Roma the First: A biography of Dame Roma Mitchell
Wakefield Press, $39.95 pb, 465 pp
Roma Mitchell came first in nearly everything. Not only at school and university, but in becoming Australia’s first female OC, Supreme Court judge, Boyer Lecturer, university chancellor and state governor. But she had no inside track to success. Her father was killed in World War I, her mother survived on his pension and the generosity of friends, and Roma and her older sister were taught by the Sisters of Mercy for nothing.
Roma, who was born in 1913, went to university on a bursary in the days when female students were few and male law lecturers would not mention ‘rape’ in their presence. She became a barrister when courts had no toilets for women. To hear a Law Society lecture, she once hid in a hotel doorway behind a curtain. Accustomed to compromise while getting what she really wanted, Roma travelled the world, but could not drive a car; she read and wrote constantly, but could not type. She enjoyed good food, wine, and theatre, but she got up early and never missed Mass or Confession.