An accidental lawyer

Peg Lusink AM celebrated her 96th birthday earlier this year. A trailblazer for women in the law, she reflects on her career and time as a law student.

By Lauren Smith

Peg Lusink AM celebrated her 96th birthday earlier this year. A trailblazer for women in the law, she reflects on her career and time as a law student.

Peg Lusink
Peg Lusink AM. Image supplied.

Peg Lusink AM (LLB 1965) knows a thing or two about the law. She was the first Victorian woman to be appointed to a superior court of record when she was made a judge on the newly-established Family Court in 1976. Her mother Joan Rosanove was the state’s first female QC.

A career in the law was not always on the cards, however. When her beloved first husband Dr Graeme Larkins passed away unexpectedly in 1959, Lusink found herself widowed at 38 with three sons.

It was her eldest son, John, then a law student at the University of Melbourne, who suggested she commence legal studies.

“I was an accidental law student,” Lusink says.

“John went to the Dean of the Law School and said ‘You’d better take my mum’.”

After graduating, Lusink worked as a solicitor at Corr and Corr (now part of Corrs Chambers Westgarth), mainly in the area of family law. In 1976 she was appointed as a Justice of the Family Court of Australia, an experience she really enjoyed.

It really gave a new meaning to ‘being thrown into the deep end’, because we really had no precedents, no older judges to tell us what to do, and a whole new court and a whole new law.

“We worked enormously hard, and we were all on a huge learning curve.”

After retiring from the bench, Lusink held a range of appointments, including as a teacher of family law at Bond University, as President of the Commonwealth Professional Services Review Tribunal, hearing appeals from medical practitioners who had been found to have committed Medicare fraud, and as a member of the ethics committee of the Royal Women’s Hospital.

“The ethics committee was wonderful,” she says.

“It was fascinating in the early days of IVF.”

Lusink also lent her skills and passion to a range of community causes. She is an Honorary Life Member of the National Friends of the Libraries of Australia and played an important role in Victoria’s local bush nursing hospitals.

“I’ve always been interested in hospitals and libraries, they’ve been my main two things,” she says.

It was this same spirit of community that led Lusink to leave a gift in her will to Melbourne Law School, in both her name and that of her late second husband, Theo Lusink, who she met during her studies at MLS. He was one of six mature-aged students at the time.

Theo Lusink relocated to Australia from the Netherlands at the end of World War II, where he joined the Royal Australian Air Force. He held a Master of Laws from Amsterdam, but had to study several subjects to be admitted to practise in Australia. He practised at the Victorian Bar after retiring from the air force, before pursuing his dream of farming in north-east Victoria.

“Theo died two years ago and I decided to give a scholarship at the Law School for a migrant in both our names,” Lusink says.

It’s not the only connection the family has to MLS.

The Joan Rosanove Prize, named in honour of Lusink’s mother, is given to the highest-achieving female student in the Melbourne Juris Doctor each year.

“I’d have to say that if I had any regrets at all, it is that my mother didn’t get the job [on the Family Court] that I got,” Lusink says.

Law was much more her life. To me, it was a wonderful spin-off.

“Two happy marriages, three gorgeous sons and a working mum when nobody else had a working mum made me into a very domesticated animal who had this wonderful law career, quite by accident.”

This article originally appeared in MLS News, Issue 20, November 2018

Peg Lusink was among 50 women interviewed as part of the Trailblazing Women and the Law project led by University of Melbourne alumna Professor Kim Rubenstein. Listen to Peg's 2015 interview with Professor Rubenstein online at the National Library of Australia.