Australian Dictionary of Biography

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John David Edward Traill (1932–1983)

by David Ash

This article was published:

John David Edward Traill (1932-1983), barrister and Catholic layman, was born on 18 February 1932 at Bondi, Sydney, second of three children of Victorian-born Alexander Francis Traill, accountant, and his wife Minnie Irene, née Sheean, born in Tasmania. John was educated at St Joseph’s College, Hunters Hill, and the University of Sydney (BA, 1958; LL.B, 1962; LL.M, 1967). His first interest was cultural anthropology, then economics and social dynamics, and jurisprudence. For a time he lectured in social anthropology at his alma mater and in 1967 he presided over the Australian Society of Legal Philosophers. He married with Catholic rites Margaret (Margot) Mary Eddy, a psychologist, on 20 February 1960 at St Thomas More Chapel, University of Western Australia, Crawley, Perth.

On 9 March 1962 Traill was admitted to the New South Wales Bar. He specialised in defamation cases. In 1974 he was the barrister for Jack Kane when Wilfred Burchett sued him, unsuccessfully. The International Air Transport Association often retained Traill in international law negotiations. He appeared several times for the Australian Broadcasting Commission, including at the royal commission investigating whether Murray Farquhar had attempted to influence the outcome of committal proceedings against Kevin Humphreys; this commission had followed a ‘Four Corners’ program on ABC television in 1983. In 1975 Traill had been appointed QC in New South Wales. He was called to the Bar at Gray’s Inn, London, on 6 May 1980.

Traill had served (1963-67) on the council of the Bar Association of New South Wales. Interested in the role of the computer, decades before its ubiquity, he was on the computer and legal information retrieval committees of the Law Council of Australia. He was a member of the Commonwealth computerisation of legal data committee and of consultative committees of the standing committee of Commonwealth and State Attorneys-General. While in legal practice, he continued to lecture part time in jurisprudence and in international law.

Strongly motivated by social justice, Traill contributed his legal expertise in Taiwan, Indonesia and the Philippines. In 1977 the Australian Council for Overseas Aid appointed him to chair a commission to examine the needs of the people of East Timor. This group reported in 1980. Controversy erupted over the statement by Traill and another commissioner that the openly political stance taken by Australian relief organisations had delayed their aid reaching Timor.

Traill’s deeply felt Catholicism informed his participation in debate. Interested in the Catholic Social Studies Movement and the National Catholic Rural Movement, he was the author of the latter’s handbook, Fruits of the Vine (1958). A member of organisations such as the Human Life Research Foundation, he was concerned about the legal rights of unborn children. He was a co-author of articles on euthanasia and abortion. For many years a committed supporter of a New South Wales group of Catholic lawyers, the St Thomas More Society, he served as its president in 1981-83. Traill’s eulogist was to observe that, like More, he was ‘the King’s good servant but God’s first’. In 1982 Pope John Paul II appointed Traill a knight commander of the Order of St Sylvester, comprising Roman Catholic laymen actively involved in the life of the church, particularly as exemplified in their professional duties.

A journalist described Traill as ‘a large, balding, softly spoken man’. Survived by his wife and their son and five daughters, he died of cancer on 30 December 1983 at Darlinghurst and was buried in the Catholic section of Northern Suburbs cemetery.

Select Bibliography

  • J. Kane, Exploding the Myths (1989)
  • Australian Law Journal, vol 58, no 7, 1984, p 432
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 18 June 1983, p 1, 31 Dec 1983, p 3
  • Cerise and Blue, Dec 1983, p 64
  • Catholic Weekly, 4 Jan 1984, p 2
  • J. J. Eddy, eulogy given at J. Traill’s funeral (manuscript, 1984, copy on ADB file)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

David Ash, 'Traill, John David Edward (1932–1983)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2012, accessed online 24 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, (Melbourne University Press), 2012

View the front pages for Volume 18

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


18 February, 1932
Bondi, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia


30 December, 1983 (aged 51)
Darlinghurst, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Cause of Death

cancer (not specified)

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.