Ron Castan AM QC (1939-1999)
"As a young man, I remained naively unaware of the existence of the Aboriginal people of this land and of the policies and practices that had been in place since first settlement, and that were still in place in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Nevertheless, it troubles my conscience now that it took me until 1971 to really commence to see that the determination not to stand by and see the Jewish people downtrodden and persecuted, was meaningless if I was standing by and seeing another oppressed people downtrodden and persecuted within my own country." Speech by Ron Castan. Indigenous-Jewish Forum, Monash University. November 1998.
Ron Castan AM QC is finished. His spirit lives. His own words stand as testament to the kind of man he was, and why our loss is so deep and our grief so profound. Ron was a remarkably decent man whose heart and conscience always guided his intellect. Indigenous Australians have lost a champion: the entire country has lost a treasure.
His generosity and commitment to the human rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples was legendary and very few individuals have been so successful in translating personal commitment into precise legal effect.
For almost 30 years Ron played a leading role in some of the most significant Australian litigation involving the rights of Indigenous peoples: Mabo, Koowartha, Tassie Dams, Onus & Franklin are but a few of the most well known cases to which he brought the power of his considerable legal skills and the grace of his personality. In 1971, Ron became the founding secretary of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. In 1982, the Mabo case was begun with Ron as senior counsel. He was by our side in the political struggle in the 1993 negotiations to honour Eddy Mabo and the others who had fought so hard to secure our land rights. He was there again, full of energy, in 1998, when Indigenous peoples together with our friends and allies were trying to minimise damage to native title during the Howard Government"s amendments fiasco. Ron was always there.
While the justice of a cause should win a case, it cannot do so without the catalyst of human energy and advocacy. Ron gave the energy of his life and channelled his immense ability into the cause of justice. Not only for Indigenous Australians. As he said, justice is meaningless if it is not extended to all and a belief in justice is empty unless it is expressed in action..
(Reproduced with thanks from Indigenous Law Bulletin October 1999, volume 4, issue 24).
by Mick Dodson & David Allen