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Famous Like Me > Director > W > Ronald Wilson

Profile of Ronald Wilson on Famous Like Me

Name: Ronald Wilson  
Also Know As:
Date of Birth: 2nd April 1930
Place of Birth: Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Profession: Director
From Wikipedia, the free Encyclopedia
Sir Ronald Wilson

Sir Ronald Wilson, AC , KBE , CMG , QC , LL.M , LL.B ( 23 August 1922- 15 July 2005) was born on 23 August 1922 . He was a distinguished Australian lawyer, judge and social activist serving on the High Court of Australia between 1979 and 1989 and as the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission between 1990 and 1997. He died in 2005

Wilson is probably best known as the author with Mick Dodson of the Bringing Them Home report into the Stolen Generation published in 1997 which led to the creation of a "National Sorry Day" and a walk for Reconciliation across the Sydney Harbour Bridge in 2000 with 400,000 people participating. Wilson was also one of three judges sitting on the W.A. Inc. Royal Commission in the early 1990's which eventually led to former Premier Brian Burke being jailed in March 1997.

Early life

Wilson was born in Geraldton, in Western Australia in August 1922. His early life was marked by sorrow and hardship. When he was four years old his mother died. At the age of seven his father suffered a stroke and spent the next five years in a hospice 300 miles from home. His older brother became a father figure to him and for years the family faced financial struggles. At the age of 14, these pressures forced Sir Ronald to leave school and he took his first job as a messenger with the Geraldton Local Court.

In World War II, Wilson elected to join the Royal Australian Air Force where he flew a Spitfire in defense of Britain.


After World War II, Wilson enrolled in the University of Western Australia finishing with a law degree in 1949. He later completed a Master of Laws degree at the University of Pennsylvania in 1957.

Wilson was chancellor of Murdoch University between 1980 and 1995. The Ronald Wilson Prize in Law was first awarded at that university in 1993. It is awarded to the graduate who best combines distinguished academic performance in Law units with qualities of character, leadership and all-round contribution to the life of the university.

Early Legal Career

Wilson was admitted as a barrister and solicitor in 1951. He had a rapid rise in his legal career becoming Crown Prosecutor for Western Australia in 1959, eight years after starting work as a lawyer. In 1963, he was admitted as a Queen's Counsel in 1963, the youngest ever in WA. As a prosecutor, Wilson earned the nickname of the "Avenging Angel".

In recent years, two men who he had prosecuted for murder have had their convictions overturned namely John Button for the manslaughter of his girlfriend Rosemary Anderson who was convicted in 1963 and Daryl Beamish for the 1959 murder of Jillian Brewer. Perth serial killer Eric Edgar Cooke confessed to both murders before he was hanged for murders he was convicted for.

The convictions of both men had caused concern in legal circles for some time. Professor of Jurisprudence Peter Brett wrote a short book in 1966 arguing that the Beamish case was a "monstrous miscarriage of justice. Beamish served 15 years for murder and narrowly escaped the gallows. More recently, Perth journalist Estelle Blackburn uncovered new evidence in her book Broken Lives that led the overturning of the convictions of both Beamish and Button.

In 1969, Wilson became the Solicitor-General in Western Australia. He served in that position for ten years working for both ALP and Liberal governments.

High Court Justice 1979-1989

The Fraser Government appointed Wilson to the High Court of Australia and he was the first member of the High Court from Western Australia. On the High Court, Wilson adopted a federalist position.

In the Koowarta v Bjelke-Petersen case decided in 1982, Wilson was in the minority in holding that the external affairs power in the Australian constitution applied only to relationships outside Australia. The majority of the High Court found that the treaty need only apply to issues of clear international concern. The majority Federal Parliament had the power to pass the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 as a result of Australia being a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.

In Commonwealth v Tasmania decided in 1983, the external affairs power was again the central issue. The new Hawke Government had used the external affairs power as the basis for passing legislation preventing the Tasmanian Government from building a hydro-electric dam on the Franklin River. Wilson considered that the external affairs power did not give the Federal Parliament authority to pass such legislation as it could obtain power to pass any form of legislation it wished by simply entering into a treaty with another power. Chief Justice Harry Gibbs and Daryl Dawson were the other judges joining Wilson in the dissenting judgement.

Wilson retired from the High Court in 1989.

Commissioner 1990-1997

The Hawke Government appointed Wilson as the President of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission in 1990. With Mick Dodson, the Aboriginal Social Justice Commissioner, Wilson of the National Inquiry into the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families and communities.

Wilson and Dodson visited every state in Australia over the 17-month duration of the Inquiry and heard testimony from 535 aboriginals with 600 more making submissions. Wilson wrote after the completion of the report: "In chairing the National Inquiry (...) I had to relate to hundreds of stories of personal devastation, pain and loss. It was a life-changing experience."

The Inquiry produced a report called Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families which was tabled in Federal Parliament. It found that Australia was in breach of international law, called for a national compensation fund and recommended a national "sorry day."

The report was welcomed by aboriginal Australians but widely criticised by conservatives. Anthropologist Ron Brunton said the claims of genocide were an "embellishment." Prime Minister John Howard refused to issue an apology instead stating his regret. The Parliaments of NSW, Victoria and South Australia have passed motions apologising for the treatment as has the Northern Territory parliament . The first National Sorry Day was held in 1998 and atteracted widespread participation while in 2000, 400,000 people walked across the Sydney Harbor Bridge in support of reconciliation.

Carmen Lawrence appointed Wilson as one of the three eminent jurists conducting the W.A. Inc Royal Commission. The Royal Commission was chaired by Geoffrey Kennedy and the third member was Peter Brinsden. In its 1992 report, the Royal Commission found "The commission has found conduct and practices on the part of certain persons involved in government in the period 1983 to 1989 such as to place our government system at risk." It was particularly critical of the behaviour of former Premier Brian Burke who was subsequently convicted for two years on charges of fraudulent behavior in 1994.

Church and social leadership

Throughout his life, Wilson was an active participant in first the Presbyterian Church and then the Uniting Church formed after the merger of the Presbyterians, Methodist and Congregationalist Churches in Australia . He held a range of senior positions in the Church including:

  • Moderator of Assembly, Presbyterian Church in Western Australia (1965)
  • Moderator, WA Synod, Uniting Church in Australia (1977-1979)
  • President of the Assembly, Uniting Church in Australia (1988-1991)
  • Deputy Chairperson of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (1991-1994)
  • President, Australian Chapter, World Conference on Religion and Peace (1991-1996)

Wilson was the first layperson to be the President of the Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia. He was particularly concerned with encouraging the broad Australian community to gain an understanding of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history.

In retirement, he traveled widely to Aboriginal and church events, and was an active member of a refugee education scheme near his home.


Throughout his life, Wilson was honored for his contribution to Australian society. In 1978 he was made a Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) for services to the community.

In 1979 he was made Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire (KBE) for services to the law. In 1988 Sir Ronald was made Companion in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AC) for services to the law.


Sir Ronald married Leila Smith in April 1950. They had five children and nine grandchildren.


  • National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children from their Families, Bringing Them Home: Report of the National Inquiry into the Separation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from their Families, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission Sydney 1997 ISBN 0642269548
  • Royal Commission into Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters, Report of the Royal Commission into Commercial Activities of Government and Other Matters WA Government Printer Perth Western Australia 1992 2 volumes commonly known as the W.A. Inc Royal Commission

This content from Wikipedia is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article Ronald Wilson