The Board of CRI is sad to announce the death of Bill Jackson. The following eulogy was given by the Chair of Children’s Rights International, the Honourable Alastair Nicholson, on the 13th November at a ceremony to remember and acknowledge his life and contribution to CRI.
Bill was CEO of CRI continuously from its establishment in 2005 until his sudden death in Septemberof this year. During that period he contributed greatly to the organisations’ activities generally, particularly in Cambodia , where his passion for the country and its people did much to further CRI’s projects directed at improving the welfare and rights of young people who came into contact with the juvenile justice system.
The eulogy reflects on Bill’s life and his enjoyment of it, his involvement and promotion of Indigenous and other human rights causes and his love of friends and family.
I share today's acknowledgment to country and am sure that Bill would share my additional remark that the sovereignty of the land on which we stand has not been surrendered by its traditional owners and remains a sacred place to Aboriginal people.
Bill had a keen appreciation and rapport and friendship with Aboriginal people and it is therefore relevant to begin by turning our thoughts to the history of this site and its surrounds, not least because it is adjacent to the Court in which we shared many experiences.
I do so conscious of the fact that its history, so far as human settlement and occupation is concerned extends, not just back to the foundation of Melbourne but for some 60,000 years or more prior to that.
This area was a meeting place for the major Aboriginal groups including the Wurundjeri people, the Woiwarrung people and the Bunnerong people. I am informed that as a meeting place, the association of this land with the law may well extend a long way prior to the construction of the law courts nearby.
As I commented in a Facebook post written after Bill's death, he was one of the great characters that I have met. We first met in the early 90's when he joined the Family Court as the Director of Media Relations. This was an important job, as the Court, which I joined in 1988, had long been the subject of unfair media criticism. That situation has not changed but the big change that Bill's appointment made was that it enabled us to more successfully rebut this criticism and tell more of the real story about the Court's activities.
Bill was ideal for the job. He had a deep knowledge of the workings of the media and many great contacts within it. He was a gregarious man with a wide range of friendships across all walks of life. He knew the good from the bad journalists and could get good news stories in the quality media more often than had previously been the case.
|Bill sharing Ankor beers at a street cafe
in Phnom Penh
I took to him immediately, as did the other members of my Chambers and we remained friends until his death. I particularly appreciated his insight into contemporary events, his humanity and love of human rights and the rights of children, his respect and capacity to form friendships with people of other cultures, his warmth and sense of humour and his irreverence for the powerful and great. He particularly demonstrated the latter when I was away on leave when whoever was acting as Chief Justice tried to give him instructions.
We formed a close-knit group in my Chambers which included the late Danny Sandor, a kindred spirit in his disdain for authority whose death in 2006 devastated us all, Anne Slattery, Margaret Harrison, Liz Tenace, Anna Setaro, Linda Newitt, Karen Overman and my driver Dominic Scibberas, some of whom are here today. I look back upon it as a wonderful period in my life which I shall never forget.
He brought with him other skills and with the help of his friend Linda Newitt and Karen Overman, set up a desktop publishing unit within the Court that could produce material to better inform the public and court users of its activities.
His other great love was film making. With his great friend Sasha Tricojus he had, while working with Community Aid Abroad, produced some great documentaries in South East Asia. These included films made in Cambodia in the 1980's, which was then a far from safe place and a documentary on corruption and destruction of the environment in Thailand which would not have endeared them to the host country.
Bill turned this skill to good advantage in the Family Court, where he, together with Justice Colleen Moore, played a significant role in the development of the Court's outreach to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, which was something that had never been done by any Court previously.
This included the appointment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander consultants in key areas such as Darwin, Alice Springs, Cairns and Townsville, who went out and visited Aboriginal and Islander communities. With their help Bill made many useful documentaries which informed Aboriginal and other people of these activities.
In turn this led to educational programs within the Court for Judges, Registrars, Counsellors and other court staff on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Above all Bill made significant friendships with the consultants and many other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
These were significant achievements for which Bill never received enough credit.
|Bill with Cambodian friends on Australian visit
Our work together managed to generate considerable controversy at times with Governments and politicians and within the court itself. Bill had a delightful irreverence for authority, which he often refused to recognise if he was unimpressed by those wielding it. He also had a good idea as to what made an effective news story, which usually involved "throwing in a dead moggie", namely something that the recipient of the comments wished to hide or not talk about.
I well remember an occasion when Bill had arranged for me to make an address to the National Press Club, televised across Australia. We were putting the finishing touches to it early that morning. One of the themes was the failure to recognise the rights of children in Australia and he thought that it needed a bit more zing. At the time the then Premier of Victoria, Jeff Kennett, was engaged in making heavy cuts to spending on kindergartens, so Bill said, "Why don't you have a go at Kennett?"
This appealed to me and I did, following which all hell broke loose. It certainly helped make the point however.
Another involved an address on children's rights that I made at the MCG. I decided at Bill's suggestion that I would use this to criticise the Hawke Keating government and its Minister for Immigration, Senator Bolkus, for setting up what I described as 'concentration camps' at places like Port Hedland in WA.
The story was covered by the Australian, whose photographer and Bill thought it a good idea to have a picture of me staring out through barbed wire at the MCG, which duly appeared on the front page, accompanied by an editorial attacking the Government and depicting the good Senator in the uniform of a Nazi Gauleiter strutting in front of a concentration camp. Needless to say, this 'dead moggie' produced more uproar. Given more modern developments, it is a pity that more critics did not follow our lead.
|Bill with Alastair Nicholson (seated) and Kimleng
at Child Justice seminar Phnom Penh
I could tell so many similar stories of Bill including many memorable visits to the NT, the Torres Strait, Aboriginal Victoria, East Timor during the International Intervention led by Australia in 1999-2000, the World Congress on Family Law and Children's Rights in San Francisco in 1997 and above all, Cambodia in recent years.
Given the presence of Mick Dodson here today, who Bill organised as a keynote speaker at the World Congress together with Jose Ramos Horta, who was also a friend of Bill's, it is worth mentioning that my chairing of the Congress and their speeches, constituted another dead moggie, earned us the undying enmity of John Howard and Daryl Williams, his then Attorney-General.
All good things come to an end but after my retirement in 2004, my association and friendship with Bill continued and we worked together on Children's Rights International (CRI) from its foundation in 2005 until his death. Bill was the CEO from 2005 of the World Congress, which initiated CRI and left it to become CEO of CRI when I became its chair in 2010.
Before that we arranged for a group of three Cambodian lawyers, to come to Melbourne in 2006 and work with the Children's Court and Legal Aid Victoria for some weeks and one of them, Bill's great friend Chiva, has made the trip from Phnom Penh to be here today. Accompanying him is another good friend of Bill and me, Monika Var, with whom we have also worked for many years. Monika is no stranger to Melbourne, having completed his Law Masters degree at Melbourne Law School in 2016. It is a touching tribute to Bill that they are here today.
They also carry with them letters of condolence from the Secretary of State for Justice, Her Excellency Chan Sotheavy the President of the Court of Appeal, His Excellency You Bunleng and the Minister for Justice, His Excellency Vang Vong Vathana.
I should mention that Bill was a close friend of the first two and was highly respected by the Minister.
Although I was Patron of CRI from its inception in 2005 and visited Cambodia in 2009 to address a seminar on child justice, my most active role commenced when I assumed the Chair in 2010. Bill and I visited Cambodia many times since then and to a lesser extent Vietnam. We also hosted groups of professional visitors to Melbourne from both countries on three occasions in recent years.
|Bill with CRI and Cambodian group at the home of
HE You Bunleng, President of the Court of Appeal
of Cambodia and one of his great friends
Our work was directed at improving the situation of children in conflict with the law in both countries and it has been quite successful. This is not the place to go into that in any detail but in Cambodia, its work was crowned by the passage of the county's first Juvenile Justice Law in 2016, followed by the development of a Strategic Plan by CRI on behalf or UNICEF this year and the work continues.
In his inimitable style Bill became good friends with and developed a close rapport with Cambodian people and played an enormous part in the success of CRI in that country.
Bill's interests were not confined to Cambodia however. In 2007 CRI held a conference in Cairns on Child Exploitation and Child Labour under the auspices of the World Congress which was attended by an outstanding woman from Afghanistan, Suraya Pakzad.
Bill became friendly with her and was instrumental in persuading her to come to the World Congress in Sydney in 2013 where she created an enormous impression. She heads a movement the "Voice of Women'' in Afghanistan, taught female children in clandestine schools under the Taliban, was nominated by US Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice as a "Woman of Courage" and risks her life regularly working with women and girls in Herat while in receipt of constant death threats.
After the World Congress Bill decided to help her fundraising activities by making a film about her in Afghanistan and produced a great result at considerable risk to himself. That was typical of him.
I had further experience with Bill and Sasha when they came to India in support of the Lasallian Foundation and made films there and Bill later did so when we visited PNG for the Foundation.
Bill dearly loved his children Luke and Liv and Liv's children of whom he often spoke. He was also very close to his late mother, his sister Katherine and her husband Frank, who was until very recently a valued member of CRI.
I shall miss my regular telephone chats with him and our lunches on his visits to Melbourne and our all too few fishing trips together.
To all his family I express our deepest sympathy on behalf of his friends here today and others who were unable to come. He will be greatly missed by us all.