LLB (Melbourne), BCL (Oxford), Barrister and Solicitor (Victoria), Hon LLD (Monash)
(Deceased), 2019-10-08
Law and Legal Studies

Emeritus Professor (Peter) Louis Waller AO

Imagine an older style lecture theatre, with tiered seating and blackboards, a large desk at the front. A stern-looking man enters and the room hushes. He is wearing an impeccable navy-blue suit, light blue shirt and striped tie. A white handkerchief folded into triangular peaks peeps out of the top pocket.

Instead of moving behind the desk, the man walks out in front of it and, with a twinkle in his eye, he begins the lecture with:

“To be, or not to be, that is the question.”

Some students glance at each other with raised eyebrows. Others sit transfixed as the lecturer continues Hamlet’s soliloquy until he comes to:

“The undiscovere’d country, from whose bourn/No traveller returns.”

He repeats the words and then says:

“Ladies and gentlemen, today we will consider the question: What is death? How can it be defined for the purpose of the law of homicide in an age of artificial nutrition and hydration?”

Emeritus Professor Louis Waller AO was a master of powerful oratory who kept thousands of law students spellbound at both the University of Melbourne and Monash University.

Louis’ death on 8 October, the eve of Yom Kippur, at the age of 84 was not unexpected, but to some extent it marks the end of an era, one in which a love of learning is to be celebrated and passed on.

Louis was born in the town of Siedlce in eastern Poland in 1935, the only son of Haya and Jacob Waller who were Hasidic Jews. In January 1938, his parents fled with him to Melbourne after an aunt sponsored their journey. Many family members and friends who remained in Poland were killed in the Treblinka extermination camp during the Holocaust.

Those beginnings undoubtedly influenced Louis’ work in later years in using and reforming the law to benefit disadvantaged and marginalised people. He became the Foundation President of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, the Inaugural Chair of the Law Reform Commission of Victoria, the first Chair of the Australian Red Cross Society’s International Humanitarian Law Committee and a member of the Geneva Conventions Dissemination Committee.

Louis’ love of learning and appetite for reading began early. He attended Brighton Road State School, Elwood Central School and University High School. He received his LLB with Honours from MLS in 1956 and gained a scholarship to Oxford where he graduated with a Bachelor of Civil Law with First Class Honours. It was while he was studying in Oxford that he met his future wife Wendy. They were together for over 60 years and they had four children, Michael (who died aged three), Anthony, Ian and Elly.

After Oxford, Louis returned with Wendy to Australia. He spent six years at the Melbourne Law School, moving up the academic rungs to Senior Lecturer. There, he focused on developing the subjects Criminal Law and Introduction to Legal Method. With Professor of Jurisprudence Peter Brett, he put together Cases and Materials on Criminal Law, which became the seminal text for criminal law students over the ensuing decades. The subsequent editions were co-authored by Louis with Professor Charles Robert (Bob) Williams, while the 12th and 13th editions have carried on the tradition with updates by six authors.

In 1964, Louis was enticed by Professor David Derham to move to the newly-established Faculty of Law at Monash University. At the age of 29, he was appointed as the Sir Leo Cussen Professor of Law, a position he held for 36 years. At the age of 33, he became the Dean of the Faculty, a position he held for two years. This was but the start of a stellar career as a scholar, teacher and law reformer; a career which was marked by countless awards, including being appointed an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia (AO).

Louis’ expertise in medical law led to his being appointed to several medical and judicial committees such as the Appeals Committee of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons and the Ethics Committee of the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research. The Victorian Government appointed him Chair of the In Vitro Fertilization Committee in 1982 and Chair of the Infertility Treatment Authority (1995-2001).

 Although he officially retired in 2000, he remained an active member of the Faculty of Law as Emeritus Professor and received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Monash University in 2005.

Louis was a well loved and pre-eminent member of the Jewish community. He held several senior roles within B’nai B’rith, sat on the board of governors of the Jewish Museum and was involved with Jewish Care and the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation. He also had close ties with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv University.

Although Louis will no longer be able to tell tales from that “undiscovere’d country” where he now travels, his legacy will live on through his extended family and generations of those he taught and mentored throughout his illustrious life. 

Written By Bernadette McSherry FASSA, FAAL

  • Chair, Standing Review and Advisory Committee on Infertility (Vic)
  • Chair, Infertility Treatment Authority (Vic)
  • Chair, Ethics Committee, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute
  • Chair, Appeals Committee, RACS.

  • Louis Waller () An Introduction to Law. Sydney, NSW: LawBook Co.