By Paul Dobbyn
MUCH can be learnt about Queensland’s newest Supreme Court judge, John Bond by reading his swearing-in ceremony speech delivered in March this year.
There’s his unabashed recognition of his wife Rowena McNally “without whose love and support I would be nothing … I thank God every day for her presence in my life”.
Then there’s his gratitude to his parents, appreciation for the contribution Catholic education has made to his life, and for the mentoring from various people including High Court Judge Sir Gerard Brennan.
His partiality to the extreme sport of dog sledding in Alaska is among the more surprising bits of information.
So are there any parallels between his new role administering justice and dog sledding?
It seems a clever enough question to ask the recently appointed judge in his chambers on a beautiful clear late May day, high above Brisbane’s bustling George Street.
“No connections I can think of and that’s why I love it,” the Old Boy of various Catholic schools through the Brigidine Sisters at Kenmore, Marists in Fiji, and Christian Brothers at Nudgee Junior and Senior quickly replies.
“Out in those remote parts, the difference from the usual routine is so refreshing, so attractive.
“My last trip was about two years ago for about 12 days … I’ve done about half a dozen trips to Alaska so far.
“It gets to 50 or 60 degrees below zero, but I love the peace and emptiness there … no other human being for maybe 500 miles (800km); it’s fantastic.”
John’s choice of this challenging form of recreation captures something else in his makeup – that certain resilience a Supreme Court judge must possess, contemplating and adjudicating the worst extremes of human behaviour.
We return to “the love of his life” mentioned in his swearing-in speech.
John had been a barrister for about five years when he met his wife-to-be, who was then working at Feez Ruthning solicitors which eventually became Allens.
“Rowena was leaving the firm to work in-house with one of its major clients and had a big case which she wanted to leave in good hands,” he said.
“She asked who would be a good aggressive barrister to do the case and got my name from somewhere.
“We met when she briefed me, but we didn’t start seeing each other until well after that.
“Eventually we were married in St Stephen’s Cathedral which has now become our parish since we moved into the city from Brookfield.
“I might add, none of this would be worth doing without Rowena.
“You can’t get anywhere without a good partner in life … she’s been that partner since 1993 and, God willing, she’ll see me through.”
John’s Catholic faith is also integral to his life.
“When I heard about this interview, I had a bit of a think about what my faith has meant to me,” he said.
“It’s taught me to count my blessings … and there are many.
“I’ve learnt humility: I’m as flawed as everyone else is … I don’t regard myself as better than anyone else.
“My faith has challenged and informed me to know I’m not nearly as good as I ought to be.
“Any time I’ve lapsed in the practice of my faith, God’s found ways of saying: ‘Hey, you, get back in there!’”
Receiving the honour of becoming a Supreme Court judge has been “humbling”.
“I don’t feel self-satisfied, thinking: ‘Oh, I’ve succeeded in my profession and become a judge …wonderful me’,” John said.
“No, this just means I’ve got a different job and I’ve got to do that as best I can.
“You have to be humble … if you’ve had the talents to succeed it’s not necessarily anything intrinsically wonderful about you.
“It’s because God gave you those gifts and gave you opportunities via your parents and others to exploit them.
“My view is there’s probably plenty of people who might well have been just as capable as me of achieving success but who unfortunately didn’t get the opportunity.
“For example, they didn’t have parents who could afford to give them a good education … all sorts of reasons.”
Justice Bond was born in Southport and grew up in Brisbane “for the most part”.
“Dad was a civil engineer and Mum was a librarian,” he said.
“We moved to Brisbane when I was five and I went to Our Lady of the Rosary at Kenmore from Grades 1-3 followed by some time at Nudgee Junior.
“We went to live in Fiji where I attended a Marist Mission School for nine months, which was really cool.
“Then it was back to Brisbane, finishing primary school at Nudgee Junior and then on to Nudgee Senior before going to the University of Queensland.
“It was good to have such an amount of Catholic education; it meant I got properly formed.”
The calling to legal life was “pretty much always there” since Grade 5.
As a young lad, John wasn’t sure what such a career would mean.
At one point he even thought about a career as a merchant banker – “I didn’t know what they did, but it sounded fun and a bit adventurous”.
“But I was good at debating and some people told me that’s what the law was like, so it was pretty much always going to be that,” he said.
“A lot of friends have said to me: ‘Bondy, you’re just lucky; you’ve done what you always wanted to do; been good at it, been successful at it; there’s not many people who are that lucky’.
“I agree. I didn’t have a crisis when I was 17 or whatever, wondering what I was going to do.
“As I say, I count my blessings, and that’s one of them, a really big one.”
What does John want to achieve in his time as a judge?
“I want to do a good job for 15 years and retire at the statutory age of 70 – God willing I’ll serve till then,” he said.
“It’s pretty exciting and terrifying to be selected.
“I’ve already presided over two full criminal trials – a murder trial and a drugs importation trial – as well as three civil trials and several sentences.
“The murder trial was all new to me; I hadn’t practised in criminal law so there was a lot of preparation.”
Once the interview’s finished, his plans are to get stuck into some more work before heading home to don his Maroon shirt, open a beer with his beloved Rowena and watch the latest State of Origin match.
During a final skim through his swearing-in speech, I come across John’s tribute to High Court Judge Sir Gerard Brennan (father to Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan).
“At some time during my first year as an employed solicitor at [Morris Fletcher & Cross] I applied for the position of associate to Sir Gerard Brennan at the High Court,” John’s speech read.
“His Honour’s generosity in offering me the position and in giving me his time during the period I worked for him has been singularly influential in my career.
“He is a great man and was a great judge and he taught me a lot.”
So what was one great lesson learnt from Sir Gerard?
“Personally I learnt that there was nothing wrong with an old married man holding his wife’s hand in public,” John said after a thoughtful pause.
“I used to think, isn’t that nice.
“So Rowena and I, we always hold hands; that’s how we are.”