Address delivered by Rabbi Raymond Apple at the funeral of the Hon David Mayer Selby AM ED QC, on Thursday, 19 September, 2002.
He was also a thorough gentleman; a scholar of great erudition and dignified bearing; a cultured man of broad mind and constant courtesy; a man of courage and compassion; a wise, sound-thinking counsellor — and a loved husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather.
His life spanned almost a century. It was a long and constantly useful life. As Shakespeare would have said, he was one man who in his time played many parts, and earned respect for all of them.
The law was his main focus. Commencing at the Bar before the Second World War, he resumed his legal career after distinguished wartime service, was appointed Queen’s Counsel, joined the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea, was appointed to the Supreme Court of New South Wales and was the Judge in Divorce.
These days some lawyers think twice or three times about accepting an appointment to the Bench, and then decide against it because ours is a generation when, as the Jewish sages used to say, people judge their judges: when no-one is exempt from criticism, whether it be fair or otherwise.
David Selby, however, could not possibly have been judged unfairly, whether by colleagues, lawyers, litigants or the general public. He was renowned for his courtesy and consideration. His was the very model of a wise, just, erudite and effective court. His name brought lustre to the law.
The then Premier of the State had such confidence in him that after official retirement from the Bench he was given charge of the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal. The legal profession also had unbounded confidence in him and at various times he served on the Bar Council of New South Wales, was president of the University of Sydney Law Graduates Association and of the Medico-Legal Association, and was entrusted with the rewriting of the definitive text-book on divorce.
His outstanding military career commenced whilst he was still a student and was well under way before the Second World War broke out. During the war he served in Papua New Guinea, in command of the anti-aircraft battery in Rabaul. He refused to surrender to the Japanese. He joined a small band making their way through the jungle and mountains, living to tell the tale in a book called “Hell and High Fever”. He returned to duty and served in the Australia-New Guinea Administration Unit; after the war be was chief legal officer of Eastern Command and retired as a lieutenant-colonel.
This is evidence enough of his patriotism; it also testifies to his sheer courage, physical and moral, and his determination to stand by his principles and to refuse to give up or give in. All his life he was a man of courage, never prepared to give way even to the most powerful influences or interests.
In his youth, the University of Sydney was the setting for his arts and law studies; many years later he began a long association with top-level university administration as a member of the Senate and then, for a lengthy period, as Deputy Chancellor. It was fitting that be should finally be awarded the rare honour of Doctor of the University.
A man who in his time played many parts, he also held office in a range of organisations dedicated to medical ethics, marriage and the family, and health and social wellbeing.
He was also an author, the writer of two autobiographical works and two unpublished volumes of reminiscences, and a guide to legal practitioners and the public with his writings on the law.
Could such a man ever find time for his family? His dear wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are the answer, and know the answer.
Could such a man ever find time for personal interests? His range of reading, his enjoyment of travel, music, bowls and gardening are the evidence.
The family were proud of him. The Jewish community held him in high esteem. His name is honoured in the law, in education, and in military circles. All Australia is in his debt. The only one who has the right to judge this judge is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on high, and who can doubt but that His verdict will be kol hakavod,” All honour to you, Your Honour!”
David Selby, go in peace. May your memory be a blessing.