Daughter Victoria turns the tables

APPROPRIATELY, it was a black cat day, Friday the 13th, when The Age reported on the front page 27 years ago that businessman Douglas Harper had been jailed indefinitely for contempt of court. The Family Court was not impressed by his ''persistent and wilful'' efforts to avoid paying a six-year-old, $137,000 divorce settlement to his wife Maureen, who was still caring for their three youngest children.

It was an unusual case because Family Court matters are normally confidential but the full court allowed publication. It has proved unusual in another way, too. This week, one of that Harper brood, Victoria, headed for the same Supreme Court, but in contrast to the path of her father, Victoria was admitted as a solicitor to practise law. Now mother of a seven-year-old daughter, Victoria says the ceremony held a lot of symbolic meaning for her - not least because her swearing-in was on August 12, by sheer coincidence the same date her father was sentenced in 1982. "I was 13 at the time,'' she told Diary, ''and without the support that is so fundamental to any child. In many ways, I lost my mother, too, as she became as consumed with the battle as my father was. The interests of children should be paramount in family law matters, but that was not the case with us. Our interests were not protected.''

Victoria Harper worked for a time as policy adviser for the Victorian Premier's Department. Now she's aiming to practise law in the same jurisdiction her father set out to thwart. Said a friend: ''She's really passionate about the reforms that have taken place in family law and is a committed advocate.''

Douglas Harper is believed to have spent about three years in Pentridge, the longest sentence on record for contempt of court.