Class of 1942
From the playing fields of Aquinas to becoming the “father of the Australian Senate”, Peter Durack’s power of speech was just one of his many talents which helped him get there.
The other was the ability to apply himself to his studies and discovering the importance of leadership while at Aquinas College. He was the son of a Kimberley pioneering family and was quietly successful while at school. As a Prefect, he distinguished himself with distinctions in English, Latin, French, History, Maths A and Physics.
After Aquinas, he chose to read Law, but it was merely a stepping-stone to his big love which was politics. Along the way, he topped his year in 1945 at UWA and came second the following year.
However, mere achievement was not enough for Peter. He found he was a natural at setting things up and presiding over them. He was President of the National Union of Students and the Guild of Undergraduates while at UWA. He was a founder of the Liberal Club in 1945, President the following year and represented the University’s Debating Club for the following two years.
He was successfully selected as a Rhodes Scholar in 1949, read Law at Magdalen, while at Oxford before being called to the Bar. His real claim to fame was still ahead of him as an Australian politician (1970-1993) for the Liberal Party, rising to Attorney General. He served in Malcolm Fraser’s government from 1977-1983 and was famously one of the longest-serving politicians ever to grace the House.
Peter chose Carmel McLure as his researcher and later private secretary who became the first woman to serve as President of the Court of Appeal in WA. She remembers a man of complete integrity who was unusually apolitical, who worked effectively across party lines for longer than most in Parliament. She never saw him lose his temper even under ferocious pressure from the other side of the House.
When he passed away at the age of 81 in 2008, fellow Aquinian Sir Fred Chaney said: “He was one of the finest politicians I ever knew. I think Peter Durack brought to politics a deep commitment to public service”. Malcolm Fraser recalled his great integrity and intellect and said: “I don’t recall him ever saying an unkind word about another politician or anyone else for that matter”.