Vale Jane Mathews AO

Jane Mathews AO, whose passing was announced on Sunday September 1, was a visionary and generous supporter of Musica Viva Australia over several decades. Musica Viva invited former CEO Mary Jo Capps AM to pay tribute to Jane’s wide-ranging legacy.

Vale Jane Mathews AO


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 was Jane.

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 Jane too.

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.