Sir Laurence Street (1943), OC of the Year 2013

The Hon Sir Laurence Street KCMG AC QC (1943) is one of Australia’s most distinguished jurists. Graduating in 1951 with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), his career has been marked out by service and leadership not only within the realm of the law, but significantly to Cranbrook School and the wider community. Practicing extensively in equity, commercial law and maritime law, he was appointed Queen’s Counsel in 1963. In 1965 he was appointed judge of the New South Wales Supreme Court in the Equity Division. In 1974, at the age of 47, he became the second youngest Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of New South Wales.

Sir Laurence was the third generation of his family to have served New South Wales in this role as his father, Sir Kenneth Whistler Street (1950 - 1960) and his grandfather, Sir Philip Whistler Street (1925 - 1934) held office before him. In 1976 he was appointed a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG). The Order is awarded to men and women who render extraordinary or important non-military service in a foreign country. It can also be conferred for important or loyal service in relation to foreign and Commonwealth affairs. He retired from the bench in 1988 and was appointed Companion of the Order of Australia (AC) in 1989.

His career altered course in 1989 and with the vast experience gained in the Supreme Court, he turned to helping many Australian citizens and business people resolve their disagreements instead of resorting to the courts. His work as a commercial mediator and alternative resolution consultant has included some 1,500 mediations, mainly involving major commercial disputes. However, his skills extended to other areas of dispute resolution. He negotiated a settlement between the British National History Museum and indigenous groups to return the remains of seventeen Aboriginal persons to the Tasmania Aboriginal Centre in late 2006. Mediation focuses on free and open discussions between parties to assist them negotiate their own resolution without the constraints imposed through litigation and arbitration. Sir Laurence has been a leader in promoting the benefits of mediation both here in Australia and overseas.

Shortly after commencing his secondary schooling at Cranbrook in 1938 he showed excellent academic proficiency, strong enthusiasm for sport and a keen sense of community and leadership. In 1939 and 1940 he shared the Form Prize. In both years he achieved Distinctions in Latin and Mathematics. He was Dux of the Sub-Leaving Form in 1941 with Distinctions in Latin and Mathematics and one of six Cranbrook students to gain the Leaving Certificate in 1943. On the sporting field he played cricket, tennis and rugby. From an early age he showed his leadership by organizing cricket practice during lunch hours with classmate James Johnson (1939). In 1943 he was Captain of the 2nd XI Cricket and assisted his team to victory over St Aloysius with a top score of 45 runs. In the same year he was Captain of the 2nd XV Rugby. He was a member of the Cranbrook Scout Troop, reaching Quarter-Master status in 1941. He capped his final year with the leadership roles of Captain of Debating, Head of the Music Club, School Prefect and Cadet-Lieutenant.

Sir Laurence served on Cranbrook School Council from 1962 to 1974 and as President from 1967 to 1974. This was a period of rapid expansion and intellectual innovation ably led by Council and Headmaster, Mark Bishop. In 1967 the Wyndham Scheme was introduced, conspicuously influenced by the existing approach to education followed by Cranbrook School. Sir Laurence in his role as School Councillor and later as President assisted with the planning to meet this expansion and new challenges with such projects as the purchase of ‘Cotway’ for Junior Boarders, the construction of the Mansfield Building to house a new Library and the planning for a new Senior School with a Gymnasium and Swimming Pool. During this period there was a strong bond between Council and Common Room, a circumstance no doubt encouraged by the conciliatory and open minded approach which Sir Laurence displays today in his active participation and encouragement of mediation within the legal fraternity. It has been Cranbrook School’s great fortune to have such an old boy serve the school and the community.

(by Anthony Lees (1972), from the OC Magazine, March 2013)