Katrina Watson Dawson (1976–2014)

BA LLB (Hons I) (Syd) LLM (MHRLP) (UNSW)

Written by Cate Stewart

Katrina Watson Dawson (1976–2014)


Among the countless people mourning her absence from our lives are those who studied with, lived with, and taught her at the University of Sydney. Beyond the University, many more feel her loss daily from their personal and professional lives, including colleagues and friends from Mallesons and the New South Wales Bar.

‘Treen’ or ‘Tree’, as many of her close friends know her, was the best of friends and, so I am told by many members of the legal profession, the best of colleagues. She was unfailingly generous with her affection, time and expertise – not only in law, but in matters including shoe and bag shopping, renovation, baking and parenting. In all that she did, there was humour and laughter.

Katrina was born in 1976 in Perth to parents Jane and Sandy Dawson – the adored younger sister of Sandy and Angus. She completed her Higher School Certificate (HSC) at Ascham School, Edgecliff in 1994 and equalled first in the state, with a Tertiary Entrance Rank (TER) of 100.

At the University of Sydney, she studied a combined Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Laws (1995–99), achieving first-class honours in Law and winning the Michael Harmer and Associates Award for Anti-Discrimination Law (1999). A fluent speaker of French (her Arts major), she spent a semester in 1999 studying law in French at the Sorbonne (the University of Paris) – at a time when most of us found law difficult enough to understand in our native English (with all due respect to my law school lecturers and tutors!).

Katrina lived on campus at the Women’s College from 1995 to 1998. She was elected Senior Student in 1998 by fellow student residents at the college; an indication of the affection and esteem with which she was held. At the Women’s College she won the Grace Frazer Prize (1995), the Leonie Star Prize (1995) and the Ellen Bundock Prizes (1996–98), as well as a Women’s College Scholarship (1996).

At the same time as achieving impressive results in her studies, she held a variety of paid and unpaid jobs. She also participated in sporting and social events with equal enthusiasm. She represented the Women’s College in the inter-college Rosebowl competition (rowing, tennis and basketball). She attended the Australian University Games, trying her hand for the first time at the heptathlon and the hammer throw, finishing just outside a placing in the latter, after only receiving a quick rundown on technique just before the event!

One of her greatest joys at college was fancy dress, for which she was, both then and after, renowned. It was no doubt with great effort that she stifled the urge to add some dazzle to her wig and gown for appearances in court, but by then she had found other outlets for her creativity, such as children’s birthday parties.

After completing a summer clerkship at Mallesons from 1998 to 1999, Katrina returned there to work as a graduate in the dispute litigation group. She started tackling some of the big questions – such as whether suffering from handbag envy justified an afternoon of sick leave. But, beneath the fun, Katrina was an extraordinarily hard worker. She became a Senior Associate, and in 2004, completed a Master of Human Rights Law and Policy at the University of New South Wales. In 2005, she was called to the NSW Bar after winning the Blashki & Sons Award for topping the Bar exams.

Katrina proved a talented barrister – on which I can do no greater justice than refer with thanks to the obituary of her Eight Selborne Chambers colleague Jason Potts in the 2015 (Autumn) Bar News.

But the happiest outcome of Katrina’s pursuit of the law was meeting Paul – a fellow summer clerk at Mallesons. They married in 2001 and went on to have three wonderful children: Chloe, Ollie and Sasha. Together they created a joyous family and home, full of love and laughter.

Above all, our thoughts are with Paul, the children and the rest of the Dawson family for their immeasurable loss.

Katrina was simply overflowing with a passion for living life to its fullest and was determined to do her best in all that she did. She was constantly caring for, and encouraging of, others and she was the best person I know at keeping in touch. Friends received thoughtful and hilarious correspondence of all kinds: a favourite among many being the singing birthday call. Visitors to the family home were spoilt with delicious homemade food, while she played with kids, cooked, chatted, danced and sang.

Katrina’s kindness extended well beyond friends and colleagues. She was acutely aware of the advantages she had had in life and had a strong social conscience. During her time at university, she did pro bono work for Redfern Legal Centre and the Tenants Union, as well as volunteer work for Médecins Sans Frontières. Later, at Mallesons, she coordinated its pro bono Downing Centre Duty Solicitor’s Scheme, volunteered for Make a Wish at the Starlight Children’s Foundation and was instrumental in establishing the Ted Noffs Foundation’s ASK! free legal service for youth.

As her Ascham School friends – the friends who knew her longest – said in a recent obituary: she was the best of us.

Whatever she did, she did wholeheartedly and it is wholeheartedly that we love her, miss her and remember her always.