Obituary for W. L. Morison

1 July 1920 to 5 April 2000

An obituary for Professor W. L. Morison was published in the Sydney Morning Herald on 14th April 2000. The original text of the obituary by Julie Robotham appears below.

William Loutit Morison, who has died in Sydney at the age of 79, will be remembered as an uncompromising scholar and an inspired teacher who helped define Sydney University's law school during the 1960s and 1970s.

The fourth of five children of William and Estella, Morison was born in Brisbane. The family moved to Sydney while Morison was an infant, his father establishing a produce firm in Sussex Street. Educated at North Sydney Boys' High School, Morison's academic potential was recognised early and he entered Sydney University in 1937 aged 16 - deemed too young to study law. So he took history and philosophy - and university medals in both - before embarking on the law course that would begin his career.

Aged 26, Morison was appointed lecturer in law at Sydney University, and he undertook his doctoral thesis, in torts, at Lincoln College, Oxford in 1949. Food rationing was still the order of the day in postwar Britain and Morison and his wife Mary, whom he married in 1947, would eat their weekly chop, eggs and bacon and chocolate in one spectacular meal, then subsist on what they could find the rest of the week. On one occasion that was whale meat, an experience they were not anxious to repeat.

Morison was to carve out an international reputation in the law and legal philosophy, and he published several books as author or editor, including Cases on Torts, an influential casebook first published in 1955 and reprinted most recently in 1993, which included his illuminating commentary. His 1982 work on the philosopher John Austin is another lasting contribution.

Morison became professor of Law in 1959, until his 1985 retirement. He spent three separate years in visiting fellowships to Yale University, travelling by ship and playing ferociously competitive deck quoits and table tennis on-board. It was in America that he acquired perhaps his only small decadence - the habit of cocktails before dinner. He mixed a mean daiquiri or brandy crusta.

An energetic teacher with a remarkable ability to distil clearly and rigorously the finer points of law, Morison received standing ovations for legal lectures delivered in verse in a parody of the style of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Generations of colleagues and students will remember his dry humour and twinkle-eyed delivery. His family remembers him racing round the house - he preferred to think while on the move - laughing to himself as he hatched the jokes he would deliver at the podium.

Morison's love of philosophy, which continued alongside his legal career, underpinned his intellectual integrity. Throughout the political and legal turmoil of the 1970s he was a passionate and vocal opponent of what he saw as the politicisation of the law curriculum.

Morison was probably proudest of and most professionally fulfilled by his work as NSW Law Reform Commissioner between 1968 and 1970 and of his 1973 report into state privacy laws, which was implemented as the Privacy Committee Act in 1975. He continued to serve on the Privacy Committee until 1982.

In retirement he produced another two editions of Cases on Torts. But increasingly he returned to philosophy, his other love. As late as last October he delivered an address to the Sydney Realists, devotees of John Anderson, Australia's foremost modern philosopher, and regularly wrote for the group's newsletter, Heraclitus.

He was a wordsmith, a connoisseur of puns and limericks. Herald cryptic crosswords buckled under his gaze, and did so daily almost until the end of his life.

Vastly generous towards his family, Morison favoured bargains for himself: he loved bookstore clear-outs and would bring home reference books and encyclopedic magazines by the armful, particularly enjoying the kind of sales where you paid $10 for as many books as you could pick up in a minute. He was impishly delighted to have lived beyond 75 because, having chosen a pension instead of a lump sum at retirement, he felt he had then confounded the actuaries and was subsequently in profit.

Bill Morison may have quit while he was ahead, but those around him are very much the poorer for his loss.

He is survived by his wife Mary, children Donald, Neale and Alethea, and six grandchildren.

Byline: Julie Robotham

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