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On the Couch
8 October, 2009  
Sophie York

Barrister … law lecturer … campaigner … believer … author … wife … mother … wonder woman … On the Couch with Sophie York


imageSydney barrister Lieutenant Commander Sophie York was one of 17 candidates who recently sought Liberal Party preselection for Brendan Nelson’s seat of Bradfield.

Paul Fletcher got the party’s nod as the preselectors unimaginatively rejected the idea of running the seat by a collective or on a rotational roster.

Sophie went to the bar in 1995 after five years as a solicitor with the Royal Australian Navy. She read with Sandy Street, another old sea dog.

She lectures at Sydney and Notre Dame universities, with jurisprudence being her thing.

In 2005 she wrote Angels of Aceh – The Compelling Story of Operation Tsunami Assist (Allen & Unwin).

But wait. As the Demtel man says, “There’s more”.

Sophie is a member and former councillor of the St Thomas More Society, a Dame of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem (which works for peace and the protection of the historical sites of the ancient city), a member of the Benenson Society (free speech throughout the world), and a member of NSW Women Lawyers’ Association.

She’s married to anaesthetist Paul Dunkin and they have four male children.

With all that going on she happily accepted out invitation to lie down on Justinian’s couch, shut her eyes and free associate.

Describe yourself in three words.
Joy-tonic, philosopher, scribe. (Hubby, trying to help: “Talks under water”.)

What are you currently reading?
The stack of 11 books by my bedside. “The 50th Law” by 50 Cent and Robert Greene is topmost at present, but all get a rotational look-in.

What’s your favourite film?
Is it possible to only have one favourite? “Man For All Seasons” and “The Castle”. They are both essentially about standing up for what you believe in. Thomas More was simply more eloquent than Dennis Denuto, in trial-mode. The resonating moment for me is when Darryl Kerrigan tells the tribunal in his Ocker Aussie voice: “You can’t boy what oi’ve got!”. A loving home is what is most valuable in life.
My favourite as a child was “The Sound of Music”. We had our Dad as the Navy Captain and Mum as Maria, we just needed the whistle ...

Whom has been the most influential influence for you?
1. Undoubtedly my uniquely-natured husband – who thinks anything is possible – so who am I to argue with someone who knows me so well, and from teenage-hood?
2. My wider family – extraordinary people whom I respect and love and who freely share their insights and gifts with me.
3. Apart from family, people of character influence me. Their abilities come second and any worldly success or acclaim a distant third – in fact it doesn’t even necessarily factor, but it can be informative.

What art form do you most appreciate?
Literature to me is nutrition for the soul and mind, while visual art and theatre are luscious desserts to uplift the heart.

What stimulants do you recommend?
Living life is a stimulant! And how better to celebrate life than animated conversation with friends and a glass of wine?

What is your most recognised talent?
Connecting with people. They have enriched my life enormously. As Helen Keller put it so elegantly: “My friends have made the story of my life. In a thousand ways, they have turned my limitations into beautiful privileges and enabled me to walk – serene and happy

What is your greatest fear?
Not conquering a fear. I haven’t been contemplating base-jumping lately. I wouldn’t want to feel obliged to go and conquer it.

What words or phrases do you overuse?
1. Yes, I can do that!
2. We should go to bed early, Paul.
3. Wow, tell me more!

What is your greatest regret?
I haven’t got one. But, digging deeper I might ask – could I have had more children? Could I have prevented growing apart from that special friend, years ago? The only point to asking would be to grow, not to wallow – life is too short.

Whom do you envy and why?
I try not to envy anyone. Most people’s good fortune seems due to their outlook and the effort and sacrifices they were prepared to make.

What is your most disturbing personal obsession?
Collecting books – our home has become like the Mitchell Library – it just needs some sandstone pillars out the front. Books are great companions on life’s journey, but you need lots of room. A love of Dickens’ novels started it.

What’s your most glamorous feature?
It is probably in the eye of the beholder so I should leave that up to others to judge. (Is a happy smile glamorous?)

If you were a foodstuff, what would you be?
What looks like a dessert but is actually substantial? A pâté en terrine?

What human quality do you most distrust?
Insecurities – they block love, stifle the ability to rejoice in others’ good fortune, paralyse people and cause unnecessary pain all around. They are so pointless – and are so often baseless.

What would you change about Australia?
Australia is a great nation, outstanding in so many ways – its beauty, climate and, above all, its wonderful people. If I imagecould change anything, it would be political small-mindedness, which diverts from substantive government. It gets in the way of our being able to envisage the great dreams we were able to realise in the past, (including the building of projects, such as the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House). We have the ideals, the talent, and the wealth, but not the political vision.

Whom or what do you consider overrated?
1. Certain celebrities who, when you unpack their stories, have contributed far less than others who are unsung heroes.
2. People who claim to be open-minded but are only receptive to ideas if you adopt their world view.

How would you like to die?
In whatever manner brought least drama or grief. So, not from anaphylactic shock on someone’s wedding day, but maybe slipping away quietly in my sleep in my late nineties, after a happy day with the grand-kids.

What would your epitaph say?
I told you I was allergic to sesame”.
Or better still – if I had earned this by then: “Whom to know was to love”.

What comes into your mind when you shut your eyes and think of the word “law”?
People in wigs, people in rags. (That’s Dickens’ influence for you … We are free-associating on a couch, aren’t we?).