A year since the death of Sydney barrister Katrina Dawson, her family has been overwhelmed by support from the legal profession. Much of that support has translated into generous donations to the Katrina Dawson Foundation, enabling it to pursue its purpose of “finding, funding and mentoring inspiring young women”.
Selfless, exceptional and modest.
These are the words Paul Smith, husband of barrister Katrina Dawson who died in the Lindt Café siege on 16 December 2014, uses to describe his wife and the mother of their three children under 10 – Chloe, Oliver and Sasha.
Smith, a partner in the Sydney office of King & Wood Mallesons, says the family will mark the anniversary of Katrina’s death privately. Katrina was 38 when, along with Lindt Café manager Tori Johnson, she died in the final moments of the 16-hour siege in Martin Place.
However, a year since the tragedy, the impact of Katrina’s life and her contribution to excellence in the law is growing. Just days after the siege, Katrina’s family and former Governor-General Quentin Bryce decided to turn the tragedy into something positive by launching the Katrina Dawson Foundation.
The family and Bryce, who was principal of Sydney University’s Women’s College when Katrina lived there, were adamant that what was created would be sustainable and useful, and create a positive legacy out of a senseless occurrence.
“We have been overwhelmed by the support and generosity of the legal profession, the public, our colleagues, friends and family.
“We want to continue and, in some small way, replicate the contribution Katrina made, and would have continued to make, to society.”
Three annual scholarships will be announced in January for University of Sydney undergraduates living at Women’s College, where Katrina lived from 1995-1998 and was senior student in 1998.
In addition, two students the foundation has funded for an international study tour to Berkeley, Columbia, Harvard, NYU and Stanford (in the US), and Cambridge and Oxford (in the UK ), soon will return with ideas of the possibilities for study overseas. These fellowships are being run in association with the Aurora Education Foundation and the Roberta Sykes Indigenous Education Foundation. A third student, Sarah McEwan, will be sponsored to attend a Leading for Results program at INSEAD, one of the world’s leading and largest graduate business schools.
“In thinking about all that Katrina achieved, it was clear to us that she was privileged to have had a wonderful education, and that she made the most of her education,” explains Smith.
“We wanted to be able to help other young women – those with extraordinary potential, but who may not have had the educational opportunities enjoyed by Katrina.
“We want to remove barriers and create opportunities for exceptional young women to fulfil their potential.”
A respected barrister from Eighth Floor Selborne Chambers in Phillip Street, Katrina was a graduate of the University of Sydney Law School and completed her Master of Laws at the University of NSW. She was called to the Bar in 2005 and her chambers were just metres from the Lindt Café. An Ascham School old girl, Katrina topped the state in the Higher School Certificate in 1994, with a TER of 100, and topped her bar exams.
Smith says that without the support of the legal community, the Katrina Dawson Foundation would not exist, let alone flourish.
“The response of the legal community has been humbling and inspirational,” he says.
“So many friends of Katrina and her brother, Sandy, and my friends, are part of the legal community and their professional and personal support over the past 12 months has been extraordinary.”
In 10 years’ time, we hope there will be a wonderful network of Katrina Dawson scholars and fellows, who all know and support each other and who, individually and collectively, are making the world a better place – just as Katrina did.
Some examples of this support include solicitors volunteering their time in the busy lead-up to Christmas 2014 to establish the foundation and assist with regulatory compliance, barristers holding fundraising events, including running in the City2Surf and the Sydney Half Marathon, the donation to the foundation of the auction proceeds from the LawSki weekend, law firms holding and participating in fundraising events, and countless donations being made by law firms, barristers’ chambers, and individual lawyers.
“It is so clear to us that Katrina was loved by so many in the legal profession and that the legal profession is supportive of preserving her legacy by helping others,” Smith says.
“This has inspired us to work hard to ensure the Katrina Dawson Foundation is a success and that it is here for the long term.
“In 10 years’ time, we hope there will be a wonderful network of Katrina Dawson scholars and fellows, who all know and support each other, and who, individually and collectively, are making the world a better place – just as Katrina did.”
The Katrina Dawson Foundation’s logo is an outline of a tree, which was Katrina’s nickname when she was in high school and how she signed off on personal correspondence. According to the family, it is “a symbol of shelter, nurture and growth, which pretty much sums up the aim of the Katrina Dawson Foundation”.
“We are inspired by Katrina in everything we do with the Foundation,” says Katrina’s sister-in-law, Nikki. “We hope Katrina’s children will be inspired by her legacy and take the foundation forward in years to come. We want them to be proud of what we are doing in her name and memory.
“Katrina was an amazing woman and the most loving and loved wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt and in-law, and was blessed with a wonderful circle of friends and colleagues.
“It’s comforting to know that, 10 years from now, there will be more than 30 women who have been helped by Katrina’s legacy.”
The foundation’s board is chaired by Smith and includes Katrina’s mother, Jane; father, Sandy; brothers Sandy and Angus; Nikki as chief executive officer; and Jeremy Stoljar SC, who was Katrina’s tutor when she was called to the Bar.
Katrina recognised the responsibility that came with privilege. She was heavily involved in volunteer work throughout her studies and work life. She volunteered at the Redfern Legal Centre, worked pro bono on the District Court Duty Solicitor Scheme, and was instrumental in the establishment of the Ask! Legal Service for Kids, run by the Ted Noffs Foundation. At the Bar, she continued volunteering in the community and was a Wishgranter for the Make a Wish program for critically ill children at the Starlight Foundation.
The foundation’s partner for fellowships in 2016 is the Aurora Education Foundation, a non-profit organisation that offers a range of education initiatives to increase opportunities and support for Indigenous students by assisting them to realise their potential at school, university and beyond.
One of the first Katrina Dawson Fellowship students is Teina Te Hamara, 25, who, along with Ngaree Blow and Sarah McEwan, has received a fellowship through a partnership between the Katrina Dawson Foundation and the Aurora Education Foundation.
Te Hamara, who met Katrina’s family before the study tour, is of Yindjibarndi descent from the Pilbara has finished a Bachelor of Arts at the University of Western Australia.
She has been accepted into Melbourne University to study law next year, with a career goal of working in the area of human rights and policy related to Indigenous people and minorities.
Te Hamara has shown strong leadership in her community, as well as winning several prizes along the way, including being a two-time recipient of the University of Western Australia Indigenous Academic Excellence Scholarship.
Long term, she sees herself “advocating for human rights working with Indigenous communities in Australia and around the world”.
“I grew up close to Fremantle in Western Australia,” she says.
“It was just my mum, my brother and myself for many years. The study tour has completely opened up doors and possibilities to places I had no idea about until now.
“These are the sorts of institutions you see in movies – not real life. To actually meet with the professors, visit the campus and towns, and sit in on and contribute to lectures has just been incredible.
“At the moment, I am leaning strongly towards enrolling at Columbia in New York City, but have had a really interesting meeting with some professors at Cambridge, so who knows? “The possibilities are endless, and for that I am so grateful, both to supporters such as the Katrina Dawson Foundation and, importantly, to all my ancestors who laid the foundation so that myself and others like me can do anything they could ever dream of.
“It’s kind of amazing, really.”