Tributes have been pouring in for the highly regarded former judge and philanthropist Jane Mathews, who has died at the age of 78. Considered a trailblazer for women in the legal profession, Mathews was New South Wales’ first female Crown prosecutor and first female judge.

Jane Mathews

Born in Wollongong on December 19, 1940, Mathews studied law at the University of Sydney. Appointed a District Court Judge in 1980, aged 39, she became the first female judge of the NSW Supreme Court just seven years later. In 1994, Mathews became the second female president of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, which saw her appointment to the Federal Court. She would retire from the Federal Court in 2001 in order to return as an acting judge of the Supreme Court. Among her many honours include being made an officer of the Order of Australia in 2005 for service to judiciary, to the legal profession, to the University of New South Wales, and to music.

Mathews was known as an extraordinarily generous patron of the arts, especially in music. Among the organisations she supported were the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Opera Australia, Musica Viva, Pacific Opera, the Australia Ensemble, the Omega Ensemble, the Australian Youth Orchestra and Sydney Youth Orchestra.

Pacific Opera, where Mathews served on the Board, is among those who have paid tribute to the philanthropist. “The passing of Jane Mathews last night has left a mighty hole in the musical arts and the Law in this country. The Hon Jane Mathews AO has done so much for women in this country; first woman judge of the District Court, and the Supreme Court, President of the International Association of Women judges; the list of her achievements in the law is very great indeed.

“All the while, Jane has done just as much for music and musicians throughout Australia. Her love for and support of the music of Wagner is legendary.

“Jane has also done a great deal for young artists, and we at Pacific Opera have been proud to have had her and her lively, insightful presence on our Board these last few years.

Vale Jane, we will miss you terribly.”

“We are saddened to hear of the passing of The Hon. Jane Mathews AO,” said the Omega Ensemble. “In addition to her many achievements in the legal profession, including as the first woman judge of the NSW Supreme Court, Jane was a patron of many music organisations in Sydney, including Omega Ensemble for over ten years. Jane was not just a supporter of our Ensemble but a committed concertgoer and her presence at our performances will be missed. We send our heartfelt condolences to her family, friends and all those who knew her.”

The Australian Festival of Chamber Music has also added its voice. “The Australian Festival of Chamber Music (AFCM) joins the many arts organisations around Australia mourning the death of the Honourable Jane Mathews AO. Jane was a regular Festival attendee, enjoying the convivial company of fellow music lovers and the many artists she knew or came to know. A loyal supporter she was a generous donor and gave annually, supporting the Australian artists she already knew as well as being a founding donor to the AFCM’s Future Fund. Her presence and support were much appreciated and she will be missed not only in Townsville but in many foyers and events around Australia and beyond. We are grateful for her kind-hearted appreciation and extend our sympathies to her family and friends.”

“Jane Mathews was a brilliant legal mind, a generous philanthropist, a music and opera enthusiast and a great friend to many. She will be sorely missed,” said Opera Australia CEO Rory Jeffes.

“A self-described ‘Ring-nut’, she had travelled the globe to 63 cycles of the four operas lasting some 16 hours that comprise Wagner’s Ring Cycle,” Opera Australia said. “Over the years attending these Wagner epics near and far, Jane made many friends who shared her enthusiasm for the art form. It all began in the 1980s with a series of simulcasts by the ABC on Sunday nights of the Bayreuth centenary production. Jane was hooked, and saw her first Cycle at Bayreuth in 1990.”

“She was one of our most dedicated and long-term donors and was one of the principal supporters who provided crucial funding for Opera Australia’s productions of the Ring Cycle in 2013 and 2016. She was very excited about the prospect of Opera Australia’s new production of the Ring premiering in Brisbane next year.”

The Australia Ensemble has paid similar tribute to Mathews, writing “It is with heavy hearts that we honour and farewell one of the Australia Ensemble’s most revered music patrons and friend, previous Deputy Chancellor of UNSW 1992-1999, and former Chair of the Australia Ensemble Advisory Committee, The Hon Justice Jane Mathews AO.

“A loyal subscriber for decades and a generous patron of the arts, Justice Mathews supported numerous organisations including the Australia Ensemble. She was the first woman appointed to the Supreme Court of New South Wales and will be remembered for her deep love of Wagner, her significant contribution to the judicial system, and as a champion of Australian new music. Justice Mathews co-commissioned Light is Both a Particle and a Wave by Matthew Hindson for the Australia Ensemble’s 2010 season.

“A pioneer for women in law, her service to judiciary, the legal profession, education and to music is second to none. We will miss seeing her in the concert hall. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.”