Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Gorman, Sir Eugene (Pat) (1891–1973)

by Barry O. Jones

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

Sir Eugene Gorman (1891-1973), barrister, was born on 10 April 1891 at Goornong, Victoria, eldest of three children of Patrick Gorman, a native-born storeman, and his wife Mary, née Mulcair, from Ireland. Educated at St Joseph's College, Hunters Hill, Sydney, he was articled to two Bendigo solicitors. In Melbourne on 5 May 1914 he was admitted to practise as a barrister and solicitor.

Enlisting in the Australian Imperial Force on 4 September 1915, Gorman was commissioned in June 1916 and served on the Western Front (from December) with the 22nd Battalion. At Bullecourt, France, on 3 May 1917, he led his company in an attack and, although seriously wounded, remained at his post. For these actions he was awarded the Military Cross. He was promoted temporary captain in January 1919 and his A.I.F. appointment terminated in Australia on 20 October. His book, With the Twenty-Second (1919), contained an introduction written by General Sir William (Baron) Birdwood.

On 6 September 1920 at St Patrick's Catholic Cathedral, Melbourne, Gorman married Parisian-born Marthe Vallée (d.1966), whom he had met during the war. When their son Pierre was born deaf in 1924, they devoted themselves to having him taught lip-reading in Melbourne and Paris. Pierre was to complete a doctorate at the University of Cambridge and to become an international authority on the problems of disability.

Having returned to the Bar after World War I, Gorman built up a large commercial and criminal practice, winning recognition as one of the best criminal barristers of his time. A contemporary observed: 'Gorman's quips and loudly whispered asides were sometimes as effective as his rapid and . . . musical voice, which could be threatening, terrifying, demanding, soothing, persuasive, cajoling or pleading, as the occasion required. His vocabulary was good and he enhanced it whenever he could by apt classical quotations'. He took silk in 1929.

Two years later Gorman unsuccessfully stood for the Legislative Council as an Independent for Melbourne Province. A defender of civil liberties and an opponent of censorship, he was an early supporter of the Book Censorship Abolition League, founded in 1934. He was a foundation member (1935) and vice-president of the committee of the (Australian) Council for Civil Liberties, initiated by Brian Fitzpatrick and others. An influential adviser (from 1935) to the Country Party premier (Sir) Albert Dunstan, in 1936 Gorman acted as emissary for Dunstan and persuaded Sir Thomas Blamey to resign from his post as chief commissioner of police rather than face dismissal. Largely due to Gorman's prompting, in 1944 Dunstan appointed Sir Edmund Herring chief justice of the Supreme Court of Victoria.

In 1940 Gorman offered his services as an honorary commissioner, Australian Comforts Fund, and in April sailed for the Middle East. He retired from active practice at the Bar, his reputation as Victoria's greatest trial lawyer still unchallenged, but retained rooms at Equity Chambers, Bourke Street. In December he arranged for Christmas fare to be sent forward to troops massing for the assault on Bardia, Libya, and in July 1941 he took over the Hotel Metropole in Beirut and converted it into a soldiers' club. Back in Australia in 1942, Gorman was appointed Australian consul-general for the Netherlands East Indies. Before he could take up the post, the Japanese had occupied the islands. He was then mobilized as temporary brigadier and appointed chief inspector of army administration. In 1944-45 he commanded the A.I.F. Reception Group, United Kingdom, which repatriated Australian soldiers who had been prisoners of war in Europe. Home again, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers in November 1945. Like Alf Conlon, he built up a personal network of powerful friends in business, politics, the law, charities and the armed services, and was close to Blamey.

Reflecting on Gorman's wide interests, a parish priest said: 'The law could not contain him. He was too dynamic, too restless, too versatile to be tied down to any one category. He had consuming drive and energy, charm of manner, a keen sense of humour and was brim full of ''joie de vivre"'. Honorary consul (1949-55) for Greece in Victoria, he was awarded the gold cross of the Greek Red Cross and was appointed a knight commander of the Royal Order of the Phoenix (1953). Gorman was also a successful punter and owner who raced his horses under the name 'G. Ornong'; he was a committee-member (1937-49, 1951-64) of the Victoria Racing Club and sat on its disciplinary tribunals. He was, as well, president (1948-72) of the Opportunity Youth Clubs and in 1968 of the Australian branch of International Social Service. As chairman (1956-68) of the Commonwealth Dried Fruits Export Board, he played an important role in negotiating co-operative marketing arrangements with the United States of America, Iran, Greece and Turkey. He became a director of 'Truth' and 'Sportsman' Ltd, and for many years wrote an anonymous column, 'Topical Taps', in Truth. In addition, he was Australian chairman of London Assurance, deputy-chairman of Unity Life Assurance Ltd and a director of Yellow Cabs of Australia Ltd. He invested in Preston Motors (Holdings) Ltd and in real estate, and owned a 2000-acre (809 ha) sheep farm at Rochester. His interest in primary industry had led him in 1929 to form the Primary Producers' Restoration League.

'Pat' Gorman enjoyed his status as an elder statesman in the legal profession. On several occasions he came out of retirement: at the royal commission on bribery charges in State parliament (1952), at the Petrov inquiry (1954) and to defend the racehorse trainer Harry Bird in 1969. Generous with advice to young lawyers, politicians and business people, according to his secretary he ran 'the biggest free advisory legal service in Melbourne'. In 1961-62 he took the part of a judge in a television series, 'Consider Your Verdict'. He played bridge, travelled frequently, and kept up a voluminous correspondence with friends in Australia and abroad. His dictated memoirs remain unpublished. Gorman was a 'cultural Catholic', though not a devout one.

Appointed C.B.E. in 1960, he was elevated to K.B.E. in 1966. He was deeply opposed to capital punishment, and wrote eloquently in the Herald that year against the execution of Ronald Ryan. Sir Eugene died on 19 July 1973 in East Melbourne and was cremated; his son survived him.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Hetherington, Blamey (Melb, 1954)
  • J. Hetherington, Blamey, Controversial Soldier (Canb, 1973)
  • D. Watson, Brian Fitzpatrick (Syd, 1979)
  • J. Epstein, No Music by Request (Syd, 1980)
  • S. Sayers, Ned Herring (Melb, 1980)
  • J. Sendy, Melbourne's Radical Bookshops (Melb, 1983)
  • K. Anderson, Fossil in the Sandstone (Melb, 1986)
  • Herald (Melbourne), 25 Apr 1931, 26 Aug 1942, 15 Dec 1949, 8 Sept 1953, 23 July 1954, 7 July 1966, 8 Apr 1972, 19 July 1973
  • Sun News-Pictorial (Melbourne), 20 Mar 1940, 13 Apr 1942, 11 June 1966, 13 Oct 1967, 10 Apr 1972, 20 July 1973
  • Age (Melbourne), 6 May 1941, 15 Mar 1962, 20 July 1973
  • private information.

Citation details

Barry O. Jones, 'Gorman, Sir Eugene (Pat) (1891–1973)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/gorman-sir-eugene-pat-10333/text18291, published first in hardcopy 1996, accessed online 21 December 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 14, (MUP), 1996

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