Antoinette Kennedy interview, 18 November 2014, 9 December 2014 and 17 December 2014

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Antoinette Kennedy interview, 18 November 2014, 9 December 2014 and 17 December 2014




The Honourable Antoinette Kennedy AO graduated from UWA with a Bachelor of Laws in 1967. She was the first and longest serving woman judge in Western Australia, serving for 25 years. She was appointed as Chief Judge of the District Court for 6 years; the first woman head of a jurisdiction in Western Australia and only the third in Australia. She was made Officer in the Order of Australia (AO) and was elected to the WA Women’s Hall of Fame in 201. She was a member of Murdoch Senate for six years, founding member of the Women Lawyers of Western Australia, member of the Chief Justice’s Gender Bias Taskforce and a mentor in the Law Society mentoring program for young lawyers. Antoinette is outspoken on issues of social justice and has a keen interest in the provision of affordable housing. She retired from the law in 2010.


Kennedy, Antoinette


University of Western Australia Historical Society


Copyright holder University of Western Australia


MP3 files


Oral History

Oral History Item Type Metadata


Julia Wallis


Antoinette Kennedy


Trigg, W.A.


Interview 1: 1 hour, 13 minutes, 36 seconds
Interview 2: 1 hour, 6 minutes, 55 seconds
Interview 3: 1 hour, 19 minutes, 42 seconds
Total: 3 hours, 40 minutes, 13 seconds

Bit Rate/Frequency

128 kbs

Time Summary

Interview 1

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Antoinette Kennedy was born on 18 May 1945 in Mount Hawthorn. Her family were of Irish extraction but had been in WA for several generations. The family lived on an acre of land in Roberts Street, Joondanna. Antoinette’s father had a trotting stable. Family members lived around the suburb. Her father and aunt both attended St Kieran’s Catholic Primary School. Her mother left school at the age of 14.
06:11 Antoinette’s grandfather was a Bailiff. Her mother worked in the office and then worked with her husband who was a fruit and vegetable wholesaler. Most of the produce went to Stations in the Norwest. Antoinette attended St Keiran’s. Boys left in third grade and then to Christian Brothers in Leederville. The teaching was not of a high standard but the nuns were a good example of what women could achieve.
14:36 Antoinette did her Junior at St Kieran’s and did her Leaving at Leederville Technical College. The lectures at Leederville Technical College were inspiring. She was the first student from St Keiran’s to attend university. Antoinette’s mother encouraged her to go on to higher education as she didn’t get the chance herself. Her mother valued education for its own sake but also stressed on Antoinette the need to be financially independent.
22:08 In the 1960s, women who worked in an office or for the Public Service had to give up work once they got married. Teaching was mooted as an option. In first year at UWA, students had to do two Arts subjects as part of their Law degree. Professor Beasley suggested Antoinette take Philosophy rather than Psychology. She studied Legal History and Constitutional Law. The Law School was small and enclosed like a college. It was located near Broadway. Students were expected to maintain a good standard of dress and wore gowns to lectures.
28:32 Antoinette did not know anybody in the Law School. In her year, there were two girls from Presbyterian Ladies College and another from Mount Lawley High School. A girl from Hong Kong returned there after graduating. The girls would discuss clothes and make up and the Law Ball in the locker room. Antoinette was ‘dating’ for her last two years at Law School. It was fairly easy to find partners at university.
35:00 Antoinette is still friends with some of the male students she met at Law School. Numbers whittled down – especially after First Year. Antoinette did not find law difficult but she did have to learn how to study. The full-time lecturers were assisted by professionals who lectured part-time. Professor Payne arrived from Oxford in 1963. He became Dean and Professor Beasley retired. Professor Payne encouraged Richard Harding to join UWA. Harding referred to the students as “Idle toads”. Marking became stricter. The Law School started to change under Payne.
43:32 The part-time lecturers had a different approach. John Toohey was a part time lecturer who became a High Court Judge. Learning to read cases was very important especially when Payne and Harding arrived. Law students were encouraged to visit the High Court in 3rd and 4th year. Newsworthy cases at the time were the trials of John Button and Darryl Beamish. There was also a lecturer at UWA who was convicted of manslaughter for the shooting of his disabled son. Professor Edwards who lectured in Criminal Law observed that the students were not sympathetic to the father.
48:15 Annette was not part of the moot team but recalls going to Melbourne to support the UWA team.
52:14 Antoinette enjoyed being on campus and going to the Refectory for morning tea and lunch. She recalled male students from Law and Engineering having a tug of war across the Reflection Pond. People did one off fun things rather than organised things. It was very carefree. English lectures were huge with lots of students. Antoinette did not challenge authority and felt that most of the students fitted their values and opinions to those of their tutors and lecturers. While studying a poem in the Woman’s Common Room near the Refectory, Antoinette was assisted by Dorothy Hewett .
58:45 Antoinette did not know which area of the law she wanted to practice in. Ted Sharp always intended to go into commercial law. Others were going into a family firm. Women were not encouraged in the same way to set goals. Professor Payne asked her to tutor at UWA but she was keen to do her Articles. The students had studies while doing articles as well as exams. The only way of passing a law degree was to complete the exams.
01:04:48 Antoinette did not work in the university holidays. Many of the male students worked on the wheat bins. People’s consumer wants and needs were much simpler. Antoinette drove a car to university. The car parks were always full. Petrol was not as expensive. Antoinette had a Commonwealth scholarship but her family was also able to support her. Her parents attended the graduation ceremony in Winthrop Hall in 1967. Charles Court was the speaker. Antoinette was doing her articles at SE Tippett and Ellis. The Dean, Professor Edwards, organised this for her with Ted Ellis. Antoinette won the Herbert H Wheatley Memorial Prize in commercial law and the HCG Keall Memorial Prize for the top student in 4th year.

Interview 2

Track 1
00:00 Introduction by Julia Wallis

Track 2
00:00 Dorothy Hewitt and Edward Ellis of S E Tippett & Ellis were Communists. Many became Socialists after Nikita Khrushchev denounced Josef Stalin in 1956. Antoinette wasn’t involved in student politics. Some students with Liberal Party leanings wanted to break down student unionism. Vietnam protests took place after Antoinette left UWA. Some fellow students were called up. Antoinette acted for conscientious objectors but Peter Dowding did most of this work. Antoinette was not invited to do Honours. A fellow graduate, Judith Gardam, was furious that the women were excluded. Honours wasn’t a prerequisite to practice law.
11:45 Antoinette did 2 years of articles with S E Tippett & Ellis. UWA Law School relied on the profession to teach and mentor the students. In 1968, she went to Godfrey Virtue. It was a bigger and more prestigious firm with a large general practice that included conveyancing; Shire law, common law and family law. There were no national or international firms in Perth at this stage. At most, firms had 12-18 partners. The senior partner, who was Antoinette’s mentor, left Godfrey Virtue and set up as a barrister. She realised that she had no prospects for advancement and quit Godfrey Virtue in 1971 to set up her own firm - AG Kennedy & Co.
17:44 There were no other female lawyers at Godfrey Virtue at that time. Ilbery Barblett, in the same building, had no female lawyers either. Paterson & Dowding had had a female lawyer but she left to work in the eastern states. The office building was behind St Andrews Church in Pier Street between the Terrace and Hay Street. Antoinette did a lot of Family Court work (including undefended divorces) and some Local Court work. At the Summary Relief Court, women lawyers were required to wear a hat. Some of the women wore joke hats but Antoinette wore attractive hats! For her first divorce appearance, Joe Tippett came down to support her.
22:54 Women were treated differently from men. Many of the magistrates did not take a woman seriously and/or trust what she said. Clients too might initially be worried about being represented by a woman.
26:45 Antoinette was not able to network with the men over drinks after work and thus pick up helpful tips about legal practice. She was not offered a junior brief in the 10 years that she was at the Bar. Government departments in WA have done much to address inequality as it was proved that WA was far behind the rest of Australia. Women were not supposed to drink in public bars in Perth in the 1960s and 70s. Popular bars were the Palace Hotel, the Esplanade Hotel, the Adelphi Hotel and the Weld Club. There were only 5-6 women in practice. Sheila McClemans who worked for the Law Society was very supportive. Antoinette was not aware of discrimination when she was a young graduate. It took a while for her to realise the disadvantages she faced. The Second Wave of American feminists and Germaine Greer’s book The Female Eunuch became popular in the 1970s. In about 1982, 20 women attended a meeting to set up the Women Lawyers Association.
34:40 Antoinette founded her own business despite these factors. She rented a space from two barristers. The bank would not give her an overdraft so she had to use her savings. Female clients flooded in. She worked all hours and weekends for 4 years doing mainly Family Court work, criminal law and motor vehicle accidents. She did not have trouble getting paid as she often under-charged! After she sold the business, she travelled around the world for 9 months. On her return, she had enough money to go to the Bar.
42:42 Divorce became commonplace. Women did not feel the need to remain married to an abusive husband. In 1972, Gough Whitlam was elected as Prime Minister. He appointed Elizabeth Reid as the world's first advisor on women's affairs. In 1974, he brought in the supporting parents benefit. Antoinette worked on adoption cases at Tippett & Ellis. The Family Law Act 1975 established the principle of no-fault divorce. Lionel Murphy was Attorney-General. Elizabeth Evatt was made the first Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia. At last, women got a fair deal regarding property.
53:18 As a barrister, Antoinette depended on the legal profession for work. The Independent Bar was set up in 1970 by Sir Francis Burt. It was resented in some quarters. The Bar was located at 524 Hay Street. Antoinette paid rent for her room and a library fee and shared secretarial support. Later, the Bar moved to Law Chambers. Working at the Bar was quite convivial. There were lots of laughs and drinks at the office on Friday nights. She is disappointed that she never was offered a junior brief in the 10 years she was there. She was the only woman at the Bar at that time. Val French was the first female barrister but only overlapped with Antoinette for about a year. Vivian Payne used to send Antoinette work. Antoinette found the first 6-7 months quite difficult. She did family law, motor vehicle cases, commercial cases and some criminal jury trials.
0:01:01 Antoinette wasn’t asked to tutor or lecture UWA law students. Douglas Payne did a good job of professionalising the UWA Law School. The law changed very slowly in those ten years. A big change was the treatment of the victims of sexual assault. This came about due to pressure from women in the community rather than from inside the legal profession. WA was at the forefront in taking children out of the court and allowing them to give evidence by video link from a separate location. They also had separate entrances so that they didn’t have to face the accused.

Interview 3

Track 1

Track 2
00:00 Members of the Bar provided honorary legal advice and sat on boards as a form of community service. Sheila McClemans, for example, revived the Law Society. Antoinette was the Honorary Solicitor for the Netball Association for 4 years. Antoinette was a member of the WA Parole Board from 1983-1985. The Parole Board met monthly for a whole day. In 1984, she joined the Board of the Catholic Archbishop’s Social Justice Commission. The church had decided to put out a statement on criminal justice and sentencing. Antoinette chaired this team. Visiting speakers presented each month and Antoinette prepared summaries of these presentations. It was very helpful when she went onto the Bench. In 1984, Antoinette became President of the Women’s Lawyers Association. The first president was Vivian Payne. There were more female lawyers by this stage.
10:10 Antoinette became the first female judge of the District Court of Western Australia in 1985. The Western Mail ran an article on the lack of women in the legal profession and when Brian Burke was elected Premier of Western Australia in 1983, he pushed for more women judges. Two new appointments were created and His Honour Paul James Healy (deceased 2008) was appointed as well as Antoinette. The appointment of a female judge created animosity in some quarters. The Crown Law Department had expected the first female judge to be appointed from amongst their ranks.
16:07 Antoinette gave up her position at the Bar and was sworn in by the Governor. The Chief Judge showed her the ropes. There was no other training. Each judge has their own usher and Associate. Secretarial support was shared. District Court Associates are highly qualified clerical assistants who liaise with the legal profession. Antoinette did not employ law graduates – she preferred to have a highly qualified administrator.
22:56 The other judges were very helpful. Antoinette worked a full day at the District Court. She was not given long criminal trials or frauds when she was first appointed. Judges develop an expertise in a certain areas. Some are better at running a court and keeping a jury together. Some cannot make a decision. New South Wales have set up a judicial commission for tough cases. Some judges find it difficult to move from criminal work to civil.
28:33 Antoinette’s first civil case concerned a leading Prosthodontist who needed work in Sydney as the result of a motor vehicle accident. The Chief Judge, Des Heenan, wrote a long document on how to write judgments. He didn’t give this to Antoinette so she presumes that he thought her judgments were sound! Des Heenan was always willing to help when necessary.
32:15 Antoinette was used to jury trials when she was a barrister. Juries need to be managed and given plenty of breaks. The judge must explain the points of law. Some judges explain to the jury what is expected of them.
37:18 The court is a theatre. It is designed to keep the various parties separated. The District Court was the building where the Central Law Courts are now located. A new District Court building was built across the road. Antoinette was made Chief Judge in January 2004. The new building was already being discussed. It was opened on 3 June 2008. They needed to make the architects aware of what was needed and the importance of sight lines. They were advised by a former Chief Judge to push for more jury courts rather than ask for river views. Jim McGinty the Attorney- General was very supportive. The Supreme Court also used the new building and didn’t want it called “District Court” but Antoinette stood firm.
47:08 Their wish list included decent sized offices for the judges and how the courts were to be set up. Being able to see everyone is important. There was a Technology Committee and that was incorporated in the specifications. The building was designed with separate entrances. Separate cores are necessary for the general public, the jury and the judges. This makes a court building difficult to construct. Security is another aspect. The District Court has more trials than the Supreme Court (both civil and criminal). Antoinette likens the District Court to K-Mart and the Supreme Court to an exclusive boutique. They are quite different.
56:30 The workload in the District Court has increased over the years. Cases have changed and become more serious. Drugs and sexual abuse cases have increased. Paul Healy annotated the Criminal Code and distributed his material and often referenced all the cases. A judge becomes hardened to the things they hear. They do not have time to dwell on cases because there is always another case to hear. Antoinette found hearing sex trials with young children to be very distressing.
01:03:46 The media can be very critical of judges. Antoinette’s decisions were the subject of many a talk-back radio programme. At one stage the prosecution mounted an attack on her. They combed through her list of cases (there were 20-28 cases a day) to find cases where somebody was let off and appeal the decision to the Supreme Court. This started in earnest at the end of 1988 when Red Burt (Sir Francis Burt) was no longer Chief Justice. He was replaced by David Malcolm. It continued until about 1992. Antoinette was portrayed in the media as emotional, incompetent and unprofessional.
01:08:00 A German criminologist, Dr Christian Pfeiffer, came to Perth and talked to her about sentencing. After the event, Dr Pfeiffer rang Antoinette and warned her that she was being undermined by her own colleagues. This was devastating. She was able to make it generally known that she would make it public if things didn’t improve. She was not defended by the women lawyers or her fellow UWA graduates.
01:14:14 This smear campaign was damaging to Antoinette and all women in the legal profession. It was an unfortunate and upsetting period but she has survived and outlived all her detractors. The UWA law student graduates of 1967 have fairly regular reunions.



Kennedy, Antoinette, “Antoinette Kennedy interview, 18 November 2014, 9 December 2014 and 17 December 2014,” UWA Historical Society: UWA Histories, accessed July 13, 2024,