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Joske, Sir Percy Ernest (1895–1981)

by Jolyon Horner

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

Sir Percy Ernest Joske (1895-1981), politician and judge, was born on 5 October 1895 at Albert Park, Melbourne, youngest of three children of Ernest Joske, a German-born solicitor, and his Victorian-born wife Evalyne, née Richards. Evalyne died giving birth to him and Ernest remarried in 1898. Percy was educated at Wesley College, where he formed a lifelong friendship with (Sir) Robert Menzies and at the University of Melbourne (LL B, 1915; LL M, 1918; BA, 1921; MA, 1923), winning the (Sir) John Madden exhibition and graduating with first-class honours. He signed the Bar roll on 25 June 1917.

Specialising in matrimonial law, Joske acquired an extensive and varied practice. He was a prolific author of legal textbooks, publishing The Remuneration of Commission Agents (with Alan S. Lloyd, 1924), The Law of Marriage and Divorce (1925), The Law and Procedure at Meetings of Councils (1925), The Law and Principles of Insurance in Australasia (1933), The Law and Procedure at Meetings in Australia and New Zealand (1938) and Sale of Goods in Australia (1949). On 12 January 1928 at the Methodist Church, Highbury Grove, Kew, he married Hilda Mavis Connell, a teacher of music. From 1936 to 1956 he edited the Victorian Law Reports. Succeeding his father as registrar of the Dental Board of Victoria in 1940, he was to hold the position until 1957. On 16 October 1944 he took silk. He lectured part time in dental jurisprudence at the Australian College of Dentistry and in the law of domestic relations at the University of Melbourne.

Having stood unsuccessfully as an Independent Liberal and Country Party candidate for the Legislative Council seat of Monash in June 1949, Joske succeeded (Sir) Thomas Walter White to the safe Liberal seat of Balaclava in the House of Representatives at a by-election on 28 July 1951. The Sun-Herald described him as a `fluent debater’, although his `thin voice’ was `sometimes lost in House debates’. He was a member of various parliamentary committees, an Australian delegate (1955) to the tenth session of the General Assembly of the United Nations in New York, a councillor (1956-60) of the Australian National University and chairman (1959-60) of the Commonwealth Immigration Planning Council.

A keen advocate of uniform divorce law in Australia, Joske pressed the government to introduce a Federal divorce bill. He drafted a private member’s bill, passed as the Matrimonial Causes Act (1955), which enabled married women to institute divorce proceedings in the State or Territory of their residence. In 1957 he introduced, again as a private member, a comprehensive measure that dealt with the grounds of divorce as well as with questions of jurisdiction. The bill was vigorously debated; (Sir) Howard Beale led the campaign against it on the grounds that it was too narrow and conservative. Eventually it was replaced by a government bill that became law as the Matrimonial Causes Act (1959). The attorney-general, Sir Garfield Barwick, acknowledged a `great debt’ to Joske’s efforts, which made the uniform divorce legislation possible.

On 3 June 1960 Joske was appointed a judge of the Commonwealth (Australian) Industrial Court. He also served as a judge of the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory (from 1960), of the Northern Territory (from 1961) and of Norfolk Island (from 1966). He worked regularly in the Supreme Court in Canberra, but in the early 1970s became involved in a series of `often-spectacular exchanges’ with counsel who `disliked his interventionist technique’ on the bench. Continuing to write on a wide range of legal subjects, he published The Law of Partnership in Australia and New Zealand (1957), Australian Federal Government (1967) and Family Law (1976), as well as numerous new editions of his previous works. In 1977 the Australian Law Journal declared that, apart from Herbert Evatt, `no other Australian judge has been the author of so many standard books on legal subjects’.

Mavis had died in 1968. On 4 October 1969 at the chapel of the Pacific Theological College, Suva, Fiji, Joske married her cousin Hilda Dorothy Larcombe, née Thomas, a widow. He moved from Brighton, Melbourne, to her Georgian-revival house, Somerset, designed by Bertrand Waterhouse, at Strathfield, Sydney. Appointed CMG in 1967, he was knighted in 1977. Later that year he retired. Usually affable and mild mannered, he listed his recreations as gardening and writing. In 1978 he published Sir Robert Menzies 1894-1978: A New, Informal Memoir. He was Australian president of the Royal Life Saving Society from 1951 to 1979. Sir Percy died on 25 April 1981 at his Strathfield home and was cremated with Anglican rites. His wife survived him, as did the son of his first marriage, Thomas Roderick, a judge (1976-2005) of the Family Court of Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Beale, This Inch of Time (1977)
  • D. Marr, Barwick (1980)
  • The Dental Board of Victoria (1993)
  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Representatives), 14 May 1959, p 2222
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 34, no 2, 1960, p 59, vol 51, no 10, 1977, p 735, vol 55, no 8, 1981, p 607
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 14 Apr 1957, p 30
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 14 Sept 1977, p 3, 27 Apr 1981, p 8
  • Canberra Times, 17 Dec 1977, p 7, 27 Apr 1981, p 3
  • Percy Joske papers (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

Jolyon Horner, 'Joske, Sir Percy Ernest (1895–1981)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/joske-sir-percy-ernest-12709/text22915, published in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 17 September 2014.

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

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