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Memento : Issue 25
January 2004 MEMENTO 17 CREATION The centenary of the High Court causes us to pause, and to reflect upon, the profoundly important role and influence the High Court has had in Australian society. Not only in the interpretation of the Australian Constitution, and in the Court's exposition of the legislative and administrative powers of the Commonwealth, but also in the Court's development of the common law, and the definition of the rights and obligations of Australian citizens, of civil liberties in the absence of a constitutionally entrenched Bill of Rights. Justice Callinan then spoke about the role of the High Court and argued for better education in Australian schools to enable students 'to understand something about government in Australia, and the role of the courts in relation to the people and their government'. He went on to say that our exhibition is much more than a civics course: 'It offers an interesting and sophisticated examination of the activities of the High Court over its first 100 years'. Justice Callinan concluded his address by launching the exhibition 'for which I express the gratitude of the Court, and, in admiration and with pleasure formally open'. Wigs and judgments The exhibition, curated by Roslyn Russell and Mary Hutchison, explores the Court and its history through different perspectives and mediums. Along with informative panels, it features exhibits from the collections of the High Court and the National Archives, including the original wig worn by the first Chief Justice Sir Samuel Griffith, Justice Barton's bench book showing his personal working notes during the Coal Vend Case of 1911, and the final page of Justice Brennan's judgment in the Mabo Case. The section called 'A Balancing Act' shows how High Court Justices have interpreted the Constitution in three landmark cases. In the Engineers Case in 1920 they decided that the Commonwealth Government had the power to determine the pay and conditions of workers in the engineering industry across Australia. In the Communist Party Case in 1951 they declared that the Menzies government's Communist Party Dissolution Act, which outlawed the Communist Party, was invalid. In the Tasmanian Dam Case in 1983 they concluded that the Commonwealth's obligation to an international treaty allowed it to stop the Tasmanian government from proceeding with the Franklin Dam. 'Under the Wig' provides a glimpse of the changing character of the High Court under the leadership of three different Chief Justices. Each period of the Court is known by the name of the Chief Justice of that time. The Griffith Court, 1903--19, brought the spirit of Federation to the Court's first years. The Dixon Court, 1952--64, was acclaimed as the Court's 'golden age' of interpreting the law. The Mason Court, 1987--95, is known for its significant and sometimes controversial decisions, including the recognition of native title in the Mabo Case. The exhibition also includes an innovative touch-screen animation. For those all at sea about the High Court, some friendly fish guide us through an actual case involving a young woman, Beryl Duncan, who took the Commonwealth, the Army and the Northern Territory Police to court in 1944. This lively exhibit invites visitors to recognise the importance of the Court to ordinary Australians. No Common Creation will remain in our Treasures Gallery in Canberra throughout the High Court centenary year and beyond.