By Suzanne Parker
Recently retired Queensland Court of Appeal judge the Honourable Anthe Philippides (Bachelor of Arts ’80, Bachelor of Laws (Hons) ’82) believes the arts are absolutely vital for humanity – they bring us joy, they make us think, and they can help us understand the views of others in ways we may never otherwise consider.
And she should know: her Honour has spent a lifetime advocating for the arts in her role as mentor, philanthropist and general aficionado.
“No matter what career one pursues, we can all learn from the broader perspective an arts education brings – I think the arts are essential for all students," she says.
“After all, music can be a tool for reconciliation; visual arts can provide solace and beauty; architecture literally affects how we live; theatre brings thoughts and feelings to life; while language and history provide a framework from which we can grow and communicate.
“From a career viewpoint, I quickly realised that law doesn’t exist in a vacuum and that the arts were a good vehicle for looking at how the law operated and whether it could be improved.
“Arts provide a different perspective.”
Perhaps Justice Philippides is biased though, having grown up in a proud Greek-Cypriot household that revered the arts and multiculturalism in all its forms. All members of her family were multilingual, all were widely travelled – her parents ran a successful travel agency – and all enjoyed the conversations that arose from watching or listening to artistic performances.
“As a child, I remember our house always being open, hosting fundraisers for various charities. Looking out for others was a big part of my upbringing and the arts, particularly music, played a major role in achieving this.”
It’s this example of service to others – but in a fun way – that set her Honour’s path in life and in law. A pivotal moment that steered her away from a dedicated career in the arts, however, was a visit to her school by young lawyer Walter Sofronoff, who later went on to become President of the Queensland Court of Appeal.
He suggested that law was worth considering in terms of being a part of shaping the rules governing society – whether as lawyer or advocate – and this really appealed to the young Somerville House student.
So, off she went to UQ in the late 1970s to enrol in arts/law degrees that both intrigued and challenged her, haunting the “marvellous space” of the Queensland Art Gallery as much as she could along the way.
“My arts degree gave me an opportunity to satisfy my intellectual curiosity and learn about other people’s insights," she says.
"My interests were certainly eclectic: ancient Indian history, French studies in semiotics – even medieval Japanese history!
“As for my law degree, I found that the more I studied, the more interested I became in the law. I enjoyed understanding how everything fitted together, even if at first it seemed dissonant and contradictory."
And because it was so fascinating, and because she had such excellent female role models along the way – including Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, Margaret White AO and Patsy Wolfe AO, who all taught law at UQ (and Dr Pam Davenport and Jill Bridgwood at Somerville House) – she studied hard and achieved well, winning the University Medal in Law and several other law prizes.
In 1982, she became the first female to win a British Council Commonwealth scholarship to complete a Master of Law at Cambridge, where she studied maritime law – a specialty unavailable in Queensland at the time – and which she then proceeded to teach and practise.
In 1984, she became the first woman of Hellenic heritage to be admitted to the Queensland Bar and, in 1999, to attain silk in Australia. In 2000, she became a judge in the Supreme Court of Queensland, a position she held until 2014, when she moved over to the Queensland Court of Appeal. They were also firsts for a woman of Hellenic heritage.
“It has been the greatest honour of my life to have served as a judge," Justice Philippides says.
“I think of the law as an evolving system of rules and principles for dealing with society’s disputes and of governing society, and it has been a huge privilege for me to have played a role in it, including presiding over criminal trials, determining civil cases, mediating between people bringing deep grievances to the Court, and considering difficult issues at an appellate level.
“I’m also glad to have played a role in changing the perception of ‘what a judge looks like’.”
Image: Anjanette Webb
Image: Anjanette Webb
Her Honour’s demanding public career, though, was always balanced by private forays into the arts. Justice Philippides filled her home and office with books and artworks – particularly pieces by Indigenous artists – and attended concerts and shows whenever she could. She slowly realised, however, that the career opportunities and arts access she took for granted were not always as readily available to everyone else, and so she made it her mission to ‘open doors’ for others.
She strongly believes it is important that the legal profession promotes diversity.
“I believe everyone deserves respect, and no-one should feel excluded because of their cultural background or lack of contacts," she says.
“A respectful working environment, where people can be their authentic selves, is a large part of providing a credible system of justice, and diversity can only empower us all."
In 1999, she helped establish a mentoring scheme for the Bar Association of Queensland, designed to help those traditionally under-represented at the Bar – women and those with Indigenous or rural backgrounds – to link with barristers and gain practical experience in the profession. It was later adopted by Queensland University of Technology. She was also part of the Steering Committee that developed the Aboriginal English in the Courts: a Handbook for the Queensland Department of Justice and Attorney-General, released in 2000.
As a judge, she assisted in the Bar Association of Queensland’s Indigenous Law Students Mentoring Scheme. She also hosted visits to the Courts and gave talks to participants in UQ’s InspireU program for Indigenous high school students interested in a legal career, and for those in the national CareerTrackers program, an internship scheme for Indigenous university students, with which she was involved.
Opening ‘career’ doors was only part of the equation, though.
Fully aware of the need for balance in life through socialising – and wanting to share the joy she experienced from the arts – Justice Philippides became a ‘donor with purpose’, contributing her time and money to various cultural activities and organisations she admired.
From 1988 until 2000, her Honour served as Honorary Vice Consul in Brisbane for the Republic of Cyprus. She was part of a group that established the Hellenic Australian Lawyers Association in 2015 to celebrate Hellenic ideals and promote cultural harmony and diversity, and is now its Queensland patron. And recently, she established the Cambridge Australia Scholarship for Queensland to give up-and-coming young lawyers the same opportunity she enjoyed in the early 1980s.
But it’s in the arts sphere that Justice Philippides has truly flourished.
Currently a director of Musica Viva Australia, her Honour joined with this association to launch the Art and Music Circle social arts group in 2017, where she provides free concert tickets to First Nations students and young professionals as a way of enabling them to experience classical music, meet musicians and network.
She has supported Indigenous programs at the UQ Art Museum, spoken at NAIDOC and Reconciliation events, and facilitated performances at the QEII Courts Complex by the Yugambeh Youth Choir – who sing in language – and William Barton, the acclaimed didgeridoo player and composer whom she has recently commissioned to create a new work for the Queensland Symphony Orchestra Maestro series.
Mixing in these musical circles also led her Honour to become reacquainted with renowned ARIA award-winning singer/songwriter Katie Noonan, with whom she collaborated on the show Frank and Fearless at the Brisbane Powerhouse in 2019, starring Merle Thornton AM (Honorary Doctor of Letters ’20) and daughter Sigrid.
“When Katie was artistic director of the Queensland Music Festival that year, she mentioned that she wanted to feature Merle Thornton in the program and I thought that was a great idea,” Justice Philippides says.
“I was very happy to support the initiative – Merle is an important feminist intellectual and has contributed so much to the rights of women during her lifetime, even getting laws changed to ensure equal pay and gender equity. She is a true trailblazer. How could I possibly not be involved?”
Which all comes back to balance in life.
Having served as the inaugural President of the Queensland Mental Health Court, her Honour was fully aware of mental health issues and that it’s in the best interests of everyone to enjoy some downtime. So, she helped establish TLF Creative, an orchestra and arts-based group that provides an inclusive and creative space for legal professionals and law students. She is its patron.
“I wanted to provide an opportunity for lawyers to take a break from the stress of work and express their musical and artistic talents alongside like-minded individuals."
“The goal is to foster collaboration, combat isolation, promote positive mental health, and enable creative and talented legal professionals to meet socially, on a regular basis, and collectively pursue musical goals,” Justice Philippides says.
Meeting fortnightly, the group has spawned several initiatives, the most significant being the Big Band and the ‘LawchestraQ’, for which Justice Philippides recently commissioned John Rotar (Bachelor of Music (Honours) ’16, current PhD candidate) to compose an orchestral piece.
Although not a performer herself, her Honour is extremely proud of the group and feels it brings a necessary respite for participants. Apart from listening to music (which she loves!), her own private artistic escape comes from the paintings and sketches she creates while travelling, a way of ‘picturing’ the views more intensely. She enjoys seeing the collegiality of TLF Creative sessions and new initiatives of the group such as the recent and popular ‘paint and sip’ event.
It would seem that the arts really do enhance the ‘smarts’, and her Honour Justice Anthe Philippides wants to spread this message.
Now that she’s retiring from the legal profession she has served so well, she is looking forward to spending time “doing good things with good people,” she says.
“Promoting diversity, particularly in the arts, listening to different opinions, and finding better answers to the difficult questions we must face to empower those from diverse backgrounds and create a more inclusive society are my passions going forward."