Sixty years ago

'The Evatt Foundation has now passed to a generation for whom the Doc is only a historical figure.'
Christopher Sheil

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen. My thanks to Peter Aiery and the United Nations Association for the kind invitation to address this luncheon to mark United Nations Day.

I should begin by making the basis of my words clear. The Evatt Foundation was founded in 1979 as a memorial to Dr Herbert Vere Evatt, or 'the Doc' as he was universally known, with the aim of upholding the highest ideals of the labour movement - equality, democracy, social justice and human rights.

In the time since 1979, there have been five presidents of the Foundation, and I am the first to have no personal memory of Dr Evatt. My knowledge of the Doc, including his role in the United Nations, is purely secondary, partly through my research on labour history, which is where my qualifications lie, and partly through people who really did know him, people such as the Foundation's former president, Bruce Childs.

Time marches on. With the election of me as president and Chris Gambian as secretary, the Evatt Foundation has now passed into the care of a generation for whom the Doc is only a historical figure.

"This is a big international story. It is a very big Australian story."

And what an historical figure he is! The most cursory research will quickly reveal that he was a larger than life character. Indeed, when you confront his career, it is a little difficult to believe that there was only one Doc Evatt. He strikes me as someone who somehow managed to lead several lives, all at once.

Born in Maitland in 1894 and educated at Fort Street High School, he won bursaries to study at Sydney University, where he graduated in Arts and Law with one of the most brilliant academic records ever attained. As well as every other prize on offer, the Doc won the university medal - twice. Later he added a doctorate in laws.

He became a distinguished advocate, the author of several important books on Australian history, a patron of the arts, and he remains the youngest person ever to have been appointed as a justice of the High Court. He was a member of both the New South Wales and the Commonwealth parliaments. He was the Federal Attorney General and Minister for External Affairs for eight years, the Leader of the Opposition for nine years and finally, at the end of his career, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of NSW.

When you add the context in which he lived, which included the experience of the two world wars, the Great Depression and the Cold War, I feel exhausted just thinking about his career. His achievements included playing an extraordinary role in international affairs between 1941 and 1949. It is this period, of course, that is the subject of this talk, in particular the year 1948.

What was the significance of the Doc's election as the President of the General Assembly for its Third Session 60 years ago? What did he have to do with the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights during his term in the chair?

This is a big international story. It is a very big Australian story. And it is a story that has deeper roots than 1948. Both the Doc's election as President of the Assembly and his part in the adoption of the Universal Declaration derive from his legendary role at the conference in San Francisco that formed the United Nations in 1945, 63 years ago today.

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