CASTIEAU John Gilbert Buckley

Deputy Crown Solicitor / Assistant Secretary, Attorney-General's Department
Years active
1929–1933 / 1933–1946
Portrait of CASTIEAU John Gilbert Buckley


John Gilbert Buckley (Gilbert) Castieau was born in Prahran, Melbourne on 17 September 1892. The son of civil servant John Buckley Castieau2 and Louisa Elizabeth Levett, née Sharvell, Gilbert had two younger sisters. He attended Christian Brothers' College in St Kilda, where he was dux of the school in 1907, then went on to study law at the University of Melbourne.

On 19 April 1910 at age 17 Castieau enlisted in the Melbourne University Rifles (MUR), a reserve unit of the Australian Imperial Force which provided compulsory military training for members of the university and public schools in Melbourne and Geelong. He continued to serve in the MUR on the home front throughout the First World War.3 Promoted to Second Lieutenant on 1 July 1914, he was commissioned as a temporary Captain from 16 October 1917 until 21 July 1919 and ultimately retired from the regiment on 16 August 1924.

Graduating with honours in law in 1913, Castieau was appointed as a Clerk Class E in the Professional division of the Attorney‑General's Department on 13 February 1914. The following year on 16 June he married Ione Beal Prust, from Sydney, at Christ Church in St Kilda East. Their only child, a son, died at birth in April 1918.

From January 1918 until July 1922 Castieau was Secretary to Representatives of the Government in the Senate. The duties of this position included advising Ministers generally on all matters which came before the Senate; drafting Government amendment bills and, on occasion bills and amendments for private members; advising on matters submitted to the department, principally those arising under nationality, defence and arbitration acts and the ordinances of territories; and preparing for publication a review of Commonwealth legislation each year. Promoted to Legal Assistant Class C in September 1923, Castieau moved to Canberra in 1926 to work as the department's representative with the Federal Capital Commission, preparatory to the transfer of the seat of government from Melbourne to the new national capital. The inaugural sitting in the Provisional Parliament House was held on 9 May 1927.

By June that year, Castieau was Principal Legal Assistant in the Attorney‑General's Department. Settling in Canberra ahead of the first major transfer of public servants, in 1927 he was allocated a housing site in Forrest – which was originally called 'Blandfordia'. The Castieaus became actively involved in the embryonic capital's community, entertaining in their private sitting room at the Hotel Canberra in the early days, and enjoying golf and bowls as well as the prevailing Canberra pastime of gardening. Castieau was a Rotarian, and during the 1940s was president of the Canberra Bowling Club, where Prime Minister John Curtin was also a member.

After the death of Cyril Crowley in the Victorian Crown Solicitor's Office early in 1929, Castieau was promoted to Deputy Crown Solicitor on 2 May 1929 and moved back to Melbourne. He was said to be a fine lawyer, who had happy working relationships and was popular with his staff. Notable for his interest in youth welfare he was actively involved with the 'Powerhouse' clubs, set up to provide activities and leadership camps for teenage boys both still at school or already working. Persuaded to return to central office, where his skill as a drafter (particularly of taxation legislation) was badly needed, Castieau was appointed to the new position of Second Assistant Secretary and Second Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman on 23 February 1933. This position, which survived only for the duration of his occupancy, was reclassified at a higher level in July 1938.

In 1938 Castieau served as secretary to an Australian ministerial delegation, of which Attorney-General Robert Menzies was a member. The delegation left Australia on 22 March and arrived home in September after undertaking prolonged trade negotiations – including the review of agreements, based on imperial preference, which had been reached between the United Kingdom and Commonwealth nations in 1932.4

On 23 February 1939 Castieau was promoted again, succeeding Martin Boniwell as Assistant Secretary and Assistant Parliamentary Draftsman. Between 1932 and 1946 Castieau contributed dozens of advices to the Opinion Book5 – some provided jointly with Sir George KnowlesSir Kenneth Bailey and Sir Robert Garran. Eight of these opinions selected for publication in Volume 3 reflected the concerns of government during the years of the Second World War, including regulation of prices and food control, income tax, the powers of the Senate in relation to money bills and preference in employment given to discharged servicemen.

Following Boniwell once more, Castieau went back to Melbourne when he was appointed as Public Service Arbitrator on 8 February 1946. His term began during a period of general industrial unrest and disabling strikes by unions campaigning for improved working conditions after the Second World War. Public service salaries and employment conditions were reviewed in subsequent years, recruitment, training and staff welfare were enhanced and wide-ranging organisational reclassifications put in place. Most significant for the Attorney‑General's Department was Arbitrator Castieau's decision in a plaint filed by the Commonwealth Legal Professional Officers' Association in 1947-1948, seeking all round salary increases and other benefits for legal officers. After hearing from numerous witnesses giving evidence about all levels of legal work, Castieau fixed markedly improved salary scales which recognised the increased responsibility, discretion and judgement associated with the growing volume and complexity of the Department's work, later awarding to lawyers a further margins increase similar to that granted to other professionals in the public service. In Castieau's final year as Arbitrator, a determination relating to margins claims and granting pay increases across the public service triggered an appeal from the Public Service Board. The Arbitration Court's decision, granting an increase but by a reduced amount, was handed down in December 1955 – around the time that Castieau retired. Then aged 63, he was widely praised for his fairness, integrity, courtesy and patience as Public Service Arbitrator. On 13 June 1959 he was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for his service in the role.

Survived by his wife, Gilbert Castieau died at the age of 71, at his home in Williams Road, Windsor, Victoria, on 1 October 1963 and was cremated the next day. In 1970, Castieau Street in Higgins in the Australian Capital Territory was named in his honour.

  1. Biography written by Carmel Meiklejohn with reference to:
    • Research for Carmel Meiklejohn, Fitting the Bill – A History of Commonwealth Parliamentary Drafting, Office of Parliamentary Counsel, Canberra, 2012.
    • Harold Renfree, History of the Commonwealth Crown Solicitor's Office, Attorney-General's Department, Canberra, 1970.
    •  MJ Ryan, A Most Unusual Regiment – A History of Melbourne University Regiment, Australian Military History Publications, Preston, 2008.
    • Gerald Caiden, Career Service – An Introduction to the History of Personnel Administration in the Commonwealth Public Service of Australia 1901–1961, Melbourne University Press, London, 1965.
  2. Gilbert Castieau's paternal grandfather was also named John Buckley Castieau – he was Governor of the Melbourne Gaol at the time of the execution of bushranger Ned Kelly on 11 November 1880.
  3. The Melbourne University Rifles (MUR, later the Melbourne University Regiment) did not serve as a body in theatres of war, but from the beginning was influential in providing professional leadership training for Australia's new national defence force. Other Opinion authors who served in the MUR included Sir Robert Menzies and Sir Kenneth Bailey.
  4. The Ottawa Agreements, 12 bilateral trade agreements providing for mutual tariff concessions and other commitments, were negotiated between 20 July and 20 August 1932 at Ottawa, Canada. accessed 28 January 2013.
  5. All were signed 'GB Castieau'.

Opinions by this author

Opinion Number Subject Opinion Date
Opinion Number. 1660

whether Commonwealth…

Opinion Number. 1694


Opinion Number. 1707


Opinion Number. 1720

whether Senate has…

Opinion Number. 1721

whether Income Tax Bill 1943 cl…

Opinion Number. 1730


Opinion Number. 1737


Opinion Number. 1742