Pat O'Shane

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Pat O'Shane

Chancellor of the University of New England
In office
Preceded byRob Robertson-Cuninghame
Succeeded byJohn Cassidy
Personal details
Patricia June O'Shane

(1941-06-19) 19 June 1941 (age 79)
Mossman, Queensland, Australia
Alma mater
  • Teacher
  • Barrister
  • Public Servant
  • Jurist

Patricia June O'Shane AM (born 19 June 1941) is a retired Australian teacher, barrister, public servant, jurist, and Aboriginal activist. She was Australia's first Aboriginal magistrate,[1] serving the Local Court in Sydney, New South Wales, Australia between 1986 until her retirement in 2013.[2][3]

O'Shane was the first female Aboriginal teacher in Queensland; the first Aboriginal to earn a law degree; the first Aboriginal barrister; and the first woman and Aboriginal person to be the head of a government department in Australia, the New South Wales Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs.[4]


O'Shane was born in Mossman, Queensland on 19 June 1941 to Gladys, an Aboriginal woman, and her husband Patrick O'Shane, an Irish boxer and unionist.[5] She is an Aboriginal Australian of the Kunjandji clan of the Kuku Yalanji people. O'Shane's mother moved the family from Mossman to Cairns to enable her children to receive a good education. O'Shane ended up the only Aboriginal Australian child in her age group graduating from her high school, gained a scholarship and studied at Teachers' College and the University of Queensland, before teaching at Cairns High School for eight years. When her mother died O'Shane went into a deep depression and was hospitalised.[3] On an Aboriginal Study Grant, O'Shane studied law at the University of New South Wales, graduated in 1976, and was admitted to the New South Wales bar.[4]

O'Shane began practicing law as a barrister with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Sydney and then in Central Australia, O'Shane was head of the New South Wales Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs from 1981 to 1986, before her appointment as a magistrate.[1][2] She was the Chancellor of the University of New England between 1994 and 2003.[6][7]

In 2013 O'Shane was awarded a Deadly Award for lifetime achievement in leadership, being praised as a woman who "blazed a path for others to follow . . . she is a genuine and inspiring role model for others". Along with fellow Deadly 2013 winner Archie Roach, she used the win to call for an end to the Northern Territory Intervention.[8][9]

O'Shane retired as a magistrate in January 2013, taking long service leave until she reached compulsory retirement age in mid-June.[10][5]

Australian Constitutional Convention[edit]

O'Shane was elected to the Australian Constitutional Convention 1998, which considered the issue of Australia becoming a republic. She advocated strongly for an Australian republic. In her opening address, she expressed a want for modification based on what she perceived as historical injustice and inadequacies within the Australian Constitution:[11]

That modern Australia, the Australia that has developed since 26 January 1788 as distinct from the Australia of my ancestors, has a constitutional monarchy is a direct unambiguous consequence of our origins as a colony of Britain — a penal colony at that. As such, it was underwritten with the values of power, privilege, elitism, oppression and dispossession. It was blatantly exclusionary. It is no wonder then that the Australian Constitution, designed to institute a constitutional monarchy as the system of government in this country, is such an inadequate and uncertain instrument as it is.

Academic criticism[edit]

A study in 2012 by Michael Eburn and Ruth Townsend of the Australian National University College of Law examined 56 Supreme Court appeals of cases heard before O'Shane between 1999 and 2012. Of the 56 appeals, 35 (62.5%) were upheld. Of the 16 criminal cases included, 14 appeals were upheld. Eburn and Townsend wrote: "The Supreme Court has found that O'Shane had got the law wrong in 14 out of the 16 criminal cases ... In one case she dismissed a charge even though the accused had entered a plea of guilty."[12] Supreme Court judges criticised O'Shane for "denying the prosecution procedural fairness," and "failure to comprehend the basis of the prosecution case or the evidence before her, use of intemperate language and making numerous errors of law." Eburn and Townsend compared the records of two other magistrates with similar experience and found only eight and nine appeals against them respectively.[12] They called for O'Shane's resignation.[13][14]

Awards and honours[edit]

O'Shane was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia in 1984, for public service in the field of Aboriginal welfare.[15] She was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for service to Australian society and higher education.[16] In 1998 she was voted one of Australia's living treasures by the National Trust.[5]

At the Deadly Awards 2013, O'Shane was presented with the Marcia Langton Award For Lifetime Achievement In Leadership.[17]


  1. ^ a b Alexander, Harriet (9 February 2013). "Fearless O'Shane, defender of justice, plans for life after the bench". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Pat O'Shane". Schools TV. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 23 July 2004. Retrieved 14 June 2010.
  3. ^ a b "O'Shane, Pat". AustLit. 13 May 2009. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b Henningham, Nikki (2014). "O'Shane, Pat". The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. Australian Women's Archives Project. ISBN 978-0-7340-4873-8.
  5. ^ a b c Clennell, Andrew; Wood, Alicia (24 January 2013). "O'Shane to retire from life on bench". The Australian. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  6. ^ "Governance". University of New England.
  7. ^ "Janet Holmes à Court urges graduands to 'participate'" (Press release). University of New England. October 2003. Archived from the original on 19 September 2008.
  8. ^ Vincent, Peter (10 September 2013). "Deadly Archie wants action from Abbott". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  9. ^ Lloyd, Peter (11 September 2013). "Indigenous leader honoured at Deadlys calls for end to NT intervention" (transcript). AM: ABC Local Radio. Australia. Retrieved 27 February 2015.
  10. ^ "Magistrate O'Shane to quit the bench". The Australian. 25 January 2013. Retrieved 13 December 2015.
  11. ^ O'Shane, Pat (3 February 1998). Address to the Constitutional Convention (PDF) (Speech). Australian Constitutional Convention 1998. Old Parliament House, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. Archived from the original (PDF transcript) on 11 November 1998.
  12. ^ a b Jacobsen, Geesche (8 February 2012). "Majority of appeals against O'Shane decisions upheld". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  13. ^ "Resignation now could help O'Shane preserve a proud legacy". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 February 2012.
  14. ^ Devine, Miranda (4 June 2006). "Murderer's sentence a shot in the foot for good policing". The Sydney Morning Herald.
  15. ^ "O'SHANE, Patricia June: Member of the Order of Australia". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 1984.
  16. ^ "O'SHANE, Patricia June: Centennary Medal". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 2001.
  17. ^ Aboriginal magistrate Pat O'Shane, Archie Roach honoured at Deadly Awards, ABC News, 11 September 2013.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
Rob Robertson-Cuninghame
Chancellor of the University of New England
Succeeded by
John Cassidy