Where are they now – Colin McDonald (SPC 1967-70)

September 2, 2022

We recently reconnected with Old Collegian Colin McDonald (SPC 1967-70), who has kindly permitted the College to share his story, which was published in a reunion book produced by the Class of 1970 in readiness for their 50-Year Reunion, which has been repeatedly rescheduled over the past two years due to COVID. We are now looking forward to hosting their reunion on Sunday 22 October 2022.


Colin McDonald.

Colin R. McDonald attended St Patrick’s College for four years and was a day boy from Clunes.

Colin McDonald at SPC.

In his Leaving year, Colin passed with seven subjects and won prizes for English, Latin and Biblical Studies.  He held both a Junior Government Scholarship and a Commonwealth Secondary Scholarship. He was a staff member of the School paper. In his HSC year in 1970, he was Dux of Humanities. He studied Law/Arts at Melbourne University and is now a well-known QC, who provides high level legal advising and representation in a range of criminal and civil laws, including consultation in the Courts of Indonesia, Timor-Leste, Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
Colin is a generalist barrister with a long experience in criminal, civil, constitutional, administrative law, Coronial law, licensing law, mining law, banking law, refugee and human rights law, death penalty cases in South East Asia.
He is a legal consultant in Indonesia and South East Asia, admitted to practice in Timor-Leste and speaks fluent Bahasa Indonesia.


We were delighted to hear from Colin earlier this week and he has shared this insight into his busy and rewarding life.

“My legal work included death penalty case in south-east Asia and many refugee cases here in Australia.

Also, in 2010 I was awarded the Law Council of Australia President’s Medal.

I was a member of the Board of the Australia-Indonesia Institute in the life of the Hawke and Keating Governments.

I am a collector of Indonesian art and south-east Asian ceramics.

I am a former Chair and Board member of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory (MAGNT) and the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art (NCCA).

I am a former Chair and member of the Board of Royal Darwin Hospital.

I am a long-time serving Board member and former Chair of the Board of the Melaleuca Refugee Service in Darwin.

I am a long-time passionate tree and bird attracting plant and flowers planter.”


Colin McDonald at the Melaleuca Refugee Centre Australia reunion. The Melaleuca Refugee Centre provides an environment for resettlement and healing of refugee survivors of torture and trauma, their families and community through confidential, high quality and holistic services. Colin is a long-time serving Board member and former Chair of the Board of the Melaleuca Refugee Service in Darwin.

Colin was also inducted as a SPC Legend in 2011 and gave the following acceptance speech at the presentation evening, sharing some of his insights and memories of his school life at SPC. We are delighted to share photos of Colin’s life in more recent times, thank you to Colin for sharing these with the SPC community.

“I dedicate this speech to the late Brother David Fogarty a gentle, scholarly man who opened my eyes to the texts and context of my spiritual tradition and the spiritual traditions of other religions. I learnt from him how wary we must be in interpreting and explaining other cultures, traditions, other through ideas and values drawn mainly from our own society and culture what G.K. Chesterton called “injury by explanation”.

Mr Paul Coburn may I thank you humbly for the unexpected honour you, the College and the Old Collegians Association have accorded me this evening. There are no words in me that can do justice to the occasion of being inducted into St Patrick’s College Hall of Legends.

This event and the honour you have bestowed upon me, brings back so many memories, evocative memories of formative years, the riddles and the confusions of adolescence and gratitude to so many who equipped me to face life and the quest for Grace. However, before I seek to reflect further, I would also like to acknowledge those Brothers and lay teachers who taught me at St Patrick’s College who gave so much of themselves and who inspired me. It is a pleasure that Peter Farley, my Latin master in Form III, is here tonight. I thank all of those teachers for their sacrifice, their values and their commitment. I would like to thank them not only for the knowledge, the values and disciplines they imparted, but for challenging my imagination. Only in my later years have I come to realise that Einstein’s observation is correct: imagination is more important than knowledge.

At the outset can I also acknowledge this evening the headmaster Dr Peter Casey, the Old Collegians Association President Mr Rick Blanchfield, SPC Foundation Chair Mr Dennis Foley and my fellow inductees Peter Buckle and Nathan Brown. May I salute my fellow inductees upon the honour conferred upon them. I thank too Mark Waddington, the Development Manager and the Marketing and Development Officer, Caitlin Bennett for tracking me down in Indonesia and facilitating so professionally this event and my attendance. I acknowledge especially my mother, who is able to share tonight’s function with me. There are no adequate words a son can formulate to express appreciation for the sacrifices of a good mother. I acknowledge and am happy my brother Mark and his wife Jenny; they have come in from the farm in Meredith to be here tonight. I am pleased also that my brother is no longer complaining about drought conditions in the Ballarat region.

Thank you Paul for your generous and kind introductory words. I am honoured in so many ways. Your reference to observations of others of my years at this College reminds me that I am an unusual recipient of this year’s honour.

Up front I must make a confession – name and age notwithstanding, I did not play cricket for Australia. My former classmates, Brian Mulcahy and Peter Mackey emailed me a few weeks back in respect of the award and tonight’s dinner. With reference to this event and the list of speakers, they passed on to me, in the spirit of good humour, a quote from another Old Collegian: “Colin McDonald. Who did he play for?” An amusing but a natural question given the context. After all, in my days, St Patrick’s College was very much a college of three religions: Football, Cricket and Catholicism – in that order. As a bus boy from Clunes, I was not able to be active in the school’s robust sports agenda. However, more tellingly, my sporting prowess was in any event unremarkable. There is not one photo in this school’s haunting halls of gallery photos which shows me representing the College in any sport. The only position I recall I rose to was that of editor of the school newspaper, a position in those days of no status. In saying all this, in no way do I mean to diminish the role or importance of sport in the life of a school and the development of a person. Quite the opposite. Sport is one of those early, organised activities and traditions where we experience the benefits, often lifetime benefits, of application, discipline, teamwork, team membership, loyalty and the importance of a healthy body. Through sporting excellence an individual’s esteem and self image are enhanced. The tradition of sport is one of those traditions that has kept this school alive.

College duces, Thomas Murphy and Colin McDonald, as pictured in the 1970 College Annual.

So tonight I stand in this evocative space with so many memories, humbled to be here. I happily recognise faces around me and, notionally, I see so many faces of those who are not physically here; I remember their presence and I remember their influences. I remember you and their presence and influences and how my life eventually emerged from being of one of those reluctant and perhaps unknowing of how to reveal the emerging man within, but a life heavily influenced by the experience and distillation of the values imparted in this school and my home environment. I have been fortunate indeed to have been educated in the traditions and spirit of Edmund Rice, one of those persons of vision who committed his life to the poor and the marginalised. We know and were taught that out of the desserts the Prophets came, but so too, out of the desserts of neglect, ignorance and selfishness did persons of vision. In our own religious tradition and relevant to tonight, I pause to acknowledge the vision some of those persons who did make a difference – Ignatius of Loyola, Edmund Rice, John Baptist De La Salle, Mary MacKillop, Frederic Ozanam and Mother Theresa.

As I speak, I am conscious there are generations in this room. So, inadequately, I will do my best to speak across the boundaries of time, of generation and the timeframe of years. I would like, if I can, to hover and focus on that issue of vision; not just because vision is timeless and not confined to anybody, place, age, religion or race, but because, across the generations, all of us in this room are the beneficiaries of vision. The vision of others (including many who have physically departed) is one of the factors, draw cards if you like, that brings us here tonight in a spirit of collegiality.

Colin McDonald has strong connections with Indonesia.

When I was at this College, I was not conscious of so many things at the time; because youth is what it is and secondary college has so many tribal distractions. I was privileged in my school years to have had men teach me who were who were men of vision. The intervening years notwithstanding, I remember them. I can still see them in my mind’s eye.

I remember Brother Remy Donaghue who taught me Australian History. It was he who first alerted me to the haunting fact and, contrary to the observations in one of the main texts in Australian history of the day, that the Australian Aborigines were not a melancholy footnote to the Australia story. So mindful of our past and the inspiration of Remy Donaghue, I also pause tonight to acknowledge the Wathaurong people whose spirits infuse this earth and upon whose lands we come together. It was Brother Donaghue who alerted me to the writings of Professor Manning Clark, the vision of Ben Chifley and the Labour movement. It was he who delighted me (and shocked others) in arriving on his first day in his Australian history class in Form VI in a rugby tracksuit carrying, of all things, a rugby ball! Provocation is one of the ingredients of vision.

I acknowledge Brother J N O’Sullivan who introduced me and many others to the mysteries and satisfactions of English literature. He conveyed and gave me a sense of the poetic in that tough pragmatic world from which I had come and where poets, writers and historians had not drawn the maps. I have read F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” each year since I left this College.

I thank Brother David Fogarty (to whom this speech is dedicated) who opened my eyes to themes within biblical scholarship and prepared me for the joys and challenges of comparative religion, and the enjoyable experience of other religious traditions. He introduced me to the Psalms. Brother Fogarty with his calm and humble spirit, served as an early inspirer of the abiding importance of tolerance.

I acknowledge Brother M B Stallard who had the energy and capacity to make even mathematics exciting. I remember his energy and optimism. I thank too Brother John O’Halloran who guided me away from being unable to balance equations in chemistry and confusing physics with philosophy in Form V and steering me back to the humanities in Form VI.

Only in the last decade did I come to realise from my readings in the history and philosophy of science that some of my questions in physics in Form V were not necessarily too wide of the mark and the problems of the physicists and the poets are as one.

I thank Brother Guthrie for opening my eyes to the fact that there was a geographic, wider world out there and for his excellent capacity to deal with bullies. It was he who told us “they” had hanged Ronald Ryan. Ronald Ryan was the 186th and last person to be executed in Australia. Only many years later would I come to reassess this death and the implications for all involved in death penalty cases.

I would not respect history without reference to Brother W T O’Malley who’s name already graced the new wing of the College when I went to school here. Although he may not have been a visionary, Brother O’Malley was an institution. Brother O’Malley presided over Form IVA or what was then known as Intermediate A. Brother O’Malley presided over Intermediate A for decades. Experience of Form IVA embraced tribalism, theatre, predictable retribution, a strange and almost stubborn form of compassion (no doubt born of the discrimination that he understood and that our parents and grandparents knew well and had experienced, just by being Catholics) and my first real introduction to the ‘Old Boys’. Classes were regularly punctuated by visits of ‘Old Boys’ – aging figures who came in to visit their old teacher and pay their respects. The class was appreciative of such visits, not only because of the transformed demeanour of Brother O’Malley to one of attentive meekness, but more practically, the strap never came out at or soon after such a visit.

Even in 1968 I sense we knew among the predictable rituals of Intermediate A that we were part of a wider institution, a living institution and hence “the Old Boys” visits. Permeating that year of tribalism was a kind of humour we all shared, albeit secretly, without necessarily knowing it or understanding it. For me, looking back, the antics of that year were one of my early introductions to satire.

Again looking back, there were so many things I didn’t know. I didn’t even have the insight to formulate the questions. Besides, survival was an everyday reality. The pressing litanies of travel, study, homework, farm work and exams dominated. Semi-­powerless, I was caught up in the unfolding living dimensions of the traditions of the school.

After early thoughts of a religious vocation subsided and at the end of 1970, I matriculated (or graduated in modern terminology) from this College. I was blessed with a Commonwealth Scholarship after the matriculation results were known. Thanks to the abilities and inspiration of professors, lecturers and tutors at Melbourne University Law School and Arts Faculty, I emerged into the new world at the end of 1975, a year marred for me with the sacking of the Whitlam Government on 11 November 1975.

In some respects I do not have to look back. I became a lawyer despite my preference to be an archaeologist in the traditions of Sir Leonard Woolley. A lawyer I remained for 35 years. My career was what it was. I have known the loneliness of decision making in murder trials and the haunting responsibilities in death penalty cases. But in those 35 years there were themes: travelling north to Darwin and the Northern Territory, justice for Aboriginal Australians, human rights cases in a diversity of contexts, refugees, travelling North again to Indonesia, East Timer, Cambodia and Indo China in the context of the arts, refugees and the death penalty.

This special drawing, by leading Balinese artist Wayan Wirawan, was entered in Colin’s guest book on 17 August 2022 – the 77th anniversary of Indonesian independence. Colin hosted a reunion of the Balinese and Indonesian artists who had participated in the Artists’ Camp/Bali Artists’ Camp project between 2012 and 2018. A passionate supporter, it was a project that Colin organised and helped curate and saw leading Balinese and Indonesian artists come to the Northern Territory, live in Aboriginal communities and interpret the landscape and Aboriginal culture. In alternative years Australian and other international artists would come to Ubud and interpret Balinese landscape and culture. The project was a resounding success. Also present at the lunch were Guy and Gina Allain, the directions of Munupi Arts on the Tiwi Islands where the Balinese and Indonesian artists stayed and painted. Colin is hoping to resume the project next year with Minister for Foreign Affairs’ Penny Wong’s assistance.

I have lived my life on frontiers – geographic, legal and in the arts. I have experienced in a direct way and have been given the genuine privilege of exposure to those materially very poor both in Aboriginal society and in the region to Australia’s north. That experience has led me to come to some tentative insights the themes of which I will attempt to share across the generations tonight. When I say “share” I mean not in a didactic sense, but in the sense that Manning Clark went in search of Henry Lawson towards the end of his remarkable life.

So, please treat what I say next as reports from the front line, an item of intelligence from an officer who has long gone to the north and text only for you to weigh up and evaluate when addressing that searching exclamation of Ivan Karamazov when he said: “I want to be there when everyone suddenly understands what it has all been for”.

I cannot answer Dostoevsky’s translated literary, life challenging exclamation save to report that as I stand here I know the journey is short. “What it has all been for” is the vexing question. Those “old boys” who visited us in Brother O’Malley’s class in 1968 have all or almost all passed on. We that are left grow old. There is only time for truth and the truth is so often hard to find in our modern society, in our media, our shopping centres, our suburbs and our public discourse. When coming back to Australia sometimes I find myself, like that significant writer and critic Veronica Brady, caught in the draught. Each time I come back to Australia, I find in some ways at least at a public level, Australia is nation hovering on stale, conformist ideas, unappreciative of our history, our democratic institutions and our standards which are born of struggle, sacrifice and the efforts of those who dared mightily. My visits to Cambodia immediately post the Pol Pot era told me just how quickly civilisation can be lost.

This is not to say we must find the objective truth in everything. Man is not the measure of all things. No matter how erudite, how informed and determined rationalist enquiry can be, so much still ends up as a mystery. I have come to live more and more of my time in Hindu and Buddhist societies. I have found great satisfaction in mystery. Mystery does not defy hope, embraces love, and is incompatible.

At the end of his life, Einstein marvelled at and enjoyed mystery. We all can. Ivan Karamazov’s entreaty was asking for something aspects of which could only end in mystery and were beyond rational answer.

Colin McDonald, pictured in the 1970 College Annual, as one of the Higher School Certificate Prize winners.

My many visits to Indonesia, Cambodia, East Timor and Aboriginal communities in Australia, remind me of the inequalities in this world, and the disqualifications brought about by poverty. I can see now the un-accusing eyes of so many Aboriginal children and world­ weary eyes of so many Aboriginal adults looking up at me, that strange visitor from a different, privileged world. I can see again in my mind’s eye so many children in Cambodia getting on with things as best they can with no hands or legs, blown up by land mines strewn in the fields and lanes of war-ravaged Cambodia, their innocent lives forever damaged and changed. I understand now why in the Beatitudes the peacemakers are elevated to being Sons of God.

Born of my experiences, I am at an age and time in life when I am haunted by poverty, poverty both material and spiritual. So – and returning to the theme of what I would like to focus on tonight – I applaud those women and men of vision from our religious tradition and others who have had the spirit, the courage and the inventiveness to make a difference. I salute those like the late Father Ray Brennan who, at a time of great doubt in his life, found empowerment and new meaning in starting that inspiring orphanage in Pattaya, Thailand whose criteria for admission were tellingly simple; that you be disabled and nobody loves you. I salute the Jesuit Refugee Service active on the East Timor border, in Sumatra, Cambodia and so many areas of the world where desperate people flee war and oppression. I salute the Canossian sisters who address the myriad of poverty issues in East Timor. So too, I salute the Sisters of Mercy founded by Mother Theresa and their inspiring practical mission to serve the poorest of the poor.

All those who I have referred to tonight may not have had great visibility, so far as I know none were celebrities, but each in his or her own way were persons of vision or were able to inspire vision in others. Again, conscious that there are generations in this room tonight, I say to those in the coming generations: be not afraid, be not afraid to attract yourself to those traditions that have vision. The vision of Edmund Rice and John Baptist De La Salle were important. Education and what it can lead to is important. The words of a man of vision and one who was capable of inspiration, the late John Fitzgerald Kennedy I share: “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education”… The human mind is our fundamental resource.

In nurturing our human minds it is worth remembering what that environmental visionary Doctor David Suzuki said: “We invent our futures every day – choose wisely”.

I thank all those who taught me, equipped me and challenged me to dream dreams, to face injustice, respond to inequality and marginalisation. I thank them for their vision in challenging and nurturing our fundamental resource.

In a spirit of humility may I say I am honoured by the presence of you all and the honour you have conferred on me and my fellow inductees this evening.

I thank you Paul Coburn, College Principal Doctor Peter Casey and the Saint Patrick’s Old Collegians Association for this occasion to meet and share. Let us enjoy the present and each other’s company.”

Colin McDonald, pictured in his Form 6 class photograph in the 1970 College Annual.