How Rocky won the heart of city-born judge, crocs and all
EXCLUSIVE: IF EVER there was a candidate to sell Rockhampton to other professionals as a place to live and socialise, Judge Michael Burnett would be a good one to cast.
Judge Burnett finished up as the Central Region District Court Judge, based in Rockhampton, this month after starting in December 2014.
During an interview with The Morning Bulletin, he reflected on his time in the Beef Capital - not on the cases he presided over, but what he loved about living in the slower-paced city.
Sitting in his office, waiting to be packed, was a painting by Central Queensland artist Elena Churilova.
"I've been really happy here," he said.
"I've made a life up here."
Judge Burnett completed all his education, including university degrees, in Brisbane.
He went on to practise as a barrister for about 23 years as well as hold appointments at various times as a member of the Queensland Building Tribunal and as an Australian Defence Force judge advocate and defence force magistrate.
It certainly has been a busy time in Rockhampton District Court during Judge Burnett's time.
Two years ago, The Bulletin pointed out just how busy His Honour was with 11.4 per cent of the cases before the Rockhampton District Court waiting more than 12 months to be finalised, and 2.9 per cent waiting more than two years.
The admirable, hard-working and very well time-managed Judge Burnett, would have matters mentioned and at least one sentence each morning trials were running, presided over back-to-back trials and handing down sentences during a jury's lunch break.
Judge Burnett not only finalised 230 defendants' cases in the 2016-17 financial year with a 103.6 per cent clearance rate, he also presided over circuit courts in other parts of the state - of which there are 39.
Returning to the big smoke had some undesirable elements for Judge Burnett - the one-hour round trip from home to work each day instead of living in Rockhampton where "everything is five minutes away".
The comment arose as he spoke about the social elements of his time in Rockhampton, which included being part of a cycling club, rowing and art.
He cycled up until two years ago when he had an accident which resulted in him requiring surgery on his shoulder.
Not a bad athletic effort for a gentleman with his busy work schedule.
"I decided at 60 (years young) I was too old to put my body through that again," Judge Burnett said.
He decided it would be sensible to find less injury-prone exercise and joined a rowing club.
"It's much safer, subject to crocodiles, and a more forgiving pastime," he said.
And an even more forgiving exercise Judge Burnett started during his time in Rockhampton was the creative exercise of painting.
Judge Burnett, whose mother is a keen artist, said he saw an advertisement for a wine and paint night at the Rockhampton Art Gallery about three years ago and went along.
"I quite enjoyed it," he said.
He said he asked a gallery staff member for advice and they pointed him to former MiArt, currently named P & E Art & Bespoke Framing, in East St near Coffee Society.
Judge Burnett said he was in the shop buying supplies when then owner, Vicki Spendlove, informed him she ran weekly painting lessons at night.
And from there, the well-educated law professional became a student.
With the impending move at hand, Judge Burnett relocated his paint brushes and easel to his beach house in southeast Queensland where he says he gets inspired.
Judge Burnett has been relocated by the Chief Judge to take up a position left vacant in Brisbane by a retiring judge.
And while he will soon be back in the big smoke, encroaching on his wife's solitude, Judge Burnett will still have ties to the Rockhampton community after one of his children moved to Perth and married a Rockhampton local.
Judge Burnett said he would miss the Rockhampton community, the friends he made cycling and rowing, along with the characters in the courthouse.
"It's a very relaxed environment to work in," he said.
"The thing I'm going to miss the most is my apartment … sitting on the veranda, getting the breeze from the (Fitzroy) River while reading."
Justice Graeme Crow, at a farewell ceremony at the Rockhampton courthouse yesterday, said it had been a pleasure sharing a judicial chamber with Judge Burnett for the past 2.5 years.
Crown prosecutor Tiffany Lawrence said it was nice to have a judge who had ties to the community such as Judge Burnett.
"You have marked yourself with a high work ethic and known to throw out traditional work times to get through the list," she said.
Ms Lawrence also reflected on the time Judge Burnett worked with a broken collar bone two years ago.
Barrister Ross Lo Monaco said everyone felt comfortable in Judge Burnett's presence, who he described as being fair, impartial and balanced.
Solicitor Grant Cagney said the solicitors in town would miss Judge Burnett.
"Six years have flown by for us," he said.
"Likely not for you being away from your family.
"We hope this is farewell and not goodbye."