Stephen Comino was born in Laidley, Queensland in 1928, He was born to greek parents, Arthur and Mary Comino, who operated a cafe in the town from 1925 to 1947. As a young boy he worked hard delivering fruit and vegetables around town, from a horse drawn cart.
At the close of WW2, his father Arthur moved to Redcliffe to build the now heritage listed Comino's Arcade ( Initially named the Acropolis Building) Queensland's first mixed use development, which included shops, a nightclub, offices and accomodation.
Stephen, in his holidays, assisted his father in the construction of the building. His father would come down from Laidley on the weekends to work on the building. They slept out overnight and feasted on sand crabs caught in pots thrown in from the Redcliffe Jetty. Stephen pushed loaded wheelbarrows of cement up narrow timber planks. All the concrete was hand mixed on site. All the concrete reinforcement rods were hand tied one by one. Thousands of bricks were moved by hand.
His father wanted Stephen to study law so that he could help out whenever the family crossed swords with the system.. He failed first year university legal studies because the travel to and from Redcliffe daily made it too hard for him to do the requisite study. At the university, only the future Chief Justice of the High Court of Australia, Sir Gerard Brennan, a Catholic, befriended him and spoke to him.
He applied to become an articled clerk in a number of firms. Only the Catholic firm, Burbin Pappy & Finn, gave him a job. At that time it was not possible for a non-Protestant to work in a firm of Protestant lawyers. While working as an articled clerk he completed the five year Solicitors Board course which involved no formal classes, only end-of-year exams, and was admitted as a solicitor in 1953.
Stephen was the first Greek speaking solicitor in Queensland and practised as a lawyer for more than 50 years. He started out in practice alone. He participated in numerous legal partnerships.
As a solicitor, he did much for the conservation cause, as part of a team.
His initiation into conservation came in the 1960s when he joined the Cooloola Committee, which succeeded in pressuring the Queensland government to stop sandmining. Together with his good friend Llew Wyvill QC, he continued with many other causes, advising the Moreton Island Protection Committee, the Friends of Hinchinbrook and branches of the Wildlife Preservation Society of Queensland (WPSQ) in their fights against ill-conceived development.
In cases that went as far as the High Court, Stephen acted for John Sinclair in the 1970s and 1980s to protect Fraser Island and to protect Sinclair’s reputation against Premier Bjelke-Petersen.
In 1989 Stephen acted for the Central Queensland Speleological Society in its Supreme Court and High Court litigation to protect Mt Etna’s ghost bats. He did so in the face of heavy criticism from other law firms – conservation cases were then unpopular in the profession and his work was done on a pro bono basis. Although this case was unsuccessful, the public outcry led to nearby caves being saved.
Stephen also advocated for the Kukujungan Aboriginal tribe of North Queensland before Queensland’s Environment Minister, obtaining a lease back to the tribe of their traditional lands. For this, he was made an honorary member of the Kukujungan and given the name ‘tsama-tsama’ (brown snake).
As WPSQ president (1992-1994), Stephen helped carry the organisation through a difficult period after the 1992 Mabo native title decision, when there was heated debate over conservation and Aboriginal custodianship.
He met the love of his life, Penelope Sourry, at a Greek dance. They married on 19th April 1953, he being 24 and she being 22. Penelope learned shorthand and typing and worked as a legal secretary for Stephen.
Arthur was born to them in 1955, Anthony in 1957 and Maria in 1960. They raised three children on acreage on the outskirts of Brisbane, where they cultivated crops with a draught horse and bred goats and chickens.
In 1994 he was awarded the Australian Medal for his service to conservation and the law. He moved to Stanthorpe in 1973 and established a successful winery called Kominos Wines.
From 2005 he worked for his son in the firm of Stephen Comino & Arthur Comino, always the de facto master of the practice despite his status as a consultant. Until late 2012 he visited the office daily.
Stephen Comino is listed on the wall of the Redcliffe Wall of Fame:
A collection of portrait and information honouring the achievements of individuals who have influenced and shaped Redcliffe. The collection is in the Jetty Arcade at 139-141 Redcliffe Parade.
For a complete list of people who appear on the wall click on the following blog post: