Australian Dictionary of Biography

  • Tip: searches only the name field
  • Tip: Use double quotes to search for a phrase

Bennett, Sir Arnold Lucas (1908–1983)

by Alan Demack

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Sir Arnold Lucas Bennett (1908-1983), barrister, was born on 12 November 1908 at Toowoomba, Queensland, third of four sons of George Thomas Bennett, a Brisbane-born commission agent, and his wife Celia Juliana, née Lucas, who came from London. Donald Bennett was his younger brother. Educated at Toowoomba and Brisbane grammar schools, Arnold started work in 1927 at the Public Curator Office. He studied part time, graduating from the University of Queensland (BA, 1931) and completing the Barristers’ Board examinations in May 1932. Admitted to the Bar on 7 June that year, he commenced practice in Brisbane. On 15 December 1934 at Albert Street Methodist Church he married Marjory Ella May Williams; they had two daughters and two sons before her death in 1942.

Early in his career Bennett became a skilled jury advocate. He thoroughly prepared every brief and carefully examined every precedent and piece of evidence. This attention to detail gave him confidence in arguments or hypotheses that he advanced to the court. A notable example was his defence in the retrial, in 1939, of E. C. Helton, who had successfully appealed against his conviction the previous year for the murder of a woman who had made a will in his favour. She had died of strychnine poisoning, probably from a large dose of Alophen pills. Hypothesising that self-administration was more likely than murder, Bennett stirred forty Alophen pills into a glass of water and sipped the liquid, demonstrating to the jury that the extreme bitterness of the poison could not have been concealed, and inviting them to try it. Helton was acquitted.

On 1 November 1940 Bennett began full-time duty as a captain in the Militia. Appointed to the Australian Armoured Corps, he transferred to the Australian Imperial Force on 15 May 1941. Serving in Australia, he was promoted to major in April 1942 and posted to the 2/7th Armoured Regiment, of which he became second-in-command and, for a time, acting commanding officer. His AIF appointment terminated on 13 October 1943. He returned to his legal practice, and on 17 June 1944 at St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Brisbane, he married Nancy Margaret Mellor, a 21-year-old schoolteacher. They were to have three daughters and a son. Bennett took silk on 20 February 1947. He left his practice for two years from 1950, partly because he believed some judges showed unreasonable antagonism towards him, and went into business, mainly real estate. Commercial activities did not provide the intellectual rigour he had enjoyed at the Bar, and he returned to the law. Active in the Citizen Military Forces in 1951-­55, he served in the 2nd/14th Queensland Mounted Infantry.

From his student days Bennett had had a particular interest in constitutional law. In two articles in the Australian Law Journal (1969, 1977) he expressed concern that, over a series of decisions, the High Court of Australia had diminished the power of the States. The Queensland government regularly briefed him in constitutional cases before the High Court and the judicial committee of the Privy Council, and, after he ceased appearing in court in the early 1970s, continued to seek his advice. His last scholarly article, published in the Australian Law Journal in July 1982, dealt with proposed amendments to the Constitution.

President (1957-59) of the Bar Association of Queensland, Bennett was also chairman of the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for the State of Queensland (1957-72) and of the Barristers’ Board (1957-79), and a member of the Supreme Court library committee. He appeared before many royal commissions and conducted two inquiries on behalf of the Queensland government: into the Hendrikus Plomp rape trial (1962), and into the Brisbane City Council’s handling of applications for building and land subdivision approvals (1966-67). In later years he practised from chambers at his residence, confining his work to providing legal opinions. For over fifty years his meticulous preparation of every brief and his resolute presentation of his cases in court had encouraged high standards at the Queensland Bar.

Having joined the Rotary Club of Brisbane in 1939, Bennett served as president in 1959 and district governor in 1972-73, and wrote a history, Rotary in Queensland (1980). He was a director (1955-80) of Sanders Chemical Ltd. For over thirty years he was a devoted Methodist Sunday school superintendent. He was a total abstainer, but nevertheless he believed that life could be lived with verve and delight. At his seventieth birthday celebration, held shortly after he obtained his unrestricted private pilot’s licence, he offered to take each member of his family for a joy flight over the Gold Coast. A keen gardener, he was proud of the roses at Fairthorpe, the family home at Auchenflower, and of the avocadoes grown on his farm at Mount Tamborine. He enjoyed making home movies. Courteous but unbending in the formal atmosphere of court, he was charming, friendly and boyish when participating in the many other activities that engaged his mind and heart. He was knighted in 1975. Survived by his wife and his eight children, Sir Arnold died on 30 January 1983 at St Lucia and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • R. Johnston, History of the Queensland Bar (1979)
  • Courier-Mail (Brisbane), 3 Mar 1939, p 2, 7 Mar 1939, p 1
  • Queensland Bar News, Feb 1983, p 11, May 1999, p 10
  • series B883, item QX19190 (National Archives of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Alan Demack, 'Bennett, Sir Arnold Lucas (1908–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/bennett-sir-arnold-lucas-12193/text21861, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 14 December 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2018