Woman O'Shane, Pat

Lawyer, Magistrate, Public servant and Teacher

Written by Nikki Henningham, The University of Melbourne

Pat O'Shane has been a trailblazer for Australian Indigenous people since becoming the only Indigenous person in her age group to graduate from her far north Queensland high school in Cairns in the late 1950s. She went on to become the first Aboriginal teacher in Queensland, the first to earn a law degree, the first barrister and the first Aboriginal magistrate in the NSW local court.

After teaching at Cairns High School for eight years, O'Shane returned to study at the University of New South Wales on an Aboriginal Study Grant. She graduated in law in 1976 and was admitted to the New South Wales bar. She then found work with the Aboriginal Legal Services in Sydney and later in Alice Springs. On her return from Alice Springs, she tutored in law at the University of New South Wales.

O'Shane then joined the New South Wales public service and, in 1981 was appointed as Head of the New South Wales Aboriginal Affairs Department; the first woman and Indigenous person to be the head of a government department in Australia. She held the position for five years, serving also as a Commissioner of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission from 1983 to 1986. In 1986, O'Shane was the first Indigenous Australian to be appointed a magistrate for the local courts in New South Wales. From 1995 to 2003, O'Shane was the Chancellor of the University of New England.

In 2013, O'Shane was awarded the Marcia Langton award for lifetime achievement in leadership at the Deadly awards, which recognise the work of Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders in music, sport, entertainment and the community. A spokesperson for the awards summed up the impact of O'Shane's achievements. 'This is an Aboriginal woman who blazed a path for others to follow. Because many of her achievements have been firsts for her people, she is a genuine and inspiring role model for others.' (Jabour)

Archival Resources

National Archives of Australia

  • NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Appointments, honours and awards, 6 July 1979 - 15 June 1984, 1979/750 7902651; National Archives of Australia. Details

National Film and Sound Archive

  • A Ticket to Ride: A film about Aboriginal people who have succeeded as leaders in the community, 1984, 554790; National Film and Sound Archive. Details

Published Resources

Newspaper Articles

Online Resources

Digital Resources

NWAC [National Women's Advisory Council] - Appointments, honours and awards
Digitised Paper Resource
6 July 1979 - 15 June 1984
National Archives of Australia
National Archives of Australia