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Activities for the First 100 Years of Women in Law initiative are building towards the 100-year anniversary on 26 November of NSW legislation that allowed women to practise as solicitors and politicians. 

A portrait of the first woman Chief Justice of the High Court, the Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC, pictured above right, is on display at the prestigious 2018 Archibald competition at the Art Gallery of NSW. The portrait was commissioned by the team behind the First 100 Years campaign, an initiative affiliated with the Law Society of NSW and the Women Lawyers Association of NSW, which aims to celebrate women working in law in NSW and their achievements. 

This year marks 100 years since the law was changed to allow women to practise law and stand for parliament in NSW. Rachel Scanlon, who is leading the First 100 Years campaign, said she was thrilled the portrait had been recognised, especially in the centenary year of the change of the law. The portrait,  an oil on linen painting, has been painted by artist Yvonne East, and sponsored by the law firm Herbert Smith Freehills. “Given the historical milestone of the centenary, and the symbolism of women achieving success in the name of justice and honour, this achievement is particularly significant,” Scanlon said. 

East painted Chief Justice Kiefel in her chambers at the High Court of Australia in Canberra. “The centenary initiative facilitated my meeting with the Honourable Chief Justice Susan Kiefel AC,” East said 

“My hope was to capture the commanding and graceful presence of the Chief Justice and her love of stylish shoes. “Her incredible intellect is represented by the books behind her. There are 100 books; one for each of the 100 years being commemorated. Their spines are blank to represent the anonymity of the many women who have worked tirelessly to achieve their goals. 

“This portrait represents the strength and honour of women in powerful positions, combined with femininity and order.” East was born in regional South Australia and lived and worked there until 2014 when she moved to Sydney with her eight-year-old son to complete a Masters of Fine Art at UNSW Art and Design. This is her first time in the Archibald Prize.

The portrait will be on display at the Art Gallery of NSW until 9 September. The First 100 Years initiative started in England to celebrate the 2019 centenary of women practising law in that jurisdiction. However, various Australian states granted women this right long before it was granted in England. 

Victoria was the first state to allow women to practise law in 1903, Tasmania in 1904, Queensland in 1905, South Australia in 1911, and the final centenary will occur in Western Australia in 2023. 

Among the commemoration plans for NSW is a scholarship for a female lawyer to attend a leadership course at Oxford University, the creation of several photo mosaic digital artworks of women trailblazers including Ada Evans, the first Australian woman to graduate with a law degree, and a gala event at NSW Parliament on 26 November. 

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