Barrister strikes blow for aborigines

April 21, 1995

A New South Wales magistrate last week became the first aborigine and black woman to be installed chancellor of an Australian university.

Pat O'Shane, a prominent advocate of women, aborigines and the law, was installed as chancellor of the University of New England in Armidale in the state's northern tablelands.

In her installation address Dr O'Shane attacked the federal government for its funding policies on higher education and warned that universities could be forced to become beholden to vested interests for their financial survival.

"Governments overbone by so-called economic rationalism, have gone to extremes in demanding changes in the role and function of universities through the imposition of inappropriate and oppressive requirements," she said. "Governments have demanded that the functions of the university be almost entirely directed to achieving balanced budgets - to the detriment of its more fundamental role.

A former school teacher, Pat O'Shane studied law at the University of Sydney and in 1978 became Australia's first Aboriginal barrister. Appointed head of the NSW Aboriginal Affairs Ministry in 1981, she had responsibility two years later for introducing the passage of land-rights legislation in that state.

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