Remarkable is the only word appropriate for Jane Mathews. In so many
ways, in so many endeavours. She was a trail-blazer for women judges,
for Australian philanthropists, for environmental issues. Jane seemed
driven by an infinite supply of curiosity and generosity. She was a
great supporter of Australian composers, with a particular soft spot for
Carl Vine, for whose premieres she would travel across Australia to be
part of Team Carl on opening night. That was Jane.
As much as she supported new music, she found endless joy in hearing
Wagner’s Ring Cycle performed in every corner of the world - not to
mention hosting intensive listening Woolloomooloo and Kangaroo Valley
Ring Cycle weekends which were run with military precision, each of us
assigned various responsibilities for food and cleaning up. She was
constantly finding fresh surprises and joy in the same 16 hours of opera
and she loved sharing that joy with others. She was an eclectic
collector of people, art, knitting patterns, recipes, wine and books.
That was Jane.
She was also a wonderful supporter of performers, ensuring that
artists in companies as diverse as the Sydney Symphony, the Australian
Festival of Chamber Music, the Pacific Opera Company and Opera Australia
had the funds necessary to engage the finest talent both emerging and
established. She believed in making fine music accessible and
sustainable, evidenced by becoming a founding member of Musica Viva’s
Amadeus Society, which supports a fund to enable major artists to tour
Australia in the MVA International Concert Series.
She became friends with so many of the artists she supported, always
keen to share a meal and stories when and wherever they met up. That
Then there was her working life. She was the first female articled clerk at Dawson Waldron, the first woman appointed a judge in NSW, first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of NSW and first woman President of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.
Her expertise led to her appointment to the Federal Court and to the
Native Titles Tribunal. She extended her legal work tirelessly,
becoming President of the International Association of Women Judges and
patron of the Women Lawyers Association of NSW, as well as Deputy
Chancellor of the University of NSW. The list goes on and on. That was
One of the farewell dinners she most treasured was hosted by the many
female judges and lawyers who had benefitted from Jane’s mentoring, her
position as role model, and her kindness. The speakers that night were
genuinely effusive about what this had meant to their careers and to
them personally. That was Jane.
One story remains etched in my memory that is quintessentially Jane.
She was particularly proud of her mother’s “reinvention” in her fifties
as a collecting researcher in Indigenous languages. Jane became a
passionate supporter of Indigenous rights and astute collector of
Indigenous art. It was fitting, then, that she was invited to join with
just three guests specially invited by the Aboriginal community on
Croker Island to personally witness what a difference Musica Viva In
Schools had made there. Croker Island is 200 km north of Darwin, home to
a 300-strong Indigenous community plus 3 non-Indigenous residents who
collectively had made compelling pleas for MVIS to visit each year,
thanks to philanthropic support. Without blinking, Jane happily funded
her own travel there to be part of the adventure. What she hadn’t
counted on in our “donga” accommodation was the frog life in her shower
enclosure! She was rescued from the wildlife by another member of our
expedition, philanthropist and lawyer, Kathie Grinberg, but only after
we had all collapsed in gales in laughter – including Jane.
She was always the first to dive in, the first to stand up for
beliefs she held strongly, the first to host a post-concert party, and
the first to tackle some of the most difficult and gruesome legal
cases. That was Jane. And we will miss her greatly.