North Melbourne’s Neil Cole launches new book, reflecting on community law

North Melbourne’s Neil Cole launches new book, reflecting on community law
Brendan Rees

North Melbourne resident Neil Cole, a former lawyer, City of Melbourne councillor and parliamentarian, has launched a new book chronicling his experiences in community law in the early ‘80s.

The non-fiction novel titled Trials and Tribulations in Community Law explores Mr Cole’s time as a lawyer at the Flemington Community Legal Service from 1980 to 1982, which is told through the eyes of a fictional character named Neville Coleman, a 23-year-old lawyer.

The book, which is fiction based on fact, offers a glimpse into Mr Cole’s career in what was a tumultuous time of recession with unemployment rates of 50 per cent in community housing high-rises.

The book includes stories of domestic violence, police bashing homosexual men at public toilets, rigged horse races, police brutality and corruption, and unemployed people getting in trouble with the law.


“It was a big learning curve. It was difficult, but we were trying to do community law – more than just representing people, it was about trying to change things within the system,” Mr Cole said.


“The system was pretty tough for people, particularly those on low incomes.”

Speaking of his book, which took about six months to write, Mr Coles, 67, said, “It’s told through the eyes of Neville Coleman who’s really me”.

“It’s more of a fiction story rather than just telling the history of the community law service. I’ve amalgamated characters into one so it’s one person but many different people all in the one.”

Mr Cole, who grew up in the housing commission high-rise flats in North Melbourne, graduated with a law degree from the University of Melbourne in 1980.

He later served for three years as a City of Melbourne councillor in the ‘80s before being elected to the Labor seat of Melbourne between 1988 to 1999 and was promoted to shadow Attorney-Attorney-General.

After exiting politics, he became a successful playwright which earned him a Griffin Theatre Award in 1999. Mr Cole has written 35 plays, many of them performed at Carlton’s La Mama Courthouse.

Asked what inspired him to write, he said, “It’s more than an outlet. It was something that I wanted to do more of a vocation really.”

His debut novel, Colonel Surry’s Insanity, was published in 2010, which follows a fictional soldier who pleads not guilty to a charge of theft on the grounds of insanity.



Trials and Tribulations in Community Law was launched at the Readings State Library store on April 9.

The book is available from Readings stores and North Melbourne Books at 546 Queensberry St. •


Caption: Neil Cole with his new book, Trials and Tribulations in Community Law. Photo: Hanna Komissarova.

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