Alex Ward is a barrister who’s held leadership roles in the law nationally and internationally. But the 56-year-old is also a funny bloke who could have carved out a career in comedy, just like his mate Shaun Micallef. Here’s his story.
“I loved and craved the interaction with the audience”
Tell me about life in your house as a child?
As a massive family, with parents who loved to entertain, we had a house full of people, children, their friends and general hangers on. All family members were social animals so there were always people in the house, and no locking doors!
You are one of 12 children. What was life like with all those siblings?
Twelve children, no twins, same parents. We were Catholic. Deal with it. I was number 10, which meant I was special and baptised by the Archbishop. As a result, the others resented me and beat me up on a regular basis. We would eat in shifts: older children in the dining room with parents, younger in the kitchen. When an old one would move out, the oldest young one would move up. In a big family, you learn to deal with people who do not necessarily like you, which is a great skill for later life. My mother also ensured we would get every contagious disease so my immunity is 100 per cent.
Can you describe your parents Kevin and Joan?
My mother loved children so she was a saint. She also loved all the visitors. She could not stand people who talk about the achievements of their children. I am not sure my father really liked having so many children. Not after about seven or eight anyway.
What was the highlight of your teenage years?
Living! I didn’t like school as I could not read or write with ease. I could talk though. I joined the Adelaide University Regiment when I was 17 and loved it, and I joined their pipe band as a little drummer boy.
What did you want to be when you grew up and why?
I wanted to be in the defence force as I loved all the WWII films. I applied for a scholarship to Duntroon. I was not accepted as the university course would be wasted on me, but I was accepted to do a one-year officer cadet course at Portsea in Victoria. Sliding doors. I also got into law that year at Adelaide University, so I did that. Had I joined the army it would have been in the longest period of peace in the Australian Defence Force – 1980 to 1999.
Did you enjoy studying law and university life?
Study was not my best suite but they had great lecturers in law and I can still remember them. I met [comedian] Shaun Micallef at university and we started to do the uni sketch comedy together. Whilst I loved it I thought it would never catch on, and he went on to become one of the most famous comedians in the country. Sliding doors again.
Tell me about Adelaide University Footlights and your friendship with Shaun?
Shaun got himself established in the Footlights Club. He was clearly a powerhouse and a star back then. I came on later initially as an acolyte, but then we worked together and we wanted to become famous. See above. But I met up also with the legitimate theatre’s Francis Greenslade and the (closed) world of debating’s Anthony Durkin. The four of us did Theatre Sports in the 1980s as Get Her and performed as the Marat Pack in various combinations – there’s one for a quiz night.
What were some of your favourite footlight shows?
I suffered greatly from performance nerves but loved all the Footlights shows we did, and the fun of a big cast and making up new gags during rehearsals. Why, I met Miss Rachel Healy doing The Frogs in the Little Theatre. Look where she is now running the Adelaide Festival. Sliding doors. When we did The Frogs, my characters ran out of stage time shortly after interval. I would run up to the sound room and just watch Shaun do the rest of the show. Burnt into my memory is a boy about 16-years-old, sitting in the front row just twisting and turning with laughter as Shaun did his act. Every word and glance and face pull would get a reaction. I knew I was watching something special, I didn’t realise the full extent until I watched Mad as Hell years later – I was twisting and turning like the young man. Micallef is genius.
You are still great mates with Shaun. How would you describe him?
That stuck up prick. No, just playing, we keep in touch via the Victoria Police witness protection program.
Did you think about giving up law and becoming a performer?
Remembering the lines is just too daunting. Besides, Westpac won’t hear of it.
Can you give me brief description of your legal career?
I was going to work in the country but the job fell through and I was able to work in my father’s firm, Ward & Partners. I did court work from a young age and enjoyed it. I then set up my own firm with my wife, Amanda. I was then employed by my now-brother-in-law Ian Colgrave, who is now a barrister himself. The firm was Norman Waterhouse and he was a partner there. He was negotiating for our firm to join his when he felt compelled to advise me he was paying court to my sister. Who? I have seven sisters. It turns out it was Alice, the baby. Well they went on to have six babies themselves so happy days for all.
Then I became self-employed, so I have always worked for family. I was President of the Law Society in 2004 /2005, and then of the Law Council of Australia (LCA) in 2011 and then the Commonwealth Lawyers Association (as in the British Empire with 53 countries) in 2015 to 2017. I joined the Navy as a legal officer in 1999. I was appointed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) as a part-time Member of the General Division in 2017 where I sit as a quasi-judicial officer determining disputes in Commonwealth cases.
Currently, I work as a gentleman barrister from Edmund Barton Chambers doing mostly civil work. My Navy work is across the country and I have been to sea. The AAT work is generally from the Adelaide Registry.
Tell us about these leadership roles in the law?
By the time I was president of the LCA I was quite relaxed doing speeches and addressing gatherings. However, my first LCA presidential speech was at the Willard Hotel in Washington (where General Grant stayed in the Civil War) to every one of the Chief Justices in America (about 56) who have a conference. Couldn’t I warm up on the ACT Lions Club? No, straight into this daunting gig. As it happens they were most civil, welcoming and charming. The legal situation in a lot of the 53 Commonwealth countries is really dire – death penalties for homosexuality in some places, killing lawyers because of the clients for whom they act. It was serious, but the CLA does great work helping its members and communities.
What do you love about the law and being a barrister?
For real? OK, settled or adjourned cases. The relief is overwhelming. But don’t tell anyone that. I really like the opportunity to see all the different occupations and lives and experiences people have. I get to see it all in my work.
How did you meet your wife Amanda and when did you get married?
Amanda was 10th on my list for the Law Society Dinner Dance as I went through my list, 11 being my sister. I didn’t know her well and she had turned me down before so I didn’t think she was a strong prospect. Leandra, Shaun Micallef’s wife, had previously set us up unsuccessfully. Anyway, it turns out Amanda couldn’t say no to a free ticket. The night was dreadful. We were engaged seven weeks later, so there you go.
Tell me about your children and what you love about being a dad?
Nicholas is 28 and works as a producer at the ABC. Xanthe is 26 and is studying architecture. India is 22 and is enjoying a Corona rest, otherwise worked at Mill Films. Three children is good. Twelve was OK. We all get on well and I really enjoy their company. It’s really wonderful to watch them getting out and about in the world.
How did you end up doing the stints as an announcer on FIVEaa?
Radio is brilliant and I love doing it, whether as the legal commentator or as the program host. I was approached by FIVEaa to try the summer slot when the stars go on holiday and there are no ratings. I had a ball. I did it over a few years and as I became an older man waking up at 4am was a non-issue. I loved and craved the interaction with the audience, by telephone or text. Performance nerves were not an issue on the radio for me, and coming out of the station at 9.30am and your work day was finished (until you had to watch the news) was a hoot. I would however crash asleep on my desk at 11am.
Would you like to have more of a media role in the future?
I watch Shaun’s show now and cannot imagine myself in it. The cast are too good, but it is just too fast. If Shaun has a role for a person who has no lines I would be there in a flash. However, he wouldn’t have me as he is jealous of my beauty. I really enjoy the radio commentary – and catching up with my dear friend David Heath on “Soundtrack of Your Life”.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Not really. Although my mother taught me to enjoy everything I do, which I have so that’s lucky. Sometimes I enjoy too much!
My South Australian Life is a first-person series, published each Sunday. Read our previous profiles here.