Our history

The modern-day firm of Ward Keller was formed on 1 November 1963 when Sydney lawyer, Richard Keller, moved his family to Darwin and joined the practice of Richard Charles Ward-better known as Dick Ward.

The pair went into partnership, naming the firm Ward Keller. It was a prestige firm with a significant proportion of the total legal work in the Top End.

Ward and Keller only practised together for six years. Keller left the firm in 1969, but the name has endured through the firm’s many partners.

Although the firm named Ward Keller was born 50 years ago, its roots can be traced back to 1910 when its founding father, Ross Mallam, arrived in Port Darwin.

Mallam

Mallam was an intelligent and mischievous Londoner whose sense of justice and injustice, democracy, representation and outrage would set the personal traits that would characterise other practitioners in the firm’s history.

In 1927, Mallam was joined by Jacomb Foster, who took over the practice when, after 18 years practising in the Territory, Mallam was appointed as a judge of the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory in 1928.

Foster

Jacomb Foster then practised as a sole practitioner. He was a community man who took on a range of civil duties in addition to his own legal practice.

Foster was in Darwin when it was first bombed on 19 February 1942. He enlisted in the Australian Army in September of that year, and served until his discharge in Melbourne in June 1951.

Fitzgerald and Newell

Meanwhile, William Fitzgerald, a lawyer from Melbourne, moved to Darwin to take over the practice of Norman ‘Wingy’ Barratt who died suddenly while en route to Melbourne in 1932.

In 1936, he was joined by a bright young lawyer, also from Melbourne, named Brough Newell. That firm was known as Fitzgerald and Newell.

Newell and Ward

Fitzgerald retired in 1937, and while the partnership was dissolved, Newell continued to run the firm as Fitzgerald and Newell until he was joined by Dick Ward in 1940. From that point, the firm was renamed Newell and Ward. Ward was 31 years of age.

Like Foster, both Newell and Ward were in Darwin when it was bombed. Both enlisted in the Army. Newell was discharged in June 1945.

Ward and Hargreave

Dick Ward took his discharge from the Army in Alice Springs on 3 November 1942. He established the (then) only legal practice in Alice Springs and became a vocal advocate for equal and appropriate representation for the Northern Territory. This was his entree to Northern Territory politics.

Newell and Ward (again)

By 1956, Ward was back in Darwin, again in partnership with Newell under the banner Newell and Ward. It appears that Newell either bought or inherited or otherwise took over what remained of Foster’s practice in the post-war years. This, then, is the connection between Foster and the other threads of the firm.

When Brough Newell died in 1958, Ward took over the practice on his own, retaining Newell’s name in the title.

Ward, Keller and Rorrison

When Dick Ward and Richard Keller partnered in 1963, the firm’s name changed for the second-last time. In the mid-1960s, they were joined by Alex Rorrison who remained with the firm until 1974 when the name reverted to Ward Keller.

Ward Keller

In April 1970, a 26-year old lawyer named Hugh Bradley travelled from Taree in New South Wales to Darwin to join the firm. Like his predecessors Mallam, Foster, Newell and Ward, Bradley is a legend of Northern Territory legal history.

Famous for the cases they fought as well as the ones that weren’t reported but were dealt with quietly and discreetly, these men not only shaped Northern Territory legal history, but the very fabric of Northern Territory society.