The Dawn Fraser rounded Darling Point, as wind-surfers and early morning sailors made way for Sydney's favourite form of public transport – the River Cat.
Circular Quay came into view, and with it my new office on the 28th floor of the AMP Centre. I had traded a view of St Paul's Cathedral for one of the Opera House, the Botanical Gardens and the harbour stretching out to sea beneath a bright blue sky. Temperatures edging toward the high teens signalled mid-winter. As for the sea, well it was just a bit too chilly for all but the most dedicated of Bondi Beach's surfers. My year at Baker & McKenzie, Sydney was about to begin.
Baker & McKenzie's office is in the Central Business District. Separated by the harbour from the city's other main business area, it plays host to most of the major law firms and banks.
A city of about four million people, Sydney competes for commerce with Melbourne, ahead of Australia's other large cities. It is an exciting metropolis with a vibrant business community and probably the most stunning scenery in the world.
Perhaps the most striking vision that remains with me is the New Year's Eve fireworks display on the Harbour Bridge. With hundreds of boats reflecting their multi-coloured lights across the water, it seemed like the entire city was watching.
As a commercial litigator in London, I feed off a staple diet of civil fraud, contentious sports law and fights over jurisdiction. This was supplemented by contested applications for interim relief from courts as far apart as the Cayman Islands and Singapore. What would Sydney have to offer?
My new colleagues were very busy (a huge claim was preoccupying lawyers in both Sydney and Melbourne) and a safe pair of hands to in which to place other cases would be most welcome – but could the “Pom” be relied on not to drop the catch?
Well, Australia has a common law and a judicial system like our own, making an English lawyer feel very much at home. While similar, it is by no means identical and real care needs to be taken in giving even the most routine advice or making the simplest court applications.
By way of example, the Australian Trade Practices Act (TPA) is a powerful tool in the armoury of every potential plaintiff. A detailed knowledge of the provisions of the TPA is, quite simply, essential. Friendly and helpful colleagues ensured that I learnt quickly and soon began to enjoy the new working environment.
Getting to and from the office was tough. Every working day for 12 months I was forced to endure the agony of strolling along the waterfront to await the early Cat. With a fresh breeze on my face, watching the waves splash against the bow, we would glide over the water. How I yearned for the joy that is travelling to work crushed on London Underground, day-dreaming of “mind the gap”. For some reason, my colleagues in London were unsympathetic to my plight.
The year passed extremely quickly, as I knew it would. I found myself litigating in both the Federal Court of Australia and the State Courts of New South Wales. The disputes ranged from fraud claims arising out of the collapse of a major group of companies, to a rather interesting supply of services dispute which had gone spectacularly wrong. An arbitration about a hotel development in Vanuatu and a business trip to Auckland, “City of Sails”, were also on the agenda.
I took part in the firm's Asia Pacific Associates weekend, held in Melbourne. There, I met colleagues from Hong Kong and Singapore, as well as Tokyo and Taipei. Being an English lawyer, I also had some new ideas to contribute at an Australian law reform conference in
The Rugby World Cup took place while I was in Sydney. My popularity was not at its peak when England beat my sports-mad hosts, but when Germany won the penalty shoot out in Euro '96, at 5am Sydney time, there was no shortage of sympathy, or ex-pats with whom to commiserate.
Many of my weekends were spent sailing in Rose Bay, scuba diving off Bear Island and absailing in the Blue Mountains. There was one occasion when staring up out of the water at my small capsized boat just off Shark Island, my Aussie colleagues took great delight in lying to me about how the island got its name – it is in fact because of its shape. Needless to say the Barrier Reef (with its spectacular diving) and Ayers Rock did not escape my attention.
For those who enjoy an outdoor lifestyle, Sydney is difficult to beat.