When duty calls

By Daron Jacks and Lauren Smith

On his journey from reluctant law student to new Chancellor of the University of Melbourne, Allan Myers’ love for the place that gave him his head start has never waned.

Allan Myers
Above image: Allan Myers AC QC. Credit: Jorge de Araujo at Artifical Studios

Allan Myers AC QC (BA 1969, LLB(Hons) 1970, LLD 2012) took over the reins from Elizabeth Alexander AM as the new Chancellor of the University of Melbourne in January this year.

A Melbourne Law School alumnus, Myers is relishing his chance to support the work of the institution that gave him his step from Dunkeld, in Western Victoria, to the world.

Myers has had a remarkable life since his first day at the University on 9 March, 1965. He remembers the date fondly, and the anxiety and doubt. He didn’t think he was cut out to be a student, let alone a lawyer.

Who would have thought 52 years later he would be returning as Chancellor?

“It’s a wonderful job to be given in one’s 70th year,” Myers says.

“It’s an important institution, one of the most important institutions in our society.”

Myers says the University’s influence around the world means it serves not only the city of Melbourne, but the nation, and society as a whole, by the contribution of its alumni and its research.

Can you imagine the city without the University of Melbourne? What it does for the society of Victoria, or really for the whole of Australia – Australia’s leading university – it has an influence in almost every aspect of our life.

“It’s an engine of cultural change – political, social … and of the economy.”

Such is his love for and sense of duty to the University, Myers was the driving force behind the ‘Believe’ fundraising campaign, where as Chairman he set a target of $500 million. Myers and his wife Maria (BA 1971, GDip(Social Studies) 1972, LLB 1990) kickstarted the campaign with $10 million, to reinvigorate the institution that gave him his opportunity and purpose.

The target was reached two years earlier than the 2017 deadline, so Myers raised it to $1 billion. He says the expectation was to engage with members of the community and for them to see where their money was being invested.

“When I became Chair of the ‘Believe’ campaign, the one thing I said was ‘the University won’t be the same after this campaign’ … because the University will have to open itself up to all those people who are giving.

“That’s happened and the University has learnt quite a lot about itself with the campaign. And the University’s approach to the outside world has changed.

“Through every faculty there are now leading citizens who are involved in the affairs of the faculty because they’ve given money.

There’s a whole new kind of optimism that’s blowing through the institution. People can see that their work is appreciated.

The son of a butcher began his Arts/Law degree at the University of Melbourne in 1965 on the advice of his father.

“My father said ‘law’s a good profession, why don’t you do that?’, so that’s what I did and why I did it,” he says.

During his first weeks as a student, Myers struggled with being away from small-town life, living on campus at Newman College, and he almost gave up when he returned home for Easter. However, advice from his mother to give it another six weeks led to him excelling and topping his class. He never looked back.

“When I first came here I felt so bewildered and lonely and struggled as a student from the country,” Myers says.

“It was hard at first, very hard. That transition from the country was very difficult and I never had any sense of whether I’d be up to it.

“And at the end of the first year no one was more surprised to read the examination results than me. So I continued to study hard and I had a fulfilling time as a law student.

“I got the opportunity for an education through the University, which has been invaluable in my life. It provided opportunities and advantages which have led me to a life which has been interesting and fulfilling.”

Myers says living on campus helped him become engaged with university life and he became editor of the Melbourne University Law Review in 1968.

He went on to study at Oxford University before moving to Canada to teach law at Osgoode Hall Law School in Toronto.

“I came back to Australia when I decided I didn’t want to be an academic. After a year as a solicitor I went to the Bar, and I have been a barrister for more than 40 years.”

Myers says the life of a barrister is hard work – mentally, physically and emotionally.

If one is a barrister, one joins a group that is quite collegial and it tends to absorb one, because one has to work very hard as a barrister. If anyone tells you it’s an easy job, they haven’t been a barrister.

“You’ve got to face up to the fact that it’s physically tough, it’s intellectually and emotionally demanding in many cases.”

He says everything a barrister does is subject to “the most rigorous scrutiny”.

“You have your successes or failures in public.”

But, Myers concludes, “it’s a great life”.

“I’d recommend it to anyone.”

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 17, May 2017