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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Miller, Eric Stanislaus (1903–1986)

by P. A. Selth

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

Eric Miller (right), with W. J. Dignam, 1943

Eric Miller (right), with W. J. Dignam, 1943

Australian War Memorial, 139210

Eric Stanislaus Joseph Miller (1903-1986), barrister, was born on 15 May 1903 at Rockdale, Sydney, second of four surviving children of Austrian-born Gustav Miller Prochatschek (d.1918), railway engineer, and his Irish-born wife Mary Agnes (Minnie), née Willis. Miller was added to his names at baptism; the family later adopted it as a surname. Eric was educated at Marist Brothers’ Boys’ School, Kogarah, and at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill. In 1921 he began work as a junior clerk in the sheriff’s office, Department of the Attorney-General and of Justice, before moving to the new Workers’ Compensation Commission of New South Wales in 1926. He attended the University of Sydney (LL.B, 1926) part time. In April 1927 he was appointed associate to the chief judge in Equity, Justice (Sir) John Harvey, and on 28 July that year was admitted to the Bar. He married Rita Clarke, a masseuse, on 30 December 1931 at St Mary’s Catholic Cathedral, Sydney.

Although Miller co-authored Short Company Practice (New South Wales) (1933) and Equity Forms and Precedents (New South Wales) (1934), he made his name as a common law jury and appellate advocate, specialising in workers’ compensation and industrial law. He was junior to Herbert Vere Evatt in the Caledonian Collieries Case (Nos 1 and 2) (1930) arising out of the 1929 New South Wales coalminers’ lockout. In 1940 he took silk.

Miller was counsel assisting Justice (Sir) Charles Lowe in the 1943 ‘Brisbane Line’ royal commission that inquired into Eddie Ward’s wild allegations. In 1949 Miller appeared for Ward in Justice (Sir) George Ligertwood’s Papua-New Guinea timber rights royal commission. The Australian Financial Review erroneously claimed in 1959 that Ward had refused to give evidence to the timber royal commission. Miller acted for him in the defamation case that followed.

In 1945 Miller had inquired into the administration of the Peace Officer Guard. Next year he represented his wife’s cousin John Joseph Murphy in a court martial on charges of treacherously giving information to the Japanese; Murphy was honourably acquitted. Miller acted for the, at best, ‘grossly negligent’ vice squad sergeant John Freeman in the 1951-54 royal commission on the liquor laws in New South Wales. During the 1962-63 off-course betting royal commission, Justice Edward Kinsella criticised Miller, who was representing a bookmaker, claiming that Miller intended to undermine public confidence in the commission. The council of the Bar Association of New South Wales, chaired by its vice-president, (Sir) John Kerr, found no professional misconduct.

Miller had a varied workload; some of his most celebrated cases came from unions or firms with Catholic connections. He acted with Kerr for Laurie Short in the long-running Federated Ironworkers’ Association of Australia ‘forged ballots’ case. Judge Edward Dunphy found forgery, fraud and irregularity on a grand scale and installed Short as national secretary. Miller won Jones v Dunkel in the High Court of Australia (1959) and Commissioner for Railways v Quinlan in the Privy Council (1964).

‘A towering figure of the Bar’, according to Justice Michael Kirby, Miller was a private person who kept his emotions under firm control yet would engage strangers in conversation. James McClelland, a Sydney lawyer and Federal politician, described him as a formidable jury advocate who ‘exuded confidence in his own rectitude’, and was willing to challenge judges. However, ‘you wouldn’t brief him in a complicated constitutional case’. He was impervious to reversals of fortune in court. In 1973 he retired from practice.

Miller was a founding member of the Sydney University Newman Society, a prominent Catholic layman and a friend of Cardinal Sir Norman Gilroy. Developing a passionate interest in the track after appearing in a doping inquiry, Miller owned ‘mid-week’ horses. His other interests included tennis, golf and his property, ‘Bowen Park’, near Trangie. He and his wife raised his brother Cecil’s orphaned son. Survived by his wife and their three sons and four daughters, he died on 31 March 1986 at Darlinghurst and was cremated. A portrait (1949) by Edward M. Smith is in private possession.

Select Bibliography

  • J. McClelland, Stirring the Possum (1988)
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 60, no 7, 1986, p 421
  • Australian Journal of Family Law, vol 19, no 3, 2005, p 3
  • Cerise and Blue, 1928, p 51, May 1986, p 36
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 29 June 1963, p 7
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

P. A. Selth, 'Miller, Eric Stanislaus (1903–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 30 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (MUP), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

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