Trailblazer Pat O’Shane’s life is full of “firsts” – the first female 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.

After teaching at Cairns High School for eight years, O’Shane returned to study at the University of NSW, graduating in law in 1976 and was admitted to the NSW bar. After working with the Aboriginal Legal Services in Sydney and Alice Springs, she tutored in law at UNNSW.

Appointed Head of the NSW Aboriginal Affairs Department, a position she held for five years, Pat also served as a Commissioner of the Commonwealth Tertiary Education Commission from 1983 to 1986. Appointed a magistrate for the local courts in NSW in 1986 (retiring in 2013), Pat served as the Chancellor of the University of New England for eight years.

Awarded a Member of the Order of Australia in 1984 (for public service in the field of Aboriginal welfare), she was awarded the Centenary Medal in 2001 for service to Australian society and higher education.

“What is important is that I have been able to demonstrate to other women and also to Aboriginal people generally that Aboriginal people are capable of doing these things and women are capable of doing these things and Aboriginal women are capable of doing these things.”