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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Opas, David Louis (1936–1980)

by E. R. Baker and P. I. Rose

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

David Louis Opas (1936-1980), judge, was born on 30 June 1936 at Waverley, Sydney, son of London-born parents Maurice Opas, commercial traveller, and his wife Bessie, née Hart. Maurice served as a ship's canteen manager and died when H.M.A.S. Sydney was sunk in 1941. Educated as a Legacy ward at Sydney Grammar School (1947-53), David did well in English and history, and represented the school at debating. He worked as an articled clerk with the solicitors Pike & Pike, studied part time at the University of Sydney and passed the Barristers' Admission Board examinations. On 26 July 1963 he was admitted to the New South Wales Bar.

As a young barrister, Opas soon established his reputation and moved into chambers in Macquarie Street. Although small, he had a powerful and strikingly modulated speaking voice. He built up a successful practice, dealing initially with criminal and family matters and later exclusively with family law. On 17 December 1970 at the registrar general's office, Sydney, he married Kristin Mary Bisset, née Deck, a 29-year-old assistant-pharmacist and a divorcee. Opas was a devoted husband and father who lived for his family and his work. His interests included reading, listening to classical music and playing tennis.

Opas became known for his humane and patient approach to the law. On 27 October 1977 he was appointed a judge of the Family Court of Australia. He sat at Parramatta. The Family Law Act (1975) required proceedings to be conducted without robes and with minimum formality. Focusing on basic issues, Opas was intolerant of garrulous counsel and of litigants who tried to use the court as a platform for their prejudices.

About 7 p.m. on 23 June 1980, while having dinner with his family, Opas answered a call at the security gate to the courtyard of his Woollahra home. When he opened the gate, he was shot in the abdomen by a single bullet from a .22-inch (5.6 mm) calibre rifle. He died that night in St Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst, and was buried with Jewish rites in Rookwood cemetery; his wife, son and daughter survived him. Despite an extensive investigation by the police, his murderer has not been brought to justice. Opas's murder came as a blow to the Australian judiciary: it was thought to be the first occasion in which a judge was killed while holding office in Sydney.

Justice R. S. Watson, Opas's colleague, said of him: 'We miss his infectious laugh, his quick wit, his clear insight, his sheer joy in all things beautiful, lively and challenging, his deep compassion for all people'. Senator Peter Durack, the Commonwealth attorney-general, declared that Opas had met the onerous demands of family law work. These opinions of Opas were widely shared.

Select Bibliography

  • Australian Law Journal, 54, Sept 1980, p 566
  • Australian Family Law Cases, 1980, p xxvii
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 28 Oct 1977, 5 Mar 1982
  • Sun-Herald (Sydney), 13 July 1980.

Citation details

E. R. Baker and P. I. Rose, 'Opas, David Louis (1936–1980)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 2000, accessed online 21 September 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 15, (MUP), 2000

View the front pages for Volume 15

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