‘Attractive Brisbane girl’ appointed QLS Secretary

Sexist remarks may have been banished from mainstream media, by and large, but things were obviously different back in 1954.

Brisbane newspaper The Telegraph reported on 30 April of that year that: “An attractive Brisbane girl, well known in social circles here, has been appointed full-time secretary of the Queensland Law Society.

“She is Miss Beryl Donkin, of New Farm, whose position is believed to be the only one of its kind ever held by a woman in the British Empire.”

Mercifully, the remainder of the report detailed many of Miss Donkin’s remarkable achievements without overt sexism:

“A big part in the organisation of legal conventions in Queensland has been played by Miss Donkin, who was largely responsible for the successful promotion of the social functions now conducted by the society as a regular feature of its activities.

“While in Brisbane during his visit to Australia for the Legal Convention held in Sydney in conjunction with Australia’s Jubilee celebrations, the president of the English Law Society (Sir Leonard Holmes) commended Miss Donkin’s qualities as an ambassadress for the country during her English visit.


“Miss Donkin assisted in the compiling of the ‘Solicitors’ Manual’ and prepares the material each month for publication in the official journal of the Law Society.”

Beryl Donkin’s achievements as QLS Secretary have been widely acknowledged and today a Council meeting room in Law Society House is named in her honour.

The report in The Telegraph, and Beryl Donkin in London after receiving her OBE.

When she passed away in 1991, former QLS President the late John O’Keefe penned the following eulogy for Proctor.

Vale Beryl Donkin

from The Proctor, January/February edition, 1991.

There was a universal sadness throughout the profession when it learned of the death of Beryl Killeen Donkin on 1 February, 1991.


There was probably no one better known in the solicitors’ branch of the profession than Beryl. The esteem in which she was held was evidenced by the large attendance at her Requiem Mass at St Agatha’s Church, Clayfield on 5 February.

The Mass was concelebrated by Reverend Dr J.R. Spence (who is a solicitor) and Reverend Father Bernard Wilson (an honours graduate in law). The President of the Queensland Law Society, Mr P.J. Short, read an eulogy and five past Presidents whom Beryl had served during their presidencies read various lessons. The Women Lawyers’ Association, of which Beryl was a foundation and honorary member, was represented by its President, Mrs Sue Purdon, who also read a lesson.

Every living Past President who held office during Beryl’s period as Secretary was also present at the Mass.

Beryl, who was born in Brisbane but educated in Melbourne following her parents’ death, was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Society and its first full-time employee on 24 April 1941.

She became Secretary in April 1954 – she was the first woman to become a Secretary of a law society anywhere in the British Commonwealth. She retired on 24 December 1981 after serving exactly 40 years and eight months with the Society.

In 1955 Beryl was made an honorary member of the Law Society of England and Wales and a Freeman of the City of London. In 1975 Her Majesty the Queen appointed her an Officer of the Civil Division of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire for her devoted and untiring service to the Society and the legal profession. On her retirement in 1981, Queensland Law Society conferred upon her honorary membership of the Society – the first person so honoured by our Society.


Beryl Donkin saw Queensland Law Society develop from occupying very small offices in the National Mutual Building at 293 Queen Street to owning its own building at 179 Ann Street.

From being the sole full-time employee she saw the number of employees grow to 45, many of whom are qualified solicitors and accountants.

She acted not only as official Secretary to the Society but also secretary to many of its sub-committees, and personal secretary to each President.

She was very dedicated in her performance of her duties and very faithful to every president, all of whom she would refer to affectionately as “my President”. She accepted changes willingly and graciously, yet always maintained ‘old world standards’. Dr Spence said in his homily that she was in every way “a dignified and gentle woman”.

Other institutions are indebted to Beryl Donkin for her interest and assistance, particularly during the early stages of development. She was closely involved in the commencement of operations of the Legal Assistance Committee of Queensland (later the Legal Aid Office), the Law School and the Legal Practice Course at the Queensland Institute of Technology, the Lawyers’ Community Centres and the Women Lawyers’ Association. She was the principal organiser of every Law Society Symposium from the first in 1960 until her retirement in 1981.

She had an extraordinary memory and could readily recall references to Council minutes and the like. This facility was frequently availed of by many members of the profession, whom Beryl was always happy to assist.


Beryl Killeen Donkin will be remembered and loved by the solicitors of Queensland.

John O’Keefe, QLS President, 1980-1981

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One Response

  1. Bloody hell !

    I remember when an articled clerk, going to a function to thank Beryl on her retirement

    That was more than 40 years ago; could it possibly be that long ago

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