The Honourable Dame Roma Mitchell was appointed Commander of the Royal Victorian Order on 1 January 2000. During her life Dame Roma achieved a number of firsts. She was the first woman Governor of an Australian State (South Australia, 1991-1996), the first woman Chancellor of a university in Australia (University of Adelaide 1983-1990) and the first Australian woman Queen's Counsel (1962).
Dame Roma Mitchell's father (Harold Mitchell) was killed in World War I. At the time her mother (Maude, née Wickham) had two children under the age of 10. Like many women of her time she had not been trained in any profession and she struggled to bring up her daughters.
Dame Roma was educated at St Aloysius College, Adelaide. She won the David Murray scholarship which enabled her to study law at the University of Adelaide, receiving her degree in 1934. Dame Roma supported the issues of equal pay for women and for women to sit on juries (legislated in 1966). She was recommended by Don Dunstan (Attorney-General SA) to be appointed a Supreme Court Judge of South Australia in 1965, the first woman to be so appointed. Dame Roma was still the only women judge of the Supreme Court in Australia when she retired after 18 years in the position in 1983, aged 70.
Dame Roma became the first woman Chancellor (1983-1990) in an Australian university when she was appointed to the position at the University of Adelaide. In all Dame Roma was associated with the university for over 60 years; first as a student and then a part-time lecturer in Matrimonial and Family Law for five years during the 1960s. In 1965 she became a member of the University Council. She was Senior Deputy Chancellor for 11 years from 1972. Dame Roma was awarded the degree of Doctor of the University for her distinguished service to the University in 1985. In January 1991 Dame Roma took up her appointment as Governor of South Australia (1991-1996). As well as being a member of the Queen Adelaide Club and Lyceum Club, Dame Roma was a member of the Council for the Order of Australia. Her interests included theatre, music and the visual arts and she was Vice-President of the Australian Decorative and Fine Arts Society (De Vries).
In her chapter on Roma Flinders Mitchell in Great Australian Women, author Susanna De Vries wrote: 'In June 1999, [the then] Hon. Governor-General Sir William Deane unveiled a life-size bronze statue of Dame Roma "as a permanent tribute to her lifetime achievement in South Australia". The statue stands in Prince Henry Gardens, in front of Government House on North Terrace.'
Admitted to the Bar
First Australian woman appointed to the Queen's Counsel
1965 - 1983
First woman to be appointed a Judge of the Supreme Court of South Australia
12 June 1971
Appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to Law
1979 - 1981
Chairman of the South Australian Parole Board
1981 - 1986
Chairman of the Commonwealth Human Rights Commission
1981 - 1990
Member of the Council for the Order of Australia
12 June 1982
Created Dames Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for her service to the community
1983 - 1990
Chancellor of the University of Adelaide
President of the Winston Churchill Memerial Trust
National President of the Australian Association of the Ryder-Cheshire Foundations
1991 - 1996
Governor of South Australia (first woman Governor in Australia)
26 January 1991
Appointed Companion of the Order of Australia (AC)
Awarded the Institution of Engineers Medal
1996 - 2000
Chair of the Ministerial Board on Ageing (South Australia)
View the full record at
Australian Women's Register