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Judge, Activist, Lifelong Learner

Updated: Nov 26, 2021

From a very young age, Michael Kirby AC CMG aspired to become a judge. His judicial ambitions were inspired by the judges who would visit his school as he thought of them as dignified and occupying positions of power and responsibility. Kirby would eventually go on to achieve his ambition, becoming the youngest person to be appointed to federal judicial office upon his appointment to the arbitration commission, the national industrial relations body. From there, Kirby ascended the judicial ranks becoming the President of the New South Wales Court of Appeal and eventually a justice of the High Court of Australia, the highest court in the land.

Hailing from the Australian public school system, Kirby had been a brilliant student, excelling in English, history, debating and anything that required the gift of the gab. Kirby’s academic excellence continued at university, where he pursued a degree in economics upon completing his arts and law degrees. During this time, Kirby also became the ‘king of student politics’, as he proclaimed himself. His foray into student politics presented him with the opportunity to chair committees which he found to be very good preparation for judicial life as he had to learn how to give everyone a fair opportunity to have their say.

Kirby and his partner Johan Van Vloten

Kirby’s activism would continue throughout his life. Having witnessed first-hand the devastation of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the 1980s and encouraged by his partner, Kirby came out as gay while still on the bench, a decision which Kirby considers good for the Australian judiciary. Kirby’s involvement with the Law Reform Commission also allowed him to connect with people who were attempting to deal with the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which led to him being invited to international conferences and committees on the issue. Kirby also spoke at functions about the importance of getting rid of discriminatory laws which were isolating the gay community and exacerbating the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

To this day, Kirby is still in practice, spurred on by his desire to keep his mind active and his incredible work ethic which has seen him ascend to the highest echelons of the legal field. Even in his spare time, Kirby continues to seek knowledge on the internet on a variety of topics from science to music and culture. Michael Kirby’s story is one of possibility and purpose, driven by sheer determination, hard work and the desire to never stop learning.

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