Opening with a montage of his life and his life’s work, Geoffrey Robertson is easily painted as a highly intelligent man with an impressive resume, which, of course, he is. Robertson, a Queen’s Counsel human rights barrister, has been working tirelessly for years to promote the importance of free speech and global justice, both in his career and as a public speaker.
His most well-known public role is probably his television show, ‘Hypotheticals’, where he and a group of intellectuals of the day would debate a hotly contested topic, often regarding human rights. Robertson is also known for his writing, having penned a small collection of books on his work, as well as reflections of current issues like torture, terrorism, and religion. But, he is also famous for his celebrity and regal interactions, like his work with the late Princess Diana, for whom he had to outline an ancient law that would allow the death penalty to be applied if she were to commit adultery. To the audience it was a fascinating concept in our current society and a terrifying thing to tell a new Princess, but it made for one of many spectacular autobiographical stories.
Dreaming Too Loud is an autobiographical show, running the span of Robertson’s career, from his Australian homeland to his current home in the UK, and also his international stories. Robertson’s rise to law prominence came in the early 70s, during obscenity trials where he defended the alternative magazine, ‘Oz’, which had published an image of Rupert Bear, a well-loved cartoon character, with an enormous set of genitals. Along similar comical lines, Robertson also defended the Sex Pistols in regards to their album title, ‘Never Mind the Bollocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols’, which led to a few chuckled in the audience.
On a more serious note, since those early cases, Robertson has been a protector of Salman Rushdie, defending him in Australia, and most recently has represented and assisted Julian Assange, who is currently still trapped in a converted toilet in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the UK. He also spoke at length about his work as a death row lawyer, and how he grew to deeply understand the torture of waiting for years for death to come upon speaking to death row inmates. It was a good mix of stories throughout the show, ranging from the humorous to the deadly serious. I will note that there was an uncomfortable few minutes of video shown, where American soldiers appeared to be taking potshots at reporters. As the video portrayed the death of these reporters, it was difficult to watch and was unannounced, which soured the next section of the show for me. However, it was still a fascinating thing to listen to, from a law and justice point of view.
While Robertson now makes his home in the UK, he very much feels like Australia is still his home, and this is evident in his work history here, as well as his intense knowledge of Australia’s own historical events. He makes an important note of Arthur Phillip, a Royal Navy officer and the first Governor of New South Wales, and his Aboriginal companion Yemmerrawanyea, with whom Phillip travelled back to England. Robertson was clearly upset as he recounted the tale during his show, though the characters had been lost to history for most of the audience, and expressed his great displeasure at discovering that both Phillip and Yemmerrawanyea’s grave sites in the UK were fake, after all his work to unearth the first Australian expatriate.
(As a side note, Robertson made multiple jabs at the importance Australians placed on sport, particularly when there were more important global concepts to be considered, which I found amusing.)
Despite his occasionally unsettling level of patriotism, something which is more keenly felt by Americans about America than Australians about Australia, Robertson is a delight to listen to. As a well educated man, with a job that requires him to be convincing, he has a strong capacity to draw the audience into his stories, and encourages you to agree with his ideas, or at the very least consider them. There was only one person who walked out partway through, clearly displeased at some opinion Robertson had put forward, but the rest of the room were enthralled by Robertson’s stories.
His final story of the first act was less a story and more a suggestion. Well versed in constitutional law, Robertson suggested a new preamble for the Australian constitution, incorporating modern values and global justice into an extended opening that could possibly have rivalled the length of The Lord of the Rings. While I’m sure the extent of the preamble was for show, it really displayed Robertson’s core beliefs, that everyone should be equal and experience life fairly, and that Australians are, as a people, moral and just, and that our country’s constitution should support the beliefs of the public.
Robertson’s most thrilling words to an Australian audience are the best to end on. As he puts it, “I’m an expatriate, but I’m not an ex-patriot” solidifying his love for our sunburnt country, despite his extensive work in foreign countries.