About Bryan Keon-Cohen

Married (1972) to June (solicitor), with three daughters and four grandchildren.

  • Scotch College, Melbourne, 1950 – 1963
  • Melbourne University, 1965 – 1972
  • Monash University, 1973
Academic Record
  • BA (Melb, 1969); LLB (Melb, 1972)
  • Dip. Ed. (Monash, 1973)
  • LLM (Melb, 1974) thesis entitled "Jeffcott and Terry: Two Judges in New South Wales: 1829 -1859"
  • PhD (Monash, 2012), thesis entitled Mabo in the Courts: Islander Tradition to Native Title: A Memoir (ASP, 2 Vols, 2011)
Work History
  • 1974 – 78: Tutor then lecturer, Faculty of Law, Monash University, Clayton
  • 1979 – 81: Senior law Reform Officer, Australian Law Reform Commission, Sydney. Worked mainly on the recognition of Aboriginal Customary Law.
  • 1982 – 96: junior counsel, Victorian Bar
  • November 1996: Appointed Queens Counsel for the State of Victoria, 26/11/1996;
  • 1999: Appointed Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Law, Monash University, teaching a LLM seminar on “Land Rights and Native Title”
  • 1999 – 2001: Principal Legal Officer, Mirimbiak Nations Aboriginal Corporation: appointed as senior lawyer to this statutory authority, the native title Representative Body for Victoria under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth)
  • 2002 – 2016: in practice, Victorian Bar
  • 2004 – 2011: Hon Senior Research Fellow, thereafter Adjunct Research Fellow, Faculty of Law, Monash University, teaching optional subject: “Indigenous Rights and Relations: A Comparative Analysis”
Main Practical Experience
  • Focused on civil work with emphasis on indigenous rights (especially native title claims); administrative law (especially judicial review in the Federal Court), migration law (especially refugees); general commercial and equity, discrimination, and constitutional law;
  • Mabo (No 1) & (No 2): retained as junior counsel throughout the litigation, 1982 – 1992.
  • Native title work: a focus since 1982, retained in the Mabo and in many additional native title claims, acting for claimants, in Federal and High Courts: eg, Waanyi; Wik; WA v Commonwealth; Yarmirr; and in Federal Court trials and directions eg, Yorta Yorta, Alice Springs; Saibai Island; Wongatha; I appeared in all aspects of Mabo (No 1) and Mabo (No 2) led by Ron Castan AM QC, from 1982 – 1992.
  • Stolen Generation Litigation: Gunner & Cubillo v Clth: acted during trial for plaintiffs, Federal Court.
Research, Publications, Conference Papers, Speeches
  • 1974 – 2013: edited and published books and numerous articles, given many conference papers, speeches, guest-lectures, Universities, radio broadcasts, TV programs, etc, since 1974, and continuing. This work largely concerned with indigenous rights, plus common law, constitutional law, legal education, civil liberties, privacy, legal history, and other topics. See most recently Mabo in the Courts: Islander Tradition to Native Title (ASP, 2 Vols, 2011); 2nd ed. printed as A Mabo Memoir: Islan Kustom to Native Title (Zemvic Press 2013).
  • 1974 – 1978: Founding editor, Legal Service Bulletin, a periodical for the non-lawyer concerned with legal aid, poverty law, law reform and indigenous rights. This journal has published continually since 1974, now as the Alternative Law Journal.
  • 1974 – 2008: pursued comparative studies into indigenous rights, native title, and constitutional reform, including research trips to Canada, USA, Brazil, South Africa, Indonesia and New Zealand. In those countries, made direct contact with leading figures in government, professional and indigenous circles. The results of this research has been published.
  • Click here for a list of publications.
  • 1994 Counsel assisting Seaman QC inquiry into Aboriginal Land in Western Australia;
  • World Vision Australia 1995 – 1997: travelled to Brazil (1995) and South Africa (1997) examining land re-distribution and indigenous rights, as a consultant to World Vision (Australia);
  • ACFOA (Australian Council for Overseas Aid) June 1999: appointed, with other Australians, an NGO election monitor by the Indonesian Government, being sponsored by ACFOA.
conference organisation
  • April 2000: organised a major conference Native Title in the New Millenium, Melbourne, 16 – 20 April 2000: a practical discussion concerning native title issues; involved leading political, professional, industry, government and aboriginal speakers; generated over 60 papers; attracted over 200 delegates from all over Australia; see edited proceedings B A Keon-Cohen (ed) Native Title in the New Millenium (AIATSIS 2001). The conference has continued, annually, since 2000, at various venues around Australia, organised by AIATSIS.
professional associations/community activities
  • Secretary, Committee Member, or member, Victorian Council for Civil Liberties (now Liberty Victoria) (1982 – 2004);
  • Member, Society of Labor Lawyers (1975 – 2002);
  • Member, Constitutional Centenary Foundation (1995 – 2002);
  • Member, Australian Constitutional Law Association (1998 – 2004);
  • Member, Ethics Committee, Equality Before the Law Committee, Human Rights Committee; Mentor for Indigenous law students, all at the Victorian Bar (1990’s - 2004);
  • National Convenor, Native Title Representative Bodies Lawyers Network, (1999 – 2001): a group of about 50 lawyers operating in 15 or so statutory offices working in native title throughout Australia; pursued (sporadically) educational, practice-oriented assistance, exchange of materials, conference organisation, staffing issues, etc.
  • Member, Building Disputes Practitioners’ Society (2002 - 2004);
  • President, COIN (“Commission of Inquiry Now”), 2012: a community group formed in February 2012 to lobby government to establish an independent judicial inquiry into Catholic Church sexual abuse of children and vulnerable adults in Victoria.
  • 1998: Pro-Bono Legal Services Award: legal team category: (with Holding Redlich, Solicitors) for work in the “stolen generation” litigation, Gunner & Cubillo v Commonwealth, conducted in the Federal Court; award is sponsored annually by the Victoria Law Foundation and the Public Interest Law Clearing House (Vic).
  • 2001: UNESCO Memory of the World Register: Mabo Collection: During 2000 – 2001, the Commonwealth submitted, and UNESCO (Paris) accepted, two documents to be recorded, as Australia’s documents to be entered on this register. These were Captain Cook’s journal documenting his voyage to Australia on the Endeavour; and the Mabo Collection, being court materials (70 arch-lever files plus further materials) collected and edited by myself and presented to the National Library, Canberra.
  • 2007: Distinguished Pro-Bono Service, Vicoria Law Foundation: in recognition of distinguished and long-standing commitment to pro bono service.
  • 2012: Order of Australia, General Division, (AM) on Australia Day, “for service to the law, and to the legal profession, through the advancement of social justice and the protection of human rights, particularly in the areas of environmental and indigenous law reform.”
recreational clubs/societies
  • Melbourne University Boat Club;
  • Ormond College Ski Club;
  • Royal Melbourne Golf Club;
  • Victorian Writers Centre.

"a wonderful story in human terms, it’s an important story in legal terms, and most significantly, it’s a very important story for the integrity of Australia as a just nation."
The Hon Michael Kirby

"Mabo in the Courts carries much of the élan of the ten-year battle - for battle it was, often quite nasty - a scholarly work about a legal contest of a lifetime."
Nonie Sharp
ARENA Vol 118 June/July 2012, pp. 56-59

Read the book launch by
The Hon Michael Black AC QC here:
Remarks on the launch of A Mabo Memoir, From Islan Kustom to Native Title
Melbourne Writers' Festival, 25 August 2013