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From the Ashes: The Supreme Court Fire of 1968

Home > Brisbane > Libraries | Historic Houses | Exhibitions
by Marina Marangos (subscribe)
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A postcard of the Supreme Court
A postcard of the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court Library Queensland has given us some insightful legal heritage exhibitions and this latest one is no exception. The new exhibition, which is called From the ashes: the Supreme Court fire of 1968 and commemorates the 50th anniversary of the fire.

The Supreme Court
The Supreme Court

A man called David Bertram Brooks, who was an alcoholic, was found sleeping in a public toilet block on George St and the police moved him on. He wandered down George St and came across the Supreme Court Building. The story of what then happened is almost unbelievable (by today's standards) but its aftermath and far-reaching effect were felt by the whole community:

"In the early hours of a cold Brisbane morning in 1968, David Bertram Brooks—a man 'sour on the world'—entered the unlocked front door of Queensland's historic Supreme Court.

Resentful of the police and the justice system for his frequent arrests, Brooks made his way to the judges' chambers and set the building alight. On his way out, he drove a knife into an associate's desk and scribbled the note 'judge not lest you be judged sinner'.

By the time the fire was brought under control, much of the building was in ruins. Many of the Supreme Court Library's books were seriously damaged by fire, smoke and water. Brooks was apprehended within three days of the fire, and convicted within three months of the crime. The motive for the fire was never properly established though Brooks himself is known to have said, "I've got to be punished, I wanted to do something big and wrong." Source: Supreme Court Library Queensland,

Many efforts were made then to salvage as much as possible from the fire that ravaged the building and now for the 50th anniversary of the fire, some of these items are on display with interesting insights from the Hon Richard Chesterman AO RFD QC, who at the time was a final law student and associate to Justice Wanstall when news of the fire broke out.

His personal recollections are recorded in a 2016 Selden Society lecture - click here.

Some of the items, which are on display, are:

The Clock made by renowned Brisbane clockmakers Herga & Co, which was salvaged from the ruins of the fire, and recently donated to the library's legal heritage collection

Photographs documenting the aftermath of the fire, donated to the collection by His Excellency the Hon Paul de Jersey AC
original depositions from The Queen v David Bertram Brooks 1969

Salvaged fire-damaged law reports.

This small exhibition is the latest of the Supreme Court Library Queensland.

When you are there, take the opportunity to wander around and see the wonderful exhibition on Lord Atkin. James Richard (Dick) Atkin was born in Tank Street, Brisbane on 28 November 1867 – last year marked the 150th anniversary of his birth. Lord Atkin was one of the most influential judges of his or any generation. His landmark judgments still guide the laws of our nation and the rest of the common law world today.

To commemorate the anniversary of Atkin's birth and his lasting legacy to the common law, the library is hosting an exhibition, which examines Atkin's life, career and impact.

Go along to peruse the many photographs and oral histories that the Library has collected from his life and times.

The Supreme Court Library maintains a significant collection of legal heritage items, which have been generously donated by members of the judiciary, the legal profession and the wider community. The collection includes rare books, photographs and images, biographical files, oral histories, textiles and artworks.

Donations of legal and historical interest that help preserve and share Queensland's legal heritage are always welcome. If you would like to donate, please email at or phone 3247 5434.

The new exhibition is on from the 10th September to the 21st of December 2018.

The exhibition on Lord Atkin is on until the 30th of November.
Entry is free.

The exhibitions are open from 8.30 am to 4.30 pm weekdays.
They are located on Level 12, QEII Courts of Law.
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Why? An interesting insight into an important event.
When: 10th Sept to 21st December 2018
Phone: 07 3247 5424,
Where: Level 12, Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law, 415 George St, Brisbane, Queensland, 4000 Across from Roma Street Transit Centre
Cost: Free.
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