Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lionel Oscar Lukin (1868–1944)

by J. C. H. Gill

This article was published:

Lionel Oscar Lukin (1868-1944), judge, was born on 4 January 1868 at Condamine, Queensland, son of Tasmanian-born George Lionel Lukin, clerk, and his Irish wife Annie, née Magovern. He was a nephew of Gresley Lukin. Educated at private schools in Roma, Brisbane (Brisbane Grammar, 1879-83) and Gympie, at 16 Lukin entered government service as assistant mining registrar, Gympie. In 1887 he was transferred to Charters Towers but resigned in December to study for the Bar. Admitted on 4 March 1890, he established a large, versatile practice insisting on a person's right to be defended even in the police court. On 9 September 1893 he married at All Saints Church, Brisbane, Catherine Alicia Rennick, M.A. (Melbourne), a teacher.

In 1907 Lukin joined Arthur Feez and others in forming the Incorporated Council of Law Reporting for the State of Queensland, a self-supporting body that contributed to the funding of the Supreme Court Library. Next year he wrote, with A. D. Graham and T. J. Lehane, Justices' Civil Jurisdiction, a guide to the statutes and rules affecting the duties of magistrates in Queensland—for many years a standard text.

Lukin became the first Queensland-born judge of the Supreme Court: he was appointed to the central division, Rockhampton, from July 1910. In one of his more unusual judgments he gained the approval of three widows to pay medical costs to an injured Chinese man and of his own 'fatherly' thrashing of their guilty sons. In April 1922 he was transferred to the Brisbane bench. At the time he was first appointed there was no fixed retirement age and if he served fifteen years he would be entitled to retire with a half-salary pension. The Judges Retirement Act of 1921 imposed on all judges a retirement age of 70. All existing judges kept pension rights; all future judges were denied pensions. Lukin's strongly conservative outlook involved him in clashes with ThomasRyan and later Labor premiers. In consequence he was passed over for the chief justiceship in 1922 and again in 1925. In 1926, at 58, Lukin resigned unexpectedly, having qualified for an annual pension of £1000.

To the chagrin of the Queensland Labor government, he took up appointment as a judge of the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration with an annual salary of £3000 and no fixed retirement. Labor governments in Queensland, as a result of Lukin's coup, remained steadfast in their refusal to reintroduce judges' pensions. Turmoil followed his judgments in the timber-workers' case, 1928-29, cutting wages and restoring a 48-hour week. Strikers burnt his effigy in public and sang 'We'll hang Judge Lukin to a sour apple tree'. In 1930 he became first Federal judge in bankruptcy, exercising jurisdiction in Melbourne and Sydney, and introduced important innovations. In 1934 he was also the first judge sworn into the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory, blankly refusing cuts in his salary during the Depression, despite example from other judges. Retaining office until ill health caused his unwilling retirement in November 1943, Lukin died in Melbourne on 1 June 1944, survived by two sons and two daughters. He was buried in Lutwyche cemetery, Brisbane, after a service at St Stephen's Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Remembered by some as genial, humorous, short and beefy, with a stentorian voice, Lukin was a stickler for observance of the rules of the court. After his death Mr Justice Macrossan praised him for his 'wide experience of human nature, exceptional physical power, immense industry, a robust personality, intellectual understanding and integrity'. However, while noted for his patience and goodwill, Lukin did not hesitate to use his great abilities to manipulate circumstances to his advantage, particularly when he considered he had been unfairly used.

Select Bibliography

  • R. O'Dea, Principles of Wage Determination in Commonwealth Arbitration (Syd, 1969)
  • R. Johnston, History of the Queensland Bar (Brisb, 1979)
  • L. McDonald, Rockhampton, (Brisb, 1981)
  • Historical Studies, 19 (1963), no 4, p 479
  • Labor Daily, 27 Feb 1929
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 11, 30 Apr 1929, 16 Feb 1934
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 1 June 1944
  • Courier Mail (Brisbane), 5, 7 June 1944
  • Herald (Melbourne), 7 June 1944.

Citation details

J. C. H. Gill, 'Lukin, Lionel Oscar (1868–1944)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 24 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (Melbourne University Press), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


4 January, 1868
Condamine, Queensland, Australia


1 June, 1944 (aged 76)
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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