Aus­tralia’s first fe­male magistrate was de­vout con­ser­va­tive who liked a beer and snooker

Marlborough Express - - FRONT PAGE -

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

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