Sarina Range resident Kevin Whitten and his son former North Mackay resident Michael Whitten in Canberra in February 2016. Michael Whitten has been appointed by the King of Tonga as nation's new Lord Chief Justice.
Sarina Range resident Kevin Whitten and his son former North Mackay resident Michael Whitten in Canberra in February 2016. Michael Whitten has been appointed by the King of Tonga as nation's new Lord Chief Justice. Contributed

Royal honour for son of Mackay butcher and a boiler maker

THE SON of a Mackay butcher and a boiler maker will soon be granted the top legal role of a distant island kingdom.

The King of Tonga has appointed lawyer Michael Whitten as the nation's new Lord Chief Justice.

The island's capital of Nuku'alofa will be a long way from his childhood home on Glenpark St, North Mackay.

"My late mum Sandra spent most of her working life at Camilleri's butcher shop. My dad Kevin was a boilermaker at Racecourse Mill for most of his," Mr Whitten said.

As the eldest of three boys, Mr Whitten said he had an exciting childhood in Mackay.

He said his fondest memories were spent with his mates from school - playing sport, joining the army cadets, going on outdoor adventures "and school dances with the Our Lady of Mercy College girls".

 

In their cadet uniforms Ben and Michael Whitten with their mother Sandra Whitten in Mackay in the 1980s.
In their cadet uniforms Ben and Michael Whitten with their mother Sandra Whitten in Mackay in the 1980s. Contributed

After finalising his law degree, Mr Whitten returned to his home town.

For three years Mr Whitten worked in criminal, personal injuries and family law matters, before eventually finding his way to Melbourne in 1996. He was appointed to the Queen's Counsel in 2015.

This year Mr Whitten came across a call from Tonga looking to fill the role of the Lord Chief Justice.

It was a challenge he could not refuse.

"(I have) an interest in seeking out new challenges and a desire to help out and be of use wherever I can," Mr Whitten said.  

The King's decision to pick the former Mackay lawyer took him, and his family, by surprise.

"From a young fella from Mackay to go all the way up in the world," his father said.

Kevin Whitten said the announcement had the whole family "over the moon".

"It's like winning the lotto - not money wise - but a surprise," his father said.

He joked "I don't know where he gets his brains".

Mr Whitten said he was ready to take on this next tropical challenge.

"I am incredibly honoured and equally humbled by the appointment," he said.  

"The opportunity to serve all the people of Tonga in continuing to maintain and strengthen the rule of law in the South Pacific region, to the best of my ability, and to make Australia proud". 

Mr Whitten said his tropical north Queensland upbringing had prepared him for the climate and for his island legal career.

"I have no doubt that growing up in Mackay, with its similar climate, similar population to Nuku'alofa and common emphasis on agricultural production, will make the transition easier," he said. 

"I don't expect it will take too long for us to feel at home."