It brought to mind the advice she recalled giving young law graduates: «You can be very, very good at this game without being aggressive. You just have to know when and how to stand your ground.»
Justice Beazley, who will take the reins as NSW’s 39th governor in May, was admitted to the legal profession in 1975, when women were a novelty and given a strong steer towards family law. She ignored that advice and practised in a wide range of areas including commercial law.
«Even David Jones had trouble with the concept of a female barrister – they refused to make me a bar jacket [to wear under the barristerial robes],» the University of Sydney alumna said.
Shortly after her appointment to the bench, Justice Beazley was confronted by one senior barrister who told her the government had been «socially irresponsible» in giving her the job because she was married with children, recounted NSW Law Society president Elizabeth Espinosa.
“Oh well – dinosaurs do die out,» Justice Beazley replied.
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman told the court Justice Beazley was an «extraordinary legal intellect» who had packed a number of firsts into her judicial career.
In 1993, she became the first woman appointed to sit solely as a judge of the Federal Court, after a stint as an acting judge in the District Court. Justice Beazley was also the first woman appointed to the NSW Court of Appeal, in 1996, and in 2013 she became its first female president.
History does not record whether this was also a first, although it seems likely: on one occasion, Mr Speakman recounted, Justice Beazley’s son Anthony, then aged three, was brought into court after a hearing ran overtime with «some colouring books and an instruction to keep colouring in like a good little boy whilst mummy finished talking to some people».
«The next thing the court sees is Anthony … front and centre next to Mum on the bench, adorned from head to toe in his Batman suit,» Mr Speakman said. «Anthony is here today [with siblings Erin and Lauren], although not in his Batman suit.»
Chief Justice Tom Bathurst said the «unfailingly» polite and empathetic Justice Beazley combined «an outstanding intellect with a genuine, personable and caring nature».
He recalled an occasion on which Justice Beazley’s young staff had «lost sight» of the energetic judge as she bounded off to catch a ferry.
«When they finally caught up with you … they found you sitting down comfortably, chatting with some complete strangers,» he said. «I think that it was in that moment that your staff should have seen the signs and realised that you would make an excellent governor.»
High-profile commercial barrister Andrew Bell, SC, will be sworn in as the new Court of Appeal president on Thursday.
Michaela Whitbourn is a legal affairs reporter at The Sydney Morning Herald.