of prominent inquiries. In 1969, he was counsel assisting the marine inquiry into the burning of the Western Spruce at Port Welshpool. In 1970, he was appointed to the board of inquiry into allegations of corruption by police in connection with abortion.

And in 1971, Bill represented John Holland and Co as its leading counsel in the royal commission into the collapse of the West Gate Bridge.

Despite his busy practice, he found time to provide considerable service to the Victorian bar. He was a member of the Bar Council for six years, on which he served, successively, as chairman of the ethics committee, vice-chairman and then chairman. He was also president of the Australian Bar Association for two years, an executive member of the Law Council of Australia for two years, and a director and deputy chairman of Barristers' Chambers Limited. He was also a member of the founding committee of the faculty of law at Monash University, and from 1970 to 1972 served as chairman of the proctorial board of La Trobe University.

In March 1972, Bill was appointed the 51st Supreme Court justice in Victoria the first Jewish judge in the court's then 121-year history.

The youngest of four children, Bill was born in Melbourne to Anna Rosa and Zelman, who had arrived in Australia from Brejansk, in Ukraine, in 1913.

He was always conscious of his family's origins, particularly their struggle and sacrifices. It instilled in him a deep appreciation of Australia, and of its tolerant and democratic society.

He was educated at Kew Primary School, Scotch College, and Melbourne University, where he was an active member of the Students Representative Council, and an editor of Farago newspaper.

The start of World War II interrupted Bill's arts-law studies at university, and he enlisted in the Royal Australian Navy. He served on the sloop HMAS Warrego, escorting convoys to and from Papua New Guinea, and in mine-sweeping duties around New Guinea, New Britain and the east coast of Australia. Following anti-submarine training and with the rank of lieutenant, he joined the corvette HMAS Cowra as it conducted anti-submarine operations in the south-west Pacific.

While on leave in May 1943, Bill married Henrietta Ellinson a devoted union that was to last almost 69 years.

Towards the end of the war, he completed his law studies while still serving and sat his final law exams at the naval base at Rushcutters Bay in late 1945. He was demobilised in February 1946. Having completed his articles, Bill was admitted to practice in October 1946, and three days later signed the bar roll. He rapidly developed a large practice as an all-rounder, and frequently appeared in common law cases as well as in significant criminal trials and large commercial cases.

Bill never forgot his wartime comrades and their families and became active in working for "Carry On", supporting the families of returning servicemen.

When Bill became a judge, he set for himself the highest standards, and took enormous care in his judgments a number of which have stood the test of time, and are regularly cited in court. In his later years on the court, he was a regular member of the Full Court and of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Bill had a deep appreciation of, and commitment to, upholding the role of the Supreme Court in our system of justice, and in our democratic society. In the farewell speech to him in 1991, the chairman of the Bar Council, Charles Francis, described him as follows: "Dignified, humane, hard working and learned, with the strong determination to achieve justice."

Bill was proud of his Jewish faith and of its history and tradition, and was a member of the International Association of Jewish Lawyers and Jurists with Britain's Lord Woolf, he was an honorary deputy president.

Bill's identity as an Australian and a Jew, and his strong ties with the state of Israel, was seamless. He admired Israel's achievement in forging, from the ashes of the Holocaust, the sole democracy in a dangerous and violent neighbourhood.

He was chairman of the trustees of the fund for the future of Temple Beth Israel, and he was a long-standing member of the Victorian Association of Jewish Ex-Servicemen and Women. In 2003, he was elected a life member of the association for distinguished services. He regularly attended Anzac Day services at the Shrine of Remembrance as the guest of the late Bruce Ruxton, then president of the RSL.

In retirement, Bill was involved in service to the broader community, including being a member of the advisory board of the RSPCA, from 1992 to 2000, and was made a life member.

His principal work, however, was interfaith, where he helped build bridges in the Australian community. He was the chairman (1991-99) of the executive committee of the Victorian Council of Christians and Jews. During his time as chairman, the council published two major works Guidelines, Rightly Explaining the Word of Truth, and Celebrating the first Ten Years.

He was greatly assisted by members of the order of the Sisters of Sion, with whom he formed great lasting friendships, especially the honorary secretary, Sister Mary Lotton.

In 1996, Bill was presented with the Philia Award by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, in recognition of his contribution to interfaith relations.

His contribution to his country, to the law and to the community was recognised in 1990 when he was made an officer of the Order of Australia.

For many decades, he was a keen golfer and long-standing member of Green Acres Golf Club. In 1970, he bought a farm at Main Ridge, near Western Port bay, which he cleared, fenced and stocked with Black Angus cattle carefully balancing the impact of farming against the preservation of the environment. He fenced off large stands of trees and bush, which remain thriving habitats for the native wildlife, including kangaroos and wallabies, koalas and echidnas.

Bill, who remained active until the last 15 months of his life, is survived by his wife, Henrietta, daughter, Dina, sons, Andrew, Stephen and John, seven grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren.

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