No organisation or society can reach its 100-year milestone without the service of those who have generously given of their time, energy and expertise.
The Society of Notaries Queensland is no different, and as its centenary is celebrated this month, the Society also recognises the people who have contributed so much to building and shaping what it looks like today.
Although the legal landscape has changed significantly since 1922, it is the hard work of the Society’s members and stalwarts that has enabled it to adapt throughout the last century in Queensland.
One such long-serving notary is Neil McPherson, who has a unique insight into how the work of notaries has changed over time. Neil was appointed a notary public by the then Archbishop of Canterbury, His Grace Frederick Donald Coggan, on 10 December 1979. He was elected as the Society’s President from 1995-96 and again in 2008-09, and became a Fellow of The Australian and New Zealand College of Notaries (FANZCN) in 2007.
QLS Proctor spoke with Neil to learn more.
QLS Proctor: You’ve served as a notary public for more than 40 years. How have you seen the role change over this time?
Neil: There has been, for a long time, the need to execute documents in Queensland to be used in other parts of the world. The notarial acts undertaken by a notary are invested with an official and international character that is recognised by the laws of all civilised nations.
The role of notaries has changed markedly over this period of time. When I was first appointed, I was primarily involved in mercantile matters, such as noting and protesting bills of exchange and ships’ protests in the major coastal ports of Queensland.
Some may ask ‘what is a bill of exchange?’, as they are rarely used as part of our business transactions today. There is a formal, detailed definition in the Bills of Exchange Act 1909 (Cth), but the brief answer set out in the Encyclopaedia Britannica is:
“Bill of exchange, also called draft or draught, short-term negotiable financial instrument consisting of an order in writing addressed by one person (the seller of goods) to another (the buyer) requiring the latter to pay on demand (a sight draft) or at a fixed or determinable future time (a time draft) a certain sum of money to a specified person or to the bearer of the bill.”
When a bill of exchange was not paid on the due date, the notary then proceeded to ‘note and protest’ the bill.
Nowadays, there is a broader range of documents executed in Queensland to be used in foreign countries, and these include, but are certainly not limited to:
- notarial certificate of authenticity of documents issued by government departments, corporate regulators, courts, universities and similar institutions
- powers of attorney – both general and special forms – to authorise a person to act on behalf of another
- statutory declarations regarding a range of matters
- documents regarding property transactions
- documents regarding estate matters
- documents to be filed in a court of law.
QLS Proctor: Which foreign countries would this typically include?
Neil: These may include any country in the world, but by way of example, the countries involved in one notary’s work during a year involve: New Zealand, the many states (and counties) of the United States, Fiji, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Vietnam, United Kingdom, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Italy, Poland, Malta, Israel, United Arab Emirates, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Columbia and more.
QLS Proctor: Could you provide an example of one of the more unusual documents you’ve been asked to notarise?
Neil: On a couple of occasions, I have been asked to ‘notarise’ documents of a decidedly dubious nature – one of which was to declare that the person in question was a citizen and not the subject of Australian law. Regrettably, the circumstances of my showing him the door precluded me from taking a copy of that document!
On the other hand, I have also notarised documents for characters that have been on the other side of the law. The documents were legitimate and on each occasion I was paid the proper fee.
QLS Proctor: What has been the highlight of your time in the role?
Neil: I was appointed by the Society to be its ambassador to the library of the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace, London, where I searched the records and obtained the details of the early notaries appointed to Queensland. This material is now incorporated in the book The Queensland Notary by Donald T. Seawright.
I was also instrumental in introducing and facilitating such changes to notarial practice as the use of photocopiers for keeping notarial records. Although ‘wet’ photocopiers were introduced to legal offices in the 1960s, ‘dry’ photocopiers didn’t become prevalent until the 1970s.
When I was appointed, notaries were instructed to have a leather-bound journal in which they wrote a note or minute of each notarial act. It was not the practice of any other notary, to my knowledge, to keep any form of copy of the document. I started such a journal, but after spilling my coffee over my spidery handwriting, I thought there must be a better way – that was when I started making photocopies.
At that time, I was the ‘new’ boy and my fellow notaries were older than me and steeped in the ways of the journal. When I suggested the use of photocopiers, there were ‘harrumphs’ and a throwing of hands in the air! It actually took quite a lot of promotion by me before the concept caught on…
Over the years I have also enjoyed presenting a number of papers at annual seminars and training days.
QLS Proctor: Why should more Queensland solicitors consider becoming a notary public?
Neil: It is a service to the public and by which the solicitor is recognised by his peers as being of the highest integrity and standing. It is an opportunity to be something more than a standard solicitor that provides good feedback and satisfaction.
We now have a mobile population, with many having come to Australia from overseas and residing in all parts of Queensland – not just the major cities – and requiring assistance in family matters. There is also much more business transacted with overseas countries electronically. The result is that notarial services are required in every corner of the state. There is now a greater need for notaries in country areas than ever before, and that need is growing.
The Society of Notaries Queensland will mark its 100-year anniversary on 16 August 2022, with a special series of events to be held next week. For event details or to register to attend the centennial celebrations, email Society Secretary James Madden at firstname.lastname@example.org at your earliest convenience.