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21st Century – Bishops and beyond

The ordination of women as priests did not end the struggle for Anglican women. Equality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women bishops, transgender women and those in governance roles remained live issues. Women are still underrepresented in the church hierarchy.


The Rev’d Alex Gater (1944-)
First Aboriginal woman priest in the Diocese of Brisbane.

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The Rev’d Alex Gater (1944-)

Alex Gater is an Aboriginal woman, born in Brisbane but as a child lived with her grandparents in Cherbourg. Her grandparents were founding members of the Anglican Church there. Alex experienced considerable racism, particularly on her move to Brisbane as a young woman. In 2003 she became the diocese’s first Aboriginal woman priest.

Auntie Alex’s journey in the Anglican Church was full of roadblocks. She wrote a letter to Anglican Focus in July 1994 entitled “When will the Church hear our cry?” In that letter she said, “My people are still crying out for justice and feel that the Churches are not doing enough to support Aboriginal people. If I am going to be labelled a stirrer, so be it, as I will continue to speak out, to stir the conscience of the Church. When is the Church going to listen to the cries of my people, their hurts, pain and suffering?”
At the time of writing the letter Auntie Alex saw that nothing had changed. Aboriginal people still did not have their gifts of leadership recognized, and were still treated in a paternalistic way by the Church hierarchy. The Church has talked about reconciliation, but that will only occur if Aboriginal people are treated as equals alongside their non-Indigenous brothers and sisters and emerge into their rightful place as equal citizens in the household of God.

Auntie Alex saw the need to acknowledge that the original owners of this land were the Aboriginal people, and these people had a spiritual being, but this power was taken away by missionaries. Aboriginal people were labelled ‘heathen’ and this has caused them great pain and anger.

Alex was born in Brisbane. Her Mother took her children to Cherbourg to live with Alex’s grandparents, and this created a family of 10 children. Her Grandmother, who had a great love of God, and was one of the founding members of the Anglican Church in Cherbourg, had a profound influence on Alex . Alex said her people were great listeners and had respect for the Church.
Alex’s Grandfather and Grandmother were taken away from their tribal areas in the Winton area as children, never to see their parents again, to Yarrabah, to Fraser Island, Purga (Deebing Creek), and finally Cherbourg. At Cherbourg her Grandparents became care parents in the dormitory system for Aboriginal children who were removed from their parents by the authorities. They received little pay (less than the basic wage) for their work. Her Grandparents provided for an extended family which was typical of the ‘caring and sharing’ attitude of Aboriginal people.

Life in Cherbourg was very much under control of the authorities. Permits were needed for Aboriginal people to move about, such as going to the town of Murgon, and they were deprived of human rights. As a young girl of 18 Alex was very angry about this. She experienced a life of welfare where Aboriginal people received no pay for work, but were provided with rations such as tea, sugar and rice.
Alex married young in however her husband was killed in a car accident, and it was at this point that she turned away from God. She moved to Brisbane, and it was here that she felt the full force of racism. If she went to look for accommodation, the landlord would refuse her as soon as it was revealed that she was Aboriginal. Her children suffered discrimination in schools and employment. Alex herself turned to alcohol.

In 1987 Alex remarried, and it was about that time she was invited to a Church where she returned to God. Alex believes as Christians that we should forgive, but we cannot forget.
In the mid 1990’s Auntie Alex was adopted as an Elder by Anglican Schools at Forest Lake and Anglican Church Grammar School. An outcome of her association with the latter school was that scholarships at the school were set up for Aboriginal young people.
She believes that God has a plan for each of us, and she acknowledges her own vocation. She was ordained in 2003 as the first Aboriginal woman priest in the Brisbane Diocese.

The Rev’d Alex Gater continues what she calls her “walkabout ministry” to her people in the Acacia Ridge/Inala area, liaises with police, ministers in prisons and hospitals, and takes her place in mediation with Aboriginal young people in the Magistrates’ Court.



Aunty Rose Elu (1957–)
Torres Strait Islander elder and stateswoman

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Aunty Rose Elu (1957–)

Aunty Rose Elu is a Torres Strait Islander campaigner for climate change action as it affects the Torres Strait. She successfully advocated for the recognition of Torres Strait Islander traditional adoptions. She is also a translator.

Torres Strait Island Elder Aunty Rose Elu is a tireless advocate for her community. She has an unwavering vision to bring about change to better the lives of children and families. 

Aunty Rose is committed to reconciliation and sharing the traditional practices of her people at local, state and federal levels. She was instrumental in negotiations to legally recognise the traditional customary adoption practices of Torres Strait Islander families – which led to the introduction of a landmark Bill to the Queensland Parliament.

Since 1980, Aunty Rose has been drawing global attention to the impact of climate change on the Torres Strait, including speaking at the UN and to business and political leaders. As a member of the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC), she advocates for renewable energy and sustainable methods of production.

Aunty Rose also provides essential translation for Torres Strait Islander communities to help them access services and lobbies for funding to support community capacity building.

Ann Solari (1958–)
Doctor and Deacon

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Ann Solari (1958–)

The Reverend Dr Ann Solari is a GP and Deacon in the Diocese of Brisbane. Her
ministry is as a doctor to the homeless and underprivileged.

Ann’s story can be viewed here

Josephine Inkpin (1960–)
Priest and transgender woman

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Josephine Inkpin (1960–)

The Revd Dr Josephine Inkpin has shared in many wonderful ministries in her native England and, since 2001, in Australia – including as a staff member of the National Council of Churches in Australia, and General Secretary of the NSW Ecumenical Council, Rector of St Luke Toowoomba, and, more recently, Lecturer in Church History and Senior Tutor at St Francis (theological) College in Brisbane

“My first name is Josephine – after Josephine Butler (nee Grey) the great 19th century English ‘mother of Christian feminism’, fellow daughter of England’s north east, an Anglican saint and proto-liberation theologian.  Her story inspired me many years ago in the struggle for women’s ordination in England and it continues to do so.  For women’s struggle, Josephine repeatedly maintained, was ‘solidaire’; as the oppression of any part of society oppresses the whole.  Whether it be sex workers, refugees, the poor, or LGBTIQA+ people today, ‘so long as they are bound’, she said, ‘we cannot be wholly and truly free.’   This is what we call ‘intersectionality’ today.  It has certainly always been at the heart of my understanding of what my ordination, and that of other women, is about.

I grew up in a gentle liberal catholic Church of England family.  I was never therefore subjected to the extremes of gender oppression.  Rather I learned to interpret scripture dynamically, in dialogue with reason, seeing tradition as something to be enriched with fresh growth.  Yet I was also assigned male at birth and brought up in a context in which gender was understood in very binary terms.  I knew myself as ‘different’ from very early on, but I had no language to put to that deep-down experience.  Like many transgender women of my generation I therefore did not affirm my authentic gender identity until much later.  I strove hard to be a ‘good boy’, even though I never fitted.  I was fortunate in being gifted academically and succeeded in many aspects of life.  Above all, I married and had children.  Such responsibilities brought much joy but they also made it more difficult to ‘come out’ as a woman.  The Church too was both a source of strength and a powerful obstacle.

Did I partly enter ordained ministry to assuage some of the needs of my gender identity struggle?  I suspect so, though it was always much more than that.  The role of a priest has always been understood as traversing boundaries.  It has allowed those assigned as male to have time and space with women.  It affirms traditional ‘feminine’ qualities such as sensitivity, empathy, and attention to beauty and feelings.  It is also not only permissible, but often required, to wear dresses in worship, albeit very formally!   It is not enough however for those who are transgender.

From the struggles for women’s ordination to my own heart dancing

The first Anglican transgender female priest, the Revd Carol Stone, came out in England in 2000.  When I first read her story in the national church paper, it was as if a bolt of lightning went through me.  ‘Is it really possible?’ I said to myself.  Perhaps I would thus have been part of that first tranche of transgender priests who then emerged.  I was committed however to emigrating to Australia, in order to find better climate for my sick children.  The steps I had begun to express my gender identity halted as we had to build a new life, in a narrower Anglican Church in a new land.  My ministry took me into wonderful new relationships with much mutual enrichment.  Yet inside I was dying.  Underneath the pressure built and drove me into addictions.  The heart must be free.

I had shared closely in the struggle for women’s ordinations and wider rights in England.  My Ph.D was written on first-wave Christian feminism and women’s struggle for the vote.  Indeed I would be frequently asked what a ‘man’ was doing exploring the subject!  My heart was profoundly torn when, in 1987 in St Paul’s Cathedral in London, I came to be ordained priest.  For months I struggled with being ordained when women, like my own wife, were not.   Later, when the critical final vote in the Church of England’s General Synod was held, I prepared to step back into a diaconal role if it was not agreed to move forward once more.  Thankfully, the decision was ‘yes’ and the door was opened, not only to cisgender women to be ordained, but for other gender injustices to be addressed.

I am so thankful for the women’s movement, and the gay liberation movement, and for the small part I have had within them.  Without them, it would be so much harder for gender diverse people to come out and be free.  Even now, it is a struggle, particularly within so many Christian churches.  Perhaps it is the experience of what has gone before which has sustained and helped me on.

I finally came out – as the first open licensed Australian transgender priest –on the feast, fittingly, of Mary Magdalene (22 July) in 2017.  It was an immense personal joy and, I believe, an important step in the journey of Christians to renewing the greater vision and symbolism of women’s ordination.  I am grateful for those who supported me in the Anglican Church Southern Queensland and for the difference it has made.  For, in the face of a growing backlash towards gender diverse people, I know I have helped others to know and own their truth, to stay alive and to flourish.  For, like other ministries of ordained women, the truth of God’s recent new work among us is demonstrated in its fruits.

The immediate future of God’s liberation is not clear in many Church spaces. Sadly, my own (35 years strong and fruitful) marriage has been attacked, as ‘same sex’ marriage, as others have not listened to us.  For the ‘solidaire’ work of women will not be over until we have fully and freely received the gifts of LGBTIQA+ people and others still marginalised among us.  Yet to stand now among my sisters as a fellow ordained woman is a gorgeous sign of continuing transforming love. When I presided at the eucharist for the first time as an ‘out’ woman, it felt like ‘my heart was dancing’.  I had come home to myself and to God’s further purpose for me.”


The Right Rev’d Alison Taylor (1953–)
First woman bishop in the Diocese of Brisbane

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The Right Rev’d Alison Taylor (1953–)

Alison Taylor was the first woman consecrated bishop in Brisbane in 2013 and served as Assistant Bishop for the Southern Region. Ordained priest in Melbourne, she had been a school chaplain, parish priest, and Archdeacon. In Brisbane she was involved with the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. She is currently working on a PhD on what the commission means for the operations of the Anglican Church.

Not long after I became an assistant bishop in Brisbane in 2013, I was present at a book launch in St John’s Cathedral. A woman asked me what I did so I outlined my role. At which point, with a rather amused look on her face, she said, “I don’t think so, dear, do you?”

Clearly though I was the fourth woman to become a bishop in Australia since 2008 – not to mention the numbers of women bishops in other countries since 1989 – she hadn’t heard about it. To her I was obviously disturbed, to imagine I had such an unthinkable role for a woman! 

This story illustrates the novelty I was in some quarters when I was consecrated in Brisbane. I was warmly welcomed, but nevertheless people had to make adjustments to a woman in the role. It takes time, as it did for the first women priests.

Women priests in the diocese told me they had been apologising for more than 20 years to those who had opposed their ordination. Now with a woman as a bishop, they felt at last they could stop apologising.

I came to Brisbane from Melbourne Diocese, where I had been ordained priest in 1997. I had served as a school chaplain and parish priest, as well as an archdeacon and chair of that diocese’s international aid agency. Before ordination I was a town planner, and I had been a churchwarden in my home parish, so have always had a high regard for the importance of lay ministry.

In Brisbane Diocese, I had several roles including as Bishop for the Southern Region; Chair of the Anglican Schools Commission, which looks after 20 schools; and Chair of the Parishes and Mission Agencies Commission.

I most enjoyed working with parishes, particularly helping smaller, under-resourced parishes grow their mission. I wanted to ensure people felt part of a caring network, that they were not isolated. It is so easy for priests to become discouraged if they feel isolated – their role is not an easy one these days. 

And I also enjoyed working with the schools. The Schools Commission in Queensland is the best in the country. We worked hard to explore what it means for schools to have an Anglican ethos – for the staff, the school councils, in worship and in the class room. 

Because I was in that role during the time of the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse, I found myself working with schools – and parishes – that had experienced abuse in the past. Some were re-traumatised by the Commission’s work, particularly with a high level of enquiry coming to them from parents, former students and the media. I met regularly with both the school principals and the chairs of their councils.

I am now a Board member of Anglican Representative (National Redress Scheme) Ltd, the company through which the organisations that make up the Anglican Church of Australia participate in the National Redress Scheme. As well, I am working on a PhD thesis about what the Royal Commission has exposed about the way the Anglican Church has operated in this country.

I returned to Melbourne in 2018, with many happy memories of my time in Brisbane. I really enjoyed the laid-back Queensland lifestyle, and the mild winter weather!”


 Debra Mullins (1957–)

Judge, Chancellor of the Diocese of Brisbane

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Debra Mullins (1957–)

A judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland since 2000, Debra Mullins has appointments at Griffith University, the Australian association of women judges, the Anglican Church of Australia and is Chancellor of the Diocese of Brisbane.

The Honourable Justice Debra Mullins AO is a graduate of The University of Queensland—Bachelor of Commerce (1977), Bachelor of Laws (Honours) (1980) and Master of Laws (Advanced) (1999).

Justice Mullins undertook articles of clerkship at Kinsey Bennett & Gill (1978–1980) and was admitted as a solicitor of the Supreme Court of Queensland on 5 February 1980.

After being admitted as a barrister of the Supreme Court of Queensland on 26 April 1984, Justice Mullins commenced practice in Brisbane. Her Honour was appointed Senior Counsel on 17 November 1998.

Justice Mullins was a member of the Equalising Opportunities in the Law Committee of the Law Council of Australia (1995–2000) and part-time member of the Queensland Law Reform Commission from 1996 to 2002.

Justice Mullins has served as Deputy Chancellor (2004–2014) and Chancellor (2014–) of the Anglican Diocese of Brisbane and is an adjunct professor at Griffith University Law School (2006–09, 2016–18, 2018–2021).

Her Honour was featured in A Woman’s Place: 100 years of Queensland Women Lawyers, published by the Supreme Court Library Queensland in 2005.

In 2009 Justice Mullins received the Queensland Law Society’s Agnes McWhinney Award for outstanding contribution to the legal profession and community. Her Honour was appointed a Doctor of the University by Griffith University in 2010. In 2017 Justice Mullins was appointed as an Honorary Fellow of St John’s College at The University of Queensland. Her Honour was appointed a Life Member of the National Judicial College of Australia in 2018 in recognition of exceptional service.

Her Honour was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia [link] in 2019 for distinguished service to the law and to the judiciary, to professional development and legal education, and to women.  

Justice Mullins was appointed a judge of the Supreme Court of Queensland in 2000 and was appointed to the Court of Appeal in January 2020.

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