top of page


“‘… the streete thin of people, the shops shut up, & all in mournefull silence, as not knowing whose turne might be next’.”

Welcome to this first 2020 issue of the Australian Law Librarian. I write in sombre and sobering times, amidst the unprecedented worldwide situation caused by coronavirus (COVID-19). ‘Unprecedented’ is a word that has lately become so overused as to be almost redundant, yet there is no other word to describe something that we have never seen the likes of – not only the pandemic, but the ensuing global pandemonium, the effects of which will no doubt be felt for many years to come. Our thoughts are with all our readers and their families, friends and colleagues.

We hope your health and employment have not been affected. Even for those of us who are physically well and still have a job, this has affected everyone’s life in some way, and we are all having to learn new ways of being. Pandemics are of course not unprecedented (although the rapid-fire globalisation of COVID-19 is). In an effort to provide some perspective and to reassure myself that life will go on and one day return to ‘normal’, I’ve been doing a little quick and dirty research into the ‘Great Plague’; the pandemic in London in the years 1665-66.2

During this time up to 100,000 people died from bubonic plague: about 15-20% of London’s population. The Great Plague has many startling similarities to the far-reaching effects of COVID-19. Trade with other countries ceased. Ships from other plague towns in Europe were not permitted to dock in London. Scotland closed its border with England. There were no fairs. Unemployment was rife.3 Shops closed all over London.4 Many people (mostly the poor, who were left behind in London as the upper and middle classes fled to the relative safety of the countryside5 ) were quarantined, and many did not comply with the quarantine restrictions.6 In the world of libraries, we are all feeling the lack of access to physical collections as libraries around Australia and the world close their doors and as inter-library lending of print materials grinds to a halt. Whoever started the myth that ‘everything is online’ was not a librarian.

Many of our users see us as magicians because we can always find that elusive publication. Behind the illusion, we of course often require access to other librarians with access to their collections – so the magic wands aren’t working too well at the moment, which seems to startle many of our users. I was asked just today if I could get access to a book in our print collection, despite the requestor knowing our entire university is in lock-down – I guess I was expected to be able to wiggle my nose Bewitched-style, and magic myself in and out again. There has been an unsurprising surge in requests on the various law library e-lists for chapters from print books and cases in print law report series – and most of us can’t assist, which is anathema to our helpful, sharing profession. Those libraries that have stayed open – often with only a skeleton staff to support their own users – will bear the brunt of the increased demand for assistance. So I urge anyone who can help to please do so and spread the load.

Around us in the Australian legal world, courts are hearing some matters online, and are postponing everything they can, parliaments are considering sitting remotely, many law firms are reducing staff hours and reconsidering their graduate intakes, and many university law schools have shut their doors completely and are conducting all classes online. To extend the comparison with the Great Plague, I looked at what happened to the legal profession and law making during that time. The rich and the middle classes, including most lawyers, fled the city. The Inns of Court closed – Lincoln’s Inn reports that the only people who stayed behind were a skeleton staff of butlers, gatekeepers and the delightfully named washpotts (washers of pots, of course).7

Students learned the legal profession at the Inns, so legal education of the bar stopped. Parliament was postponed and sat in October 1665 in Oxford. The courts also moved from Westminster to Oxford, and Charles II and his entire court left first for Hampton Court and then Oxford.8 It seems that Oxford was the 1665 equivalent of working remotely / online. I also had a quick foray into another English plague, the Black Death, which wiped out between a third and two-thirds of England’s population between 1348-1350. A fascinating account by Mark Senn about the legal changes wrought by the Black Death9 includes a section on how the legal profession thrived and developed in the wake of that plague. Senn notes:

The legal profession was the growth industry of the Middle Ages.. … The common lawyers (as distinguished from Roman or ecclesiastical lawyers) especially benefited from the squabbles brought about by the Black Death and the endless litigation that was the result. One cannot be surprised by this observation. The concentration of wealth in the land and complexities of the statutes and forms of grants and writs demanded an educated, specialized profession. The rapid advancement of the legal profession was no less expected. They became part of a new middle class distinct from those who worked, who prayed, and who fought…10 (citations omitted)

I digress … so to our present issue of the Australian Law Librarian. We include a mix of contributions written before and after the onslaught of COVID-19. We have a trio of articles on law reporting – an issue that is perennially topical and controversial, and which has passionate advocates on both sides of the ‘to report or not report’ divide. Michelle Bendall’s contribution is a scholarly and fascinating history of authorised law reporting in Australia, and provides a convincing argument for the ongoing value and necessity of authorised reports.

Laurie Atkinson writes on the use and usefulness of the Victorian Reports. Lastly, in our Vendor Viewpoint column, Aidan Hawes from VLex Justis, clearly on the other side of the fence, expounds the importance of unreported decisions. As many of us settle into working from home and all the changes this brings to our lives, we address this in two of our regular columns. Tech Tapas is devoted to apps that assist with working from home: apps for meetings, personal communication, physical and mental well-being, and even apps to assist with and measure productivity.

Shelf Awareness is mainly devoted to books on working from home and flexible working arrangements. Christina Ward’s piece on the benefits of becoming a Wikipedia editor – and they are good benefits indeed – may be just the thing to take up as a new hobby while trapped at home. We also include two conference reports. Two of the five recipients of the 2019 ALLA Annual Fellowship who attended the IALL Annual Course in Sydney reflect on their experience: Cate Read and Amy Leong. Cate saw things that I missed entirely, so her piece is revelatory and illuminating as well as being a beautifully crafted piece around the theme of ‘the outsider’.

Emma Joneshart and Vima Devia have written a touching tribute to Fiona Gallagher, who sadly died in February 2020. I did not know Fiona, but she was clearly loved and respected by her MinterEllison colleagues and the ALLA (NSW) and (ACT) members. Our ALLA member profile is of Michelle Clarke. Michelle has worked in several law libraries over the years, and is well known to most Victorian ALLA members – but the profile lets us get to know Michelle a lot better!

The Info sans Frontiers column briefly notes the Law Library of Congress’ Coronavirus Resources Guide, a useful and regularly updated resource containing legislative information from around the world. However, the main focus of this column is on legislation databases in the Pacific. An article by Jacqui Elliot written nearly 40 years ago in the Australian Law Librarian’s predecessor newsletter examined the problems of Pacific research,11 and despite the availability of online primary materials in open access databases such as PacLII, in many ways legal research in Pacific countries remains an often difficult task. We showcase three official legislation websites that make researching these jurisdictions much less painful.

We include State and Territory News from WA, Victoria and the ACT. As part of her role as ALLA Vice-President, Emma Joneshart gathers and compiles this news from the ALLA state and territory Presidents. We love to hear local news, so we encourage state and territory Presidents to contribute and send your news to Emma! Lastly, in our regular From the Archives, Fiona revisits the Australian Law Librarian 2004 issues. 2004 was a year when Canberra hosted the Australian Law Librarians’ Symposium. With the uncertainty about which, if any, conferences, will go ahead in 2020, we have not included our usual list of upcoming conferences. The BIALL Conference was recently postponed until 2021. And the ALLA President, Kate Freedman, today announced that the Canberra 2020 ALLA Conference will be postponed until 2021 – a disappointing but sensible strategy in such uncertain times. Here’s hoping for a wonderful ALLA Conference next year to make up for it. We also have no overseas contribution for this issue, as our contributors understandably have other priorities at the moment.

I take this opportunity to note with sadness the death in July 2019 of Nancy McCormack from the Lederman Law Library at Queens University in Kingston, Ontario. Nancy was our Canadian contributor; she wrote a regular column in this journal for several years. Nancy published prolifically on legal research, and was a highly respected and much loved law librarian. Her generosity toward the profession was abundantly evident in her column; despite the many demands on her time she always found the time to share Canadian news with us, and even offered to write more often! See the moving tribute to Nancy in the Canadian Law Library Review. 12

I am determined to end on a cheery and upbeat note, like the fluffy kitten / cute puppy stories that end gloomy television news broadcasts. So I provide some recent ‘good news stories’ from myself and my Co-editor, Fiona MacDowall – please excuse the indulgence. Until last year Fiona was my invaluable and irreplaceable colleague in the Melbourne Law School Academic Research Service – she is much missed (Fiona accuses me of being prone to hyperbole, so I’ll refrain – suffice to say that ‘much missed’ is the understatement of the century).

Fiona recently became the Librarian in the Melbourne office of the Australian Government Solicitor, and is thoroughly enjoying her new job. Our loss is definitely the AGS’s gain, and I wish Fiona the very best in her new role. As for my feelgood story, in early March 2020 I visited Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea, to undertake some legislative research for a work project (that was exactly one month ago, but it feels like a different era – one I’m already remembering fondly as the good old days, when one could still jump on a plane and go overseas). I took some time out from the project to conduct a moys training class for the librarians at the PNG Department of Justice and Attorney-General. It was the most delightful experience – the wonderful librarians were such a switched-on team, all so knowledgeable and keen, and they welcomed me so warmly – I loved it.

The photo here is of us all with Betty Moys’ beautiful orange book! The Legislation Librarian, Rachael (pictured next to me), with whom I was doing my research work, has been in the job for over 40 years – her knowledge of legislation is remarkable and her obvious love for her work was inspirational. I also visited Miriam Bite, the Law Librarian at the University of PNG. Some of you may have met Miriam; she was one of the recipients of the inaugural ALLG Pacific Islands Scholarship to attend the 2001 Asian-Pacific Special, Health and Law Librarians Conference in Melbourne. Miriam fondly remembers the conference and her time in Melbourne.

The Law Library, which is currently housed as a separate collection in very cramped conditions within the main PNG University Library, is soon to move with the entire Law School into a beautiful brand new building on campus – see photo below. Excuse the length of this Editorial – perhaps my enforced solitude and little opportunity to talk to human beings has made me keener to express myself in writing. That’s my excuse anyway. To those readers who subscribe to this journal in print only and do not have access to it on HEIN Online – we have no way of knowing when you will receive your copy, as international mail deliveries are disrupted. While Australian domestic postal deliveries will be made, there may be no-one in your workplace or library to collect or open the mail. Whenever you receive it, we hope you enjoy it. Perhaps by the time you read it, the world will be a little brighter – fingers crossed. Robin Gardner – Co-Editor, Australian Law Librarian 1 April 2020

  1. ES de Beer (ed) Diary of John Evelyn: Volume III: Kalendarium 1650-1672 (Oxford University Press, 1955) 418. Evelyn wrote this diary entry on 7 September 1665 after observing the desolate London streets during the Great Plague. Fortunately the University of Melbourne has this fascinating account available as an e-book, so I could consult it.

  2. Almost all sources I used online to research this refer to what are evidently a couple of core texts on the topic: Walter Bell, The Great Plague in London in 1665 (Bodley Head, 1924) and JFD Shrewsbury, A History of Bubonic Plague in the British Isles (Cambridge University Press, 1970). These books are held in the University of Melbourne libraries, but as our print collections are completely closed I could not consult them. For a good account in an open access online book, see Charles Creighton, ‘The Great Plague of London and the Last of Plague in England’ in A History of Epidemics in Britain from AD 664 to the Extinction of Plague (Cambridge University Press, 1891, reprinted by Project Gutenberg, 2013) 669 .

  3. Many sources provide this information. For an open access non-scholarly source, see National Archives, ‘Great Plague of 1665-1666: How Did London Respond to it?’ (Web Page) .

  4. de Beer (n 1)

  5. See generally Colby J Fischer, Unequal Implementation: The Impact of Government Anti-Plague Policies on the London Poor in 1665 (University of Vermont, 2017) .

  6. Ibid chapter 2: ‘Quarantine’. Colby notes at 40 that ‘[a]nimosity towards the quarantine and a general willingness to break the law in order to survive … was pervasive in London’. This attitude, in which people risked their lives because they needed to go out to earn money, is disturbingly similar to a London Review of Books blog published only yesterday, which states that in Nigeria in response to COVID-19, ‘[t]elling the majority poor to stay indoors may prove impossible. …The point about a ‘developing’ country is that the majority poor depend on their daily wages to feed their families’: Adewale Maja-Pearce, ‘Rich Man’s Disease’, London Review of Books (Blog Post, 31 March 2020) .

  7. The Honorable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, ‘The Great Plague’ (Archive of the Month, 15 September 2015) .

  8. The National Archives, ‘Great Plague of 1665-1666: How Did London Respond to it?’ (Web Page) .

  9. Mark A Senn, ‘English Life and Law in the Time of the Black Death’ (2003) 38(3) Real Property, Probate and Trust Journal 507.

  10. Ibid 587.

  11. Jacqueline Elliot, ‘Legal Information Needs of Papua New Guinea and the Pacific’ (1983) 58 Australian Law Librarians’ Group Newsletter 3-11. Jaquie spent three years as the PNG University Law Librarian during the 1980s, just prior to becoming the Librarian of the High Court of Australia, a role she remained in for almost 20 years until her retirement in 2005. Jacquie was instrumental in setting up and coordinating the Pacific Twinning Programme, and was very active in ALLA, including time as Editor of this journal from 1993-1995. Jacqui wrote the regular Pacific News column in this journal from 1993-2003.

  12. Susan Barker, ‘In Memoriam: Nancy McCormack (1963–2019)’ (2019) 44(4) Canadian Law Library Review 9 .

9 views0 comments


bottom of page