Justice’s default proves successful

Justice Lincoln Crowley became the first Indigenous person to be appointed to a Supreme Court in Australia in 2022.

This year’s NAIDOC Week is celebrating and recognising the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. And one person who has achieved personally and professionally is a proud Warramunga man, His Honour Justice Lincoln Crowley.

Justice Crowley made history in 2018 by becoming the first Indigenous person to be appointed Queen’s Counsel in Queensland. In 2022 and after 20 years at the Bar, His Honour also became the first to be appointed to a Supreme Court in Australia.

Quite an achievement for a young man who was not certain of his future direction once he had finished high school.

He told The Callover podcast, that law was his “default position”.

“.. when I finished school, I didn’t really know what I was going to do,” he says in this week’s episode.

“I got to the end of year 12 and had really no clue about what sort of career I wanted to do, but I knew things that I didn’t want to do … I didn’t want to do maths.”


He applied for six different university courses from law at James Cook University to nursing to physiotherapy, and fortunately for the legal profession got his number one choice at JCU in Townsville.

“It was a daunting experience in some ways, but also it was exciting, because I was going from Charters Towers to the big smoke of Townsville, and you know, starting a whole new stage of life,” he recalled.

“So it was a great experience but also … something to be proud of, because I was now going from school into a course, and was going to be the first in my family … if I passed that would be a university graduate.”

And after taking the step, His Honour knew he had made a good choice being at a regional university -close to home and some family.

“Law was still only in infant stage at JCU, everyone was learning at the same time really including the faculty and teaching staff,” he said.

“So it was good but things were probably looking now, particularly with what’s available to students now, it was pretty basic and rudimentary, that was a good thing as well because it meant having to be independent.


“Do things yourself, a lot of hard work, a lot of hours in library – reading and studying – and that sort of saw me in good stead later because it developed all those habits and skills which translated into practice.”

His Honour also served in army reserves – following in his father’s footsteps who was an officer in the army, and one of the first Aboriginal officers.

“… he suggested it would be a good idea and, and I thought it would be good as well, not only to have a job and have some part time job while I was at university, but also because of the the skills and the things that you learned there.

“And it was a great experience for that. And you certainly learn a lot about a whole range of things which are helpful in in other careers in other parts of your life.”

He said time management and organisational skills translated into his legal career.

“And the other thing is there’s a obviously a component of having to work with people and work in a system. So those three things I think really helped going forward into the legal profession and being able to manage yourself and manage other people.”


His Honour’s first role within the legal profession was as a solicitor advocate with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service in Townsville. 

“It was exciting to be starting work as a lawyer, back up home great as well. So at the time, I thought this was going to be the career that I wanted because not only working in the law but working with Indigenous people in the community for the community. That was a real asset and real aspect that I thought was going to be rewarding and something that I could make a contribution to.

“The other thing was the advocacy component, which I hadn’t had any exposure to that at university. And so this was really something that I came upon in the role and thought, ‘Well, I think I’d be good at that’.

“And then as I did it, I thought, well, this is by far the best part of the job. So it was, it was a lot of fun. But working in a position like that and in a place like Townsville in a regional centre, there’s a lot of autonomy and a lot of independence and a lot of pressure. So you really have to sink or swim in those roles.

“And so I think it’s the best grounding in to be in those sort of positions for someone who wants to be an advocate and someone who eventually wants to go to the bar in particular, but it is sink or swim and not everybody swims.”

So His Honour learnt resourcefulness and advocacy skills, and how to handle pressure, excelling in his career becoming first Indigenous person to be appointed as Queen’s Counsel in the state. And on 13 June 2022, he was sworn in as a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland.


“They were the sort of achievements I’d never really dreamed of when I was first a law graduate and then starting as young solicitor. But as I continued through practice over time, both of those things became aspirations that I wanted to pursue and one day hopefully achieve.

“So when I got appointed as a silk and that was just the most amazing experience, and it was, I thought at the time, you know this is ‘I’ve really made it in the profession’.

“And so personally and professionally it was something that I was very proud of. And being the first Indigenous person in Queensland to be in that role and to get that level of recognition from the profession was again, something to be very proud of.

“And I thought at the time when I was signing the roll that this was unbelievable that it’s taken so long for any Indigenous person to be in this position, and to be the first to do that was was an honour and a privilege, but also something to reflect on why has it taken so long.

“The same feelings again came to mind when I was appointed to the court. And so again to be the first Indigenous person to be appointed to a superior court in Australia. Again a mind-blowing reflection to think, well, again, this has taken so long.

“And I said at the time in my swearing me that I didn’t want to be the first for a number of reasons. No one wants to be the first because you know, you have the embarrassment of being the first person to do it. But as well I shouldn’t have been the first should have taken so long for an Aboriginal Torres Strait Islander person to be appointed to that level of the judiciary.”


To hear the full podcast, visit The Callover.

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