Pat O'Shane

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Pat O'Shane
Chancellor of the University of New England
In office
Preceded by Rob Robertson-Cuninghame
Succeeded by John Cassidy
Personal details
Born (1941-06-19) 19 June 1941 (age 74)
Mossman, Queensland
Nationality Australian
Alma mater
  • Teacher
  • Barrister
  • Public Servant
  • Jurist

Patricia June "Pat" O'Shane, AM (born 19 June 1941 in Mossman, Queensland), an Indigenous Australian of the Kunjandji clan of the Yalangi people, a teacher, barrister, public servant, jurist and Aboriginal activist, 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 also the first Aboriginal teacher in Queensland; the first Aboriginal to earn a law degree; the first Aboriginal barrister; and the first woman and Indigenous person to be the head of a government department in Australia.[4]


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 Indigenous Australian child in her age group graduating from her high school and 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 she 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]

She began practicing law as a barrister with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Sydney and then in Central Australia, O'Shane was a former head of the New South Wales Ministry of Aboriginal Affairs before her appointment as a magistrate in 1986.[1][2] She was the Chancellor of the University of New England between 1994 and 2003.[5][6]

In 2013 Pat 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.[7][8]

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:[9]

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."[10] 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.[10] They called for O'Shane's resignation.[11][12][13]

Awards and honours[edit]

O'Shane was appointed as a Member of the Order of Australia) in 1984, for public service in the field of Aboriginal welfare.[14] She was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for service to Australian society and higher education.[15] In 1998 she was voted one of Australia's living treasures by the National Trust.[16]

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 "O'Shane, Pat". The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia. Australian Women's Archives Project. 2014. ISBN 978-0-7340-4873-8. 
  5. ^ "Governance". University of New England. 
  6. ^ "Janet Holmes à Court urges graduands to 'participate'" (Press release). University of New England. October 2003. 
  7. ^ Vincent, Peter (10 September 2013). "Deadly Archie wants action from Abbott". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ O'Shane, Pat (3 February 1998). Address to the Constitutional Convention (PDF) (Speech). Australian Constitutional Convention 1998. Old Parliament House, Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia. p. 169. Archived from the original (TRANSCRIPT) on 7 April 2014. 
  10. ^ a b Jacobsen, Geesche (8 February 2012). "Majority of appeals against O'Shane decisions upheld". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  11. ^ "Resignation now could help O'Shane preserve a proud legacy". The Sydney Morning Herald. 8 February 2012. 
  12. ^ Sky News (Australia)  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ Devine, Miranda (4 June 2006). "Murderer's sentence a shot in the foot for good policing". The Sydney Morning Herald. 
  14. ^ "O'SHANE, Patricia June: Member of the Order of Australia". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 1984. 
  15. ^ "O'SHANE, Patricia June: Centennary Medal". It's an Honour. Australian Government. 2001. 
  16. ^ Clennell, Andrew; Wood, Alicia (24 January 2013). "O'Shane to retire from life on bench". The Australian. Retrieved 27 February 2015. 
  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