Australia’s first female magistrate was devout conservative who liked a beer and snooker
Margaret Hogan, who has died in her eighties, was a new, 15-year-old typist at Australia’s Department of Justice in 1949. Raised in a conservative, Catholic, country family, she had never heard of the crime on the papers she was typing – buggery – so she did her best and decided it must have been ‘‘burglary’’ instead.
This early mistake must not have counted against her as, in July 1970, now Margaret Sleeman, she was the first woman appointed a magistrate in Australia.
Along with her older siblings Ted and
Shirley, she grew up on
Claremont, a farm at
Bargo, just outside
Sydney. They had an interesting family heritage. Florence
Hogan, of Bargo, married Dennis Hogan, of Bargo. Both
Florence and Dennis had fathers called Thomas. That’s a small town for you.
Perhaps it was the duality of Hogan lineage that intensified many of the traits for which she was known: resilience, persistence, practicality and independence.
Among friends and relatives, Margaret was known for never changing a decision and maintaining a strong streak of stubbornness. In regular games of Scrabble with sister Shirley and cousin Pat, she would argue forcibly as to whether dubious words would be allowed or not. As she was almost always the scorer, she was in a strong position to have her way, even though Pat was not known for taking a backward step.
Margaret’s independence shone through when she was 15. Her father believed it was not ladylike for women to work. However, Margaret was already looking to her future. Somehow, she persuaded her mother to take her to Sydney, where she left her mother standing on a street corner while she ducked into a building. When Margaret emerged, she announced she had a job as a messenger for the Department of Justice.
She married Tom Sleeman in July 1962, but six weeks after they married they were struck by the devastating news of Tom’s leukaemia. He died within days of their second wedding anniversary. When Margaret was studying for the Solicitor’s Admission Board exams during Tom’s illness, he would make her a cup of tea in the early morning, encouraging her to get some study done before work because ‘‘she was going to have to support herself one day’’.
As she studied and moved through the ranks, she held positions in nearly every section of the Justice Department, such as depositions clerk, assistant clerk of petty sessions and chief clerk of divorce. She was admitted as a solicitor in
1969 and, after her appointment as a magistrate, she presided in many local courts.
One defendant was Dr Arthur Chesterfieldevans, charged with defacing billboards as part of the BUGAUP campaign against tobacco advertising. Although his defence was not accepted, Margaret imposed only a nominal fine of $20 and commented that she generally agreed with the rationale for his actions.
She saw her job as administering the law, trying to come to a fair and just solution, but acknowledging that someone was usually left dissatisfied. She did not like imposing jail sentences, because of the effect on the offender’s children. She preferred her role as coroner, as it was more about reaching a decision, not sentencing.
In the 1980s significant reforms led to the Local Courts Act, removing the administration of the magistracy from the public service. It is well-documented that under these reforms, she was not reappointed as a stipendiary magistrate. Margaret continued as a chamber magistrate, but this remained one of the great disappointments of her life.
She was a frequent visitor to City Tatts Club, where she loved having a beer with her work colleagues, who were mostly male. She enjoyed watching people’s faces, studying their expressions and wondering what was going on in their mind.
She was a ‘‘conservative’’ and did not like the permissive society of the 1960s and 70s. Her thoughts were that everyone would benefit if parents showed they cared by laying down a few more protective rules. She didn’t like nudity, long hair on men, or mini-skirts. However, she was prepared to face the new permissive society with an open mind, even while admitting, rather proudly, that she was a ‘‘square’’.
The women’s liberation movement also had no relevance for her, as she felt she had never been refused a bank loan as a single woman, nor did she feel her career had suffered due to her gender.
Margaret married again in 1972, to Reg Beath. There were some good times as they made weekend trips up to Margaret’s holiday house at Budgewoi, or pottered around the house and garden at Concord. There were lots of trips to gatherings of extended family, often at Bargo. But by the early 1990s they separated.
Throughout her life, Margaret pursued many interests. She served as a committee member on the board of directors at Ashfield Catholic Club from 1978 to 1983. She is remembered as someone who liked all the i’s dotted and t’s crossed. Nor did she suffer fools; she was chairing a meeting involving the constitution and was asked to repeat something. Her response was simply, ‘‘I don’t repeat myself.’’ And she didn’t.
In her younger days, she was a regular tennis player, and enjoyed snooker. Along with sister Shirley and cousins Pat and Joy, she rambled with Woodstock Walkers until her knees wore out. Another great interest was travel, both within Australia and overseas. She played piano and painted landscapes. Crafts such as knitting, cross-stitch and needlework kept her hands busy. Her mind was active with crosswords and reading. Saturdays were reserved for games of canasta, whist or Scrabble.
Margaret was not renowned for being warm and fuzzy. But there was no doubt that underneath was a good heart committed to the Catholic ethos. She was disappointed when she was no longer able to go to Concord Hospital and give Communion because she knew how important this was to people of Catholic faith.
She did not have children, so her many nieces and nephews were dear to her, as were the lifelong friendships she maintained with some of her childhood friends from Bargo.
While Margaret continued to exercise her mind, she was not able to hold back the ravages of dementia. Her memory of her home town was one of the last things to disappear, as she called herself Margo from Bargo. – Marella Hogan/ Fairfax