Part of the Annual Geoffrey Sawer Lecture series
Geoffrey Sawer was the first Professor of Law at the Australian National University, appointed in 1950 at the age of 40. His fluid and incisive writing, especially on Australian constitutional law and politics, has had a significant impact on succeeding generations of academics, practitioners and judges. One of Michael Coper's first acts on assuming the Deanship of the ANU College of Law in 1998, two years after Sawer's death, was, with then Centre for International & Public Law Director, Hilary Charlesworth, to inaugurate the annual Sawer Lecture in honour of this pioneering scholar. Since then, the annual lecture has been delivered by such luminaries as Sir Ninian Stephen, Sir Gerard Brennan and Professor Leslie Zines.
On the occasion of the 16th annual lecture, Professor Michael Coper takes a look at the man himself and his contribution to Australian legal and political life. How does his scholarship stand up today, when so much has changed in the legal and political landscape? What is enduring and what is transient in a life's work? What obligation do we, as the inhabitors of the present, have to mine the time-bound wisdom of the past? What lessons can we draw and what insights can we glean when we look at law and life through the lens of biography? In a preliminary biographical sketch of this outstanding scholar and warm and genial human being, Michael Coper draws upon Sawer's writings, oral history interviews and private papers to pose these and other intriguing questions.