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Douglas John Whalan (1929–1997)

by Jim Davis

Douglas Whalan passed away on October 10 last year, after a relatively brief illness.

Douglas was born on February 5 1929, in Kurow, in the South Island of New Zealand. His secondary education was at Waitaki Boys High School, in Oamaru, from where he went to the University of Otago, in Dunedin, to undertake an LLB. In the final year of his LLB, he was taken on as a clerk in Paterson & Lang, a firm of solicitors in Dunedin, and on completion of the degree he was admitted into partnership in the legal firm which then became Hjorring, Tait, Farrell and Whalan in Oamaru. He completed a Masters thesis in law while conducting legal practice.

His opening as an academic lawyer came when he was appointed to a Senior Lectureship at the Law School in what was to become the University of Auckland in 1958.

In 1964, he took a sabbatical year in the Law Program in the ANU's Research School of Social Sciences (RSSS), under the guidance of Geoffrey Sawer. After a year back at the Auckland Law School, he applied for, and was appointed to, a Fellowship in the Law Program in RSSS, and was promoted to Senior Fellow in that Program in 1967. While there, he was able to concentrate on writing his PhD thesis on the Torrens system of land registration, which earned him a PhD from the University of Otago in 1969.

Douglas was, however, a dedicated teacher. After two years in the Research School, he was appointed to a Chair in Law at the University of Queensland, a position he held for five years, from 1968 to 1973.

In 1973, he was appointed to a Chair in the Law Faculty here at the ANU. In the following 15 years he fulfilled a number of roles both in the Faculty and in the wider University.

He was elected Dean in 1975, and presided over a number of changes in the Faculty, including a thorough-going review of the curriculum and the establishment of the position of Associate Dean. It was also during Douglas's Deanship that the Australasian Universities Law Schools' Association held its annual conference at the ANU.

During his Deanship, Douglas was closely involved in the administration of The Faculties as a whole.

He was appointed Chairman of the Board of The Faculties in 1980, and remained there for two three-year terms.

In 1982 he accepted appointment as the Standing Legal Counsel to the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances.

His appointment to advise the Senate Committee was something of a turning point. After completing his two terms as Chairman of the Board of The Faculties, and taking a well-earned Sabbatical year in 1987, he followed a new path in his career by taking early retirement from the University and remaining on the Faculty as a Visiting Fellow only.

Although he continued a close association with the Faculty, his attention turned more and more to Parliamentary work.

Soon after the ACT Legislative Assembly was formed, it set up a Legislation Committee, and it was no surprise, given his sterling work for the Senate Committee, that in 1990 Douglas was appointed the Assembly's standing legal counsel to its Legislation Committee.

Douglas continued with both of those positions until only a few weeks before his death. In 1994, he was awarded Membership of the Order of Australia, in recognition of his unstinting assistance to both the Senate Committee and to that of the ACT Assembly. And, only weeks before the end, the President of the Senate, Senator Margaret Reid, honoured Douglas with a dinner in Parliament House to commemorate 15 years of service to the Senate.

In 1959, he married Elizabeth Chapman. Douglas was justifiably proud of the fact that both of their children, Pam and Comus, displayed the same degree of academic excellence as he had. Both are now medical practitioners, living in Hobart and Adelaide respectively.

Original publication

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Citation details

Jim Davis, 'Whalan, Douglas John (1929–1997)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 24 May 2024.

© Copyright Obituaries Australia, 2010-2024

Life Summary [details]


5 February, 1929
Kurow, New Zealand


10 October, 1997 (aged 68)

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