By Trent Wallace, the Australian Pro Bono Centre’s Secondee Policy and Project Officer.
I acknowledge and pay my respect to the traditional custodians of the land on which this story was produced, the Bedegal people of the Eora Nation.
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The name John Corker (JC) means many things to a diverse range of people touched by or who work in the legal sector. To Indigenous people, he is one of our champions. To the pro bono community, he is a source of great counsel. To Kerry Packer, he was a bit of a pain! Ultimately, the impact of JC’s career has been one that uplifts access to justice.
On Thursday 22 August 2019, DLA Piper held a celebration for JC, who headed the Australian Pro Bono Centre for 15 years. I spoke with JC about the words ‘retirement’ and ‘farewell’ as they did not suit the man that I had come to know and greatly respect. It turns out those words did not sit well with him either, with his words “I’m not really the retiring type” being echoed through the UNSW Law Faculty on his last days in the building. On the evening of the celebration, he cheekily reminded us that he was not dead!
Nicolas Patrick, Partner and Head of Responsible Business, DLA Piper, flew in from London to host the event. The audience gained an insight to their friendship, one that has spanned many years. Phillip Cornwell, Chair of the Australian Pro Bono Centre, was the next to speak and honour JC’s contribution to the pro bono world. Gabriela Christian-Hare, the Australian Pro Bono Centre CEO, then spoke of JC’s international and domestic reach, reciting a story I told her about him being referred to as the “deadly lawyer” when I was in Darwin. Hearing Gabriela echo the sentiments of the Centre’s staff provided the audience a chance to understand how closely we all work. The Centre then played a farewell video for JC. The video featured a vast array of people including those from Sparke Helmore, Herbert Smith Freehills and even the Human Rights Commissioner Ed Santow. The video was a cheerful celebration and expression of what JC meant to people.
As JC took to the stage, he paid tribute to the late Anton Hermann (Director Pro Bono & Community Investment at MinterEllison) and called for a period of silence. During this, we watched a slideshow featuring Anton in his personal and professional life. A touching tribute to a fellow pro bono crusader. JC’s grasp on humanity was felt by the room. Laughter, tears and well wishes were shared. As he’s “not really the retiring type”, he discussed where he was heading. What’s he tackling next? Environmental issues and making good use of his volunteer practising certificate. It is pertinent to note that JC has never taken any long service leave, therefore “doing nothing” is not an option.
As the event ended, I took him out to dinner. Over a beer and burger, we had a yarn like old times. He said to me that it is usually only at funerals where we hear about the impacts of a person’s life and contributions, so the evening provided a special opportunity for him to understand what he truly means to the world of law and access to justice. He was excited to show his family and friends the video. Knowing his work history, which is comprised of hours of overtime with very few holidays, it is pertinent to acknowledge JC’s family: his wife Rika and daughters Bibi and Pearl. We thank you for sharing him with us for so many years. The hours of overtime, missing events and travel has meant that JC has been able to touch the lives of so many in need, whether directly through his work as a lawyer, or through his work at the Centre.