Melissa Kirby

BA '96, LLB (Hons) '99, GDLP '99

Melissa Kirby is a lawyer and strategist and the founder of Sharpe & Abel, a Melbourne-based law and strategy firm. Melissa's firm, Sharpe & Abel, has introduced an annual scholarship worth $5,000 for undergraduates in the disciplines of Law, Engineering and Computer Science. Reflecting Melissa's own background, the scholarship requires the successful recipient to not only demonstrate their commitment to achieving an end goal in spite of adversity, but to show how the scholarship will significantly improve their ability to achieve that goal.

Which inspirational woman would you name a building after at ANU?

Elaine Wong was highly influential in my decision to go to university.  Elaine Wong was born in Ipoh, Malaysia and despite being a very bright woman, her family decided to allocate its resources to support her brother to go to university instead. 

Being a headstrong and ambitious young woman, she applied for and was awarded a scholarship to study in England and train as a nurse before her family had the chance to realise what she had done. 

As many women did in those days, she gave up her career to become a homemaker.  Elaine was the mother of my best friend in high school, and a second "mum" to me too.  Elaine would not take no for an answer: she was adamant that both of her two daughters and I must attend university and that all of us girls must have financial independence.  She made sure we did all our homework and had all the resources we needed to excel in our studies and beyond. 

One particularly poignant memory: while writing my honours thesis, I was constantly losing time because I had to wash my clothes in the college dormitory washing machine and wait until it finished to put the clothes into the dryer.  Failure to do this meant that another student would inevitably come along and dump your clean but damp clothes onto any available surface (usually the floor).  So every week, I would lose at least two hours watching over my laundry.  To solve this problem, Elaine sent me a big box of comfortable, multi-coloured granny knickers - that way, I only had to do my laundry once every two weeks!  I'm sure that two hour a week saving contributed to my first class honours. 

Elaine passed away just before Christmas in 2015.  To me, she represents the generations of the many women who came before us and on whose shoulders we stand.  We owe it to these women who did not have the opportunities that we have to excel, surpass and stretch the boundaries of achievement and to leave something behind for those who come after us.

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