Bequest for 'white babies' is not racist, rules judge
By Mark Chipperfield in Sydney
A court in Australia has upheld the right of an eccentric old lady to leave money to a Sydney hospital for the exclusive treatment of "white babies", ruling that such an act did not breach the country's laws on race discrimination.
Justice Peter Young, a judge in the New South Wales supreme court, ruled that the 82-year-old Sydney woman, Marjorie Williams, was entitled to attach conditions to a charitable gift but he rejected a second proviso in her will that her house be sold only to a "young white Australian couple". He argued that this was too difficult to define.
"There is far more room for uncertainty here than with the words 'white babies'," he said. "Does it mean Australian by birth or a person who has since obtained Australian nationality? Does it mean that both members of the couple must be Australian?"
The judge described Miss Williams, who died in January 2002, as "a lady who had very strong dislikes". She had a particular antipathy towards her brother Eric, who she specified should "not get anything out of the [sale of the] house or one cent of any money".
Miss Williams and her idiosyncratic views came to light after her executor, Stephen Kay, and members of her family including her brother challenged the will. The supreme court ruling has displeased all involved - it upheld the A$10,000 (£4,340) gift to the Sydney Children's Hospital but the fate of Miss Williams's house is now apparently in limbo.
Residents of Gaza Road in West Ryde - the quiet Sydney suburb were Miss Williams lived in a modest bungalow for more than 30 years - have been shocked that their elderly neighbour held such strong views.
Audrey Hunt, 85, a long-term resident, said Miss Williams had never made any overt racist comments but did seem to disapprove of the large number of Chinese, Lebanese, Sri Lankan and other migrants moving in.
"It's peculiar that she wanted to leave her money to children," she said. "She was a bit short with our kids. I remember her getting upset about kids running a stick along her fence."
Mrs Hunt said that Miss Williams, who left an estate worth about A$800,000, equivalent to £347,000, had a reputation as a miser - she once complained when asked to contribute a few cents to a floral tribute for an elderly neighbour who had died.
Joyce Garland, 82, said that she was not entirely surprised that the old woman wanted to leave money for white babies: "I know she was upset when she discovered that her new doctor was Chinese, even though he had an English-sounding name."
Moira Young, Miss Williams's niece, described her aunt as "the black sheep of the family". One of three sisters, the spinster had worked in a nursing home for many years but "never really liked anyone". In retirement Miss Williams acquired a reputation for eccentric behaviour by wearing short dresses and weeding her garden while lying on her back.
Other beneficiaries of Miss Williams include the Royal Blind Dog Association and a group of hospital volunteers known as the Pink Ladies. The will made no special bequests to her relatives but made clear her scorn for her brother Eric, Mr Kay, and even Mr Kay's solicitor, who she specified should not be involved in the sale of her property "as I do not like him".
While the intent of Miss Williams's bequest to the Sydney Children's Hospital was overtly racist, the judge found it permissible under Australian law. He said that although the man in the street would have a fair idea of what the term "white children" might mean, it was not specific enough to be used in an Australian court of law.
"Generally speaking, testators can be as capricious as they like," he said. "The gift is valid; it is a charitable gift because it is a gift to treat sick children in hospital."