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Buckley, Berenice (Berry) (1929–2010)

by Malcolm Brown

When two brilliant, inspired individuals already pursuing a common cause then marry, there is often fireworks – or perhaps just substantial progress, one supporting the other. So it was with Ken Buckley, founder of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, and his wife, Berenice.

Berenice, also known as ''Berry'', was socially committed, especially in the remedies for injustice and poverty. Ken was an ''attack dog that would bite and not let go until he succeeded in his goal'', as one person put it, but his wife provided a counterbalancing weight.

Cameron Murphy, the council president, said: ''Ken made great friends, and the occasional enemy, in his brash approach, while Berry simply worked behind the scenes, made friends, built alliances and got the practical things done to ensure the task happened successfully.''

Murphy said that while he chaired the council over a decade ''there would be raucous debate over a controversial policy position or when a decision was being made to engage in legal action – sometimes with dubious prospects of success. Berry would cause us to reconsider our position when we were about to rush headfast into something silly.''

Berenice was born on February 3, 1929, at Warrnambool, in Victoria, the daughter of an artist/signwriter, Victor Hodgson-Granger, and his wife, Olive Everett.

The family moved to Sydney and she was educated at Sydney Girls High School. She left school in 1944 after the Intermediate Certificate, attended business college and became a secretary with real estate firm.

In 1949 she became a personnel officer for the Woolworths chain, travelling throughout Australia and New Zealand. In 1951 she travelled to London, worked as a secretary, then as a personnel officer for a tyre company. She also spent several months working at a kibbutz in Israel.

Returning to Sydney in 1957, she became personnel officer for W.D. & H.O. Wills. In 1961, she became executive secretary of the Good Neighbour Council, a body financed by a commonwealth government grant to promote the assimilation of migrants.

Ken, in the meantime, was also busy. In 1963, after witnessing a shoddy and overbearing performance by police, and getting no response to an official complaint, he convened a meeting at the University of Sydney to form a civil liberties council. Berenice was invited to attend because of her knowledge of immigration matters.

Ken became the council's first secretary and Berenice his assistant. They worked well together and fell in love, marrying in 1965, with Ken's best friend, Kep Enderby, later a federal attorney-general and a Supreme Court judge, as best man.

The council became involved in campaigns on immigration and censorship, and in rights for homosexuals, and Berenice was always there, working hard behind the scenes.

Cameron Murphy was to say: ''There are hundreds, if not thousands, of well-meaning movements and organisations that have started up with the best of intentions but failed because they lacked a person called Berenice.''

In 1970, Berry began work as a research officer in a survey of the Sydney Jewish community, headed by Professor Sol Encel at the University of NSW. In 1972, she worked with Professor (as he then was) Ronald Sackville when he headed the law section of the Commission of Inquiry into Poverty (the Henderson report), a comprehensive study of the position of migrants in relation to the law.

The Buckleys first lived at Hunters Hill, then moved to Balmain. Berenice liked nothing better than sharing a glass of red wine with friends, along with good bread and cheese. She also had a passion for art, literature, theatre and music, and was a great and enthusiastic gardener who loved Australian native plants. She had a magic touch and got many a rare, sensitive plant to flower for her.

In 1976, Ken became president of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties, and a year later Berenice was appointed to a senior position in the Ethnic Affairs Commission, where she headed a research team on the position of migrants in relation to the police, law, hospitals, welfare and education. In 1980, she took a senior management position with the NSW Public Service Board and in 1986, took up senior executive service in the NSW State Lotteries.

Retiring from the public service in 1988, she enrolled at Sydney University and, in 1996 was awarded a batchelor of arts.

In 1998 James Dunn, the former diplomat, named Ken and Berenice among ''The 50 Great Australians''.

In her later years, Berenice delighted in taking her poodle, Cleo, on daily walks through Balmain. She continued to work with the Council for Civil Liberties and in 2008 it awarded her life membership.

Berenice Buckley is survived by her sister, Marcia Claux, brother-in-law Kleber Claux, nephew Anton Claux, niece Desama Bailey and their families, stepson Michael Buckley and step-granddaughter Elizabeth Simpson. Ken died in 2006.

Original publication

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 27 February 2010

Additional Resources

Citation details

Malcolm Brown, 'Buckley, Berenice (Berry) (1929–2010)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/buckley-berenice-berry-16863/text28759, accessed 11 August 2020.

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