Proctor : October 2018
35 PROCTOR | October 2018 From the ashes: the Supreme Court fire of 1968 with Supreme Court Librarian David Bratchford Your library On 1 September 1968 the historic Queensland Supreme Court building was set alight by arsonist David Brooks, leaving much of the building in ruins and seriously damaging library books and portraits hanging in the Judges’ Hall. Our unique legal heritage collection contains many items from this period, and they are now on display in the library to mark the 50th anniversary of the Supreme Court fire. From the ashes: the Supreme Court fire of 1968 10 September to 21 December Free entry, weekdays from 8.30am to 4.30pm Supreme Court Library Queensland Level 12, QEII Courts of Law This curated historical showcase includes: • a clock made by renowned Brisbane clockmakers Herga & Co, which was salvaged from the ruins of the fire, and recently donated to our collection • photographs documenting the aftermath of the fire, donated to the collection by His Excellency the Hon. Paul de Jersey AC • original depositions from The Queen v David Bertram Brooks 1969 • salvaged fire-damaged law reports. From the ashes: a brief history In the early hours of a cold Brisbane morning in 1968, David Bertram Brooks – a man “sour on the world” 1 – entered the unlocked front door of Queensland’s historic Supreme Court. Resentful of the police and the justice system for his frequent arrests, Brooks made his way to the judges’ chambers and set the building alight. On his way out, he drove a knife into an associate’s desk and scribbled the note, “judge not lest you be judged sinner”. By the time the fire was brought under control, much of the building was in ruins. Many of the Supreme Court Library’s books were seriously damaged by fire, smoke and water. In the days following the fire, judges, their associates, members of the legal profession, and law students from the University of Queensland diligently searched through the charred rooms to salvage books, court records, artworks and personal effects. Only the registry could operate from the burnt building, which it did through a side window. The few judges’ chambers still safe were used to hear civil matters, and other Commonwealth courts in the city were co-opted for use. Brooks was apprehended within three days of the fire, and convicted within three months of the crime. The building’s fate took longer to resolve. It was not until 1978 that the old courts were finally demolished, and a new Supreme Court was opened in 1981. A personal recollection The Hon. Richard Chesterman AO RFD QC was a final-year law student and associate to Justice (later Chief Justice) Wanstall when news of the fire broke. His personal recollections of the fire are recorded in a 2016 Selden Society lecture. Watch a video recording of the lecture or download the paper at sclqld.org.au/selden. The Supreme Court Library Queensland maintains a unique collection of legal heritage items, which have been generously donated by members of the judiciary, the legal profession and the wider community. Our collection includes rare books, photographs and images, biographical files, oral histories, textiles and artworks. We welcome donations of legal and historical interest that help us preserve and share Queensland’s legal heritage. If you would like to donate, please email us at email@example.com or phone 07 3247 5434. Notes 1 Brooks in a statement to police, 1968. The Supreme Court building after the 1968 fire. Courtesy of and copyright the Hon. Kenneth Mackenzie. Donated to the Supreme Court Library Queensland heritage collection by his Excellency the Hon. Paul de Jersey AC.