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Kirby swears by community spirit and star gazing

Take it as some affectionate advice from one judge to another - make the most of Canberra, try to engage with the local community and gaze at the stars occasionally to remember your place in the universe.

Former High Court judge Michael Kirby addressed the ANU College of Law alumni dinner at the National Portrait Gallery on Tuesday night, just hours after it was announced Brisbane jurist Patrick Keane would join the High Court in March.

Mr Kirby used the dinner to offer some advice to Justice Keane, later saying it was ''given in affection'' and along the lines that anyone appointed to a role in Canberra ''should make the most of it and you shouldn't cut yourself off from the community which is a highly educated, interesting, responsible and usually forward-looking place''.

A 13-year veteran of the High Court until he retired in 2009, Mr Kirby said the idea of being in Canberra was to ''actually live in the community and not just to be passing through it''.

''Some of the justices in the past have looked longingly at the airport. The chambers of most of the justices is on the side of the court building looking at the airport and I've often thought that was a very bad design fault on the part of the architect. But in my case I always looked out at Parliament House and the Brindabellas,'' he said.

With that positive view of Canberra, Mr Kirby said he had been passing on the advice to Justice Keane in the spirit it had been offered to him when he joined the High Court in 1996, in that case by Justice William Gummow.


''He said, 'Get The Canberra Times and that will tell you what's happening in the community around us'. So I did,'' he said.

When he was living and working in Canberra, Mr Kirby said he would take advantage of ''being in a place where there is a constant stream of very interesting and very intelligent people, not all of them lawyers''.

''And I would invite them to my chambers, I would invite other justices and it was good for all of us - as a sort of reality check,'' he said.

His gentle advice to Justice Keane ranged from the practical to the celestial.

''I said he should walk to and from work and see the beautiful environment and the lovely lake and the bike riders and the people doing their exercises, maybe do some exercise himself,'' he said.

''And also I suggested that he should look at the stars at night and see all the galaxies and that would remind him of the transiency and impermanence of human life and the insignificance in the great order of things.

''My partner Johan and I loved Canberra. We loved living there. We had a very nice apartment [in Kingston]. I said that [Keane] should … take the associates to dinner every sitting in Kingston where there was a great variety of restaurants.''

Mr Kirby, 73, said he and his partner Johan van Vloten had since sold their apartment but remained regular visitors to Canberra.

His greatest images of the capital were ''the beauty of the lake, the balloons, the changing tree colours, the magnificent canopy of the sky and the wonderful institutions''.

Of the broader questions around Canberra's identity and the centenary-induced soul-searching, Mr Kirby said: ''Canberra is a beautiful place … and it needs to have a positive attitude towards itself.''

He rarely encountered Canberra-bashing. ''Not really. I think they knew what I thought about it so they probably steered clear of it.''


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