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The Australian Catholic Church

Twenty-five of the Best!

Law and Politics

WILLIAM DEANE - Governor General

(1931 -      )

William Deane was born in Melbourne and attended St Christopher’s School, Canberra and St Joseph’s Hunters Hill before going to Sydney University to study Law. He became a barrister, then a judge, then Chief Justice. He was one of the judges who deliberated in the historic Mabo decision before being appointed Australia’s 22nd Governor General in 1996. During his six years as Governor General his passion for justice, for Aboriginal reconciliation and for rehabilitating people who were disadvantaged in any way became very apparent.

Sir William also reflected the feelings of all Australians in speeches he made in response to tragedies that beset us during his time (including the Port Arthur killings, the Thredbo collapse and the Swiss canyoning accident), He always found ‘the right words, the right gesture, the right salve to ease the pain of those left behind to grieve’. He was equally well able to express the pride and joy of Australians at the ceremonies opening the Olympic Games in Sydney. He was one of the most popular Governors General Australia has had. Read some brief quotations in this article.

Sir William quoted this passage from the gospels as his lifelong inspiration: ‘For I was hungry and you gave me food; I was thirsty and you gave me drink; I was a stranger and you made me welcome; naked and you clothed me, sick and you visited me, in prison and you came to see me’ (Matthew 25: 35–40).


Which words from Scripture would you quote as inspirational for you? 

PETER LALOR - Miners’ Leader and Member of Parliament

(1827 - 1889)

The name most associated with the Eureka Stockade rebellion is that of Irish Catholic, Peter Lalor. Peter Lalor was an unlikely leader of the rebels in that he came from a respectable middle-class Catholic family in Dublin and had completed engineering studies at Trinity University.  However he did have a strong sense of justice and a need to stand up for what he believed in. His family in Ireland had been long active in the struggle for Home Rule. When Peter found himself caught up in the Ballarat miners’ protest movement against high licence fees, police mistreatment, lack of representation and shortage of land, he was willing to take on a leading role.

I expected someone who is really well known to come forward and direct our movement. However, if you appoint me your commander-in-chief, I shall not shrink. I tell you, gentlemen, if once I pledge my hand to the diggers, I will neither defile it with treachery, nor render it contemptible with cowardice.

When the Southern Cross flag was run up the pole on Bakery Hill on 1 December 1854, Peter knelt, removed his hat, pointed to the flag and led the miners in the following words:

We swear by the Southern Cross to stand truly by each other and fight to defend our rights and liberties.

A primitive stockade was erected and miners began to drill but noone expected an attack by either police or military and all but 120 miners had actually left the stockade when it was attacked at 3.00 am on Sunday 3 December 1854. Twenty-two miners were killed and many more wounded including Peter Lalor himself who was badly hit in the shoulder. He was smuggled into the home of Fr Patrick Smyth and later that day his arm was amputated. Warrants for his arrest were issued but he was concealed by friends until his wound had healed. By that time the justice of many of the miners’claims had been recognised and Lalor himself was elected to Parliament in 1855 where he became a respectable and conservative presence until his retirement in 1887.


What is the role of courage in the life of a Catholic? When is it legitimate to rebel? When is it not legitimate? 

ENID LYONS - First woman member of the Australian House of Representatives

(1897 - 1981)

Enid Burnell was a student teacher of 15 or so when the Tasmanian Treasurer and Minister for Education, Joseph Lyons fell in love with her. They were married when Enid was 17 and he was 35. According to Peter their son ‘it was all so beautiful and as Mum told it, it was a real love story’.

Enid became a Catholic shortly before she was married and for the rest of her life her faith defined the way she lived. Enid could be strong on principle but was also surprisingly tolerant. She was a fine public speaker in her own right and had very progressive attitudes as to how society should work and about the role of women. At the same time she cheerfully bore 12 children despite the pain of sustaining a broken pelvis during the first delivery that was not diagnosed until after the last child had been born. In 1932, Joseph Lyons became Prime Minister of Australia. Staunchly supportive of her husband during his whole political career, Enid was encouraged by him to take her place in public life alongside him. As she was such an excellent speaker she was in great demand and had the knack of making connections between the issues of the day and the concerns of the men and women who were listening to her.

Devastated by the death of Joe in 1939, she pulled herself together to continue the task of raising her large family. After a time decided to continue her political role by standing for Parliament. In 1943, at the age of 46, she became the first woman elected to the House of Representatives.

This is the first occasion upon which a woman has addressed this House. For that reason, it is an occasion which, for every woman in the Commonwealth, marks in some degree a turning point in history. I am well aware that as I acquit myself in the work that I have undertaken for the next three years, so shall I either prejudice or enhance the prospects of those women who may wish to follow me in public service in the years to come. (Maiden Speech, House of Representatives 1943)

Even after she retired from politics, she took an active part in the community as an ABC board member, newspaper columnist and author. A review of a recent biography of Enid Lyons provides some more detail about this extraordinary woman.


Enid was a pioneer among women in politics but also raised a large family. Juggling the two roles is still a great challenge for women. How do you see the role of women in our society? Why is politics important? What are some contributions Catholics can make to public debate? 


(1913 - 2000)

Roma Mitchell of South Australia was the first to hold so many positions in Australian history that her biographers titled their story of her life Roma the First. Australia's first female Queen's Counsel, and the first woman to be appointed a judge in a superior court, she was also the first woman invited to present the Boyer Lectures, and the first woman to be made chancellor of an Australian university.

Born in Adelaide in 1913, she became a lawyer when it was a practically unheard of role for a woman. The title of Queen’s Counsel (QC), which she received in 1962, is accorded to barristers whose standing and competence justifies an expectation that they will provide outstanding service as advocates. In 1965 she was appointed to judicial office in the Supreme Court of South Australia. Even by 1970, Justice Mitchell was still the only woman judge appointed to a superior court of Australia. Her career culminated in her being the first woman to be appointed Governor of an Australian state when she assumed the position of Governor of South Australia in her seventies. The career of Dame Roma Mitchell remains a beacon of hope and encouragement, especially for women.

Throughout her life the faith in which she was raised was central to her ideas about service and justice. During her long career she helped bring about reforms which are now largely taken for granted and was an advocate for women and children in situations of domestic violence. She also campaigned for the right of women to be included as jurors. In later years it was her practice to pray every day in St Francis Xavier’s Cathedral in Adelaide. Despite the influence and respect she had commanded as Governor, she always remained the good humoured, unselfish, unaffected, clear-sighted woman with a passion for justice that she had always been. Her death elicited tributes from other great Australians as well as from the people of South Australia.


‘She (Roma Mitchell) believed fundamentally in the rule of law. She trusted it. I think she may have made personal sacrifices in terms of her dedication to her work, but she loved it.

  • What is ‘law’? Where does it come from? Why would Roma Mitchell have loved it and been so dedicated to it?
  • What is your own feeling about the Law? It is just a collection of regulations or does it have a broader base in history?