I only have one brother, and last week we went on a road trip. He uses his retirement to repair and service wind instruments, everything from huge tubas to tiny piccolos. Instead of engaging a trucking company, he chooses to deliver the instruments personally to the many schools, bands and conservatories of music. And, not unlike the piano tuner that plays a piece or two to celebrate his work, my brother has many old people’s homes that he calls in to play for the residents. With a fine sound system and classic pieces to accompany him, he plays his tuba, and according to the supervisor that welcomed us, its deep resonating sound somehow calms and appeals to the residents like nothing else. His repertoire is wide and on this occasion it included Ave Maria. I was surprised at the staff recording, not my brother and his tuba, but an old man in a wheelchair singing along. We learned later that the old man has been mute for years, but the power of the music transported him to another country and another time – he sang the entire piece in Latin.
My brother had a law practice, the only one in Balranald, far west NSW. And driving those vast distances to towns like Hay and West Wyalong, he gave a running commentary of stations changing hands, pointed out homesteads where he helped elderly clients put complex wills in place, court houses where magistrates adjourned proceedings to suggest a struggling defendant without counsel talk with Mr Edmunds for some advice. Pro bono of course. And before you think privileged up-bringing showing some easily afforded charity to the battlers, let me point out some backstory.
You see my brother left school early to take an apprenticeship in something that, if you know what it was, you are showing your age. A time when the insides of electric motors were stripped of their miles of wires and re-wound. A tedious and time consuming task that was taken for granted in an age when things were fixed instead of replaced. And like most of his mechanically-tasked peers, motorbikes and cars summed up his interests. Well, not exactly, his parents still insisted he take piano lessons, an activity he kept concealed from his mates. Then something happened, and I was with him when it did. Returning from a weekend away late at night just over a crest stood two black angus cows. We killed them both, and his highly modified pride and joy was a write-off.
It changed him. It was a change that gave him a new direction for his life. He moved from the workshop to a law office across the street. And there he met a lawyer whose life trajectory took him from a bakery to an acclaimed concert pianist, then moving into law late in life. This man became a mentor, and my brother began the slow process – read more than twenty years – of becoming qualified to practice law, all by correspondence study fitted around full-time work and raising a young family. Not online learning, this consisted of reams of notes requiring detailed responses, a course set and assessed by retired lawyers. And exams with upwards of 75% pass required. He failed many, including one notoriously difficult subject three times, meaning his entire work thus far would be lost for regulations prevented him attempting it again. His mentor had some influence and managed to have that requirement waived to allow a re-sit. He passed, and sometime later Dad, Mum, and us four kids went to Martin Place in Sydney to see him admitted to the bar as a barrister. It was a big deal for us.
On our road-trip we passed the old building in Hay where the NSW Law Society have their bi-annual meetings. When my brother retired the president of the society said a few words for the occasion. He said that “If one was looking for a lawyer that would ‘go for the jugular’ and not let go, there are several members that come to mind, but our colleague here is not one of them.” “If however you were in deep trouble and your only chance of staying out of jail was advocacy of the highest order, this man has no equal.” What a tribute.
About mid-way across the Hay Plains I asked him what triggered his passion for law, what kept him on track for so long without giving up. Without hesitation he replied “Remember when we studied To Kill a Mockingbird at school – I’m Atticus Finch”. The similarity is striking, for this tall self-effacing lawyer provided the only legal service over a wide area of western NSW. He told me he didn’t win many cases “because I didn’t have many innocent people, but I made a lot of friends and kept people out of jail”. Like Atticus, he was too modest to refer to the many indigenous people in that vast area that did not die in custody because they had an Atticus Finch.
As I said, I only have one brother, but a fine one indeed.