Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


School of Law


Radical judges and opera directors have much in common. They both react to the dominating and suffocating presence of tradition through time. Lionel Keith Murphy was a Justice of the High Court of Australia between 1975 and 1986. Before that time, he was a barrister, politician and, later, reforming Attorney-General in the controversial Whitlam Labor Government of 1972 to 1975. Considerable attention has followed his life and politics, but his jurisprudence remains overlooked and criticised. This is because, as a justice, Murphy sought to challenge dominant accounts of the construction and expression of law, its reliance on outdated precedents, and mounted a critique against injustices wrought by law.

In opera, innovative moments in history such as Richard Wagner’s groundbreaking music dramas and his famous gesamtkunstwerk (‘total artwork’) in the 1870s became burdened by repetition, with changes in staging in the twentieth century remaining outlying radical gestures that detracted from the sanctity of traditional production. Wagner’s innovations therefore stagnated and the Bayreuth Festival, a site dedicated to the almost exclusive production of his works, observed what George Bernard Shaw called ‘the law of death’. By 1951, the composer’s own grandson, Wieland Wagner, shattered tradition at Bayreuth and radically upset the prevailing order; an example that was extended by Patrice Chéreau in 1976 which, in turn, has influenced radical productions ever since.

This thesis provides a new interpretation of Murphy’s jurisprudence by using an operatic technique to stage the clash he posed between traditional and innovative judicial approaches. Whilst examining Murphy within his own time, this thesis is conscious of the interventions of the cultural legal scholars, jurisographers and law and humanities scholarship of recent years, in noticing what law and opera reveal about key moments in time and space. Therefore, Murphy is read as part of a story about law and interpretation through time. By moving through key moments in tradition and innovation in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, Murphy and the tradition against which he buffeted can be understood in their proper context. The mid-nineteenth century sets the groundwork for tradition, whilst the mid-twentieth century is equally important for setting the radicalism upon which Murphy’s jurisprudence was based...

This thesis is unavailable until Monday, January 10, 2022



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.