Marg O’Donnell – The Courier Mail
November 5, 2005
WHEN Agnes McWhinney applied to become the first woman to practise law in Queensland in 1915, a bench of five judges examined her, led by chief justice, Sir Pope Alexander Cooper, not known as a champion of women’s advancement.
A colleague described him as becoming “distinctly choleric” at the prospect of a female lawyer. Agnes passed her grilling and went to practise in Townsville.
Next week the Supreme Court of Queensland Library is launching A Woman’s Place: 100 Years of Queensland Women Lawyers.
This book, along with the accompanying exhibition, aims to commemorate the centenary of the enactment of the Legal Practitioners Act 1905, which allowed women to practise law in Queensland.
Leading family law practitioner Susan Purdon, a partner at Hopgood Ganim, and Supreme Court Librarian Aladin Rahemtula, the editors, wrote: “The centrepiece and original concept behind this book is the rich collection of biographical profiles, which are an acknowledgement and celebration of the individual women who have helped shape the law in Queensland over the past century making a multi-faceted and richly textured contribution to our legal heritage.”
The book details 52 biographies of leading women.
Research assistant Elizabeth Pyke said Catherine Pirie, the first female Torres Strait Islander magistrate in Queensland, was her favourite: “Members of the indigenous community are today still surprised to find an indigenous woman on the bench.
“Soon after Catherine’s appointment as a magistrate a former client from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service appeared in court.
“The applicant looked up at the magistrate, and then exclaimed, `Is that you, Cathy? What you doing up there? Where’s Dave? Tell him g’day. We haven’t seen youse for a long time. Have you got kids now? Are you still running?’ “
This is a valid history book, useful for everyone researching law or women in Queensland: scholars, lawyers, journalists, historians.
It has so many statistics, a detailed appendix, and lots of other useful information that will also appeal to the wider community.
There are very good historical accounts of women’s involvement in the legal profession over the past 100 years and even before that, with a look at the role of women in indigenous law before European contact.
There is also a glimpse into possible future trends through the eyes of 13 academically outstanding young female law graduates. These women were asked to write creative responses to questions about their aspirations, hopes and dreams for the legal profession in 2025.
They did this in many imaginative and creative ways — through the eyes of indigenous lawyers, women in the Middle East or from elsewhere overseas. But the stand-out response was by Kirsten Ferguson.
Her predictions included the demise of small firms and a major legal scandal that ended the self-regulation of the industry.
The launch of this all-encompassing book will be accompanied by an exhibition; an impressive “honour roll” of the names of the 4800 women who have been admitted into legal practice in Queensland since 1905, together with a display of hundreds of their photographs.
A Woman’s Place: 100 Years of Queensland Women Lawyers will be officially launched by the Chief Justice of Queensland, Paul de Jersey, with the accompanying exhibition opening to the public on November 10 and running until next March. For more information contact the Supreme Court of Queensland Library on (07) 3247 4940