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How multi-lingual globe-trotting glass artist conquered legal hurdles

07 April 2016 - By Jock Anderson

Italian-born Dunedin-based barrister Adriana Pinnock's international road to law was complicated and littered with institutional obstacles, but she was determined not to be put off.

"Desperation drove me to law," says Adriana, a former president of the Criminal Bar Association, now with more than 30 years experience both prosecuting and defending in New Zealand and Australia.

"I knew nothing about law and have no lawyers in the family but I thought it sounded fine so decided to give it a go … The more I got into it the more I thought it was interesting…"

Adriana Lucy (Adriana) Pinnock 

BornCave Del Predil, Italy.
Age62.
Entry to lawBA(Hons) from Cape Town University, MLitt in French language and literature from the Sorbonne, Paris. Graduated LLB from Auckland University in 1981. Admitted in Australia in 1983. Admitted in New Zealand in 1987.
WorkplaceBarrister sole in Dunedin.
Specialty areaCriminal and civil law.


Originally enrolled at Auckland University to do a PhD in French, she was told she would have been studying mainly on her own for two to three years, "at the end of which I wouldn't be able to get a job because there was no need for a French PhD…"

photo of Adriana Pinnock 
"If I wasn't a lawyer I would still want to work." 

" It was a bleak picture … So I chose law, but it was difficult to combine law with my husband Ralph's paediatric training…

"He had to travel overseas a lot … I finished my degree but did not do professionals … We went to Australia but because I had not been admitted in New Zealand they made me do an extra two years study…

"Ralph had a job in Sydney but they would not register him because of his South African degree, so we ended up by chance in Adelaide…

"The South Australian Law Society made me do a lot of courses while I was at commercial firm Finlaysons and at the end of two years I was admitted and practised in South Australia…

"When Ralph finished training and we wanted to come back to New Zealand, the New Zealand Law Society would not admit me because I had not done tax, which was not compulsory in Auckland at the time I studied…"

By now Adriana was working for the Crown Solicitor in Invercargill, so for a number of months she would leave Invercargill on Sunday night, drive to Dunedin, sleep overnight, go to an 8am lecture, arrange for someone else to take Thursday lecture notes, then drive back to work.

Her determination paid off and throughout her legal career she has served on many professional organisations both in New Zealand and Australia.

Born in the Alps of northern Italy close to the border with Austria and the former Yugoslavia, she moved at the age of five to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) where her father was a surveyor for an Italian company building the Kariba Dam on the Zambezi River.

"We should have returned to Italy after two years but my father liked Africa so much we stayed on…They cleared the bush for the dam workers and plonked pre-fab houses in the middle of wild animals … It was exciting for him so we stayed on…"

Her schooling began in English in Zimbabwe, then in French when her father transferred to Mauritius for a year, before the family moved to South Africa and Adriana became a boarder at Assumption College in Grahamstown, on the Eastern Cape.

"Assumption was my 13th school, so when my parents decided to move to Namibia when I was 16 I refused to go … I stayed put at school…"

With a BA(Hons) from Cape Town University, Adriana studied at the Sorbonne in Paris for 18 months before returning to South Africa in 1977 to marry paediatrician Ralph – who is now clinical associate professor at the Dunedin School of Medicine.

"We were looking to emigrate … Mandela was on Robben Island and we did not think the changes that have occurred since would ever occur in our lifetime so Ralph came to check out Australia and New Zealand…

"We left South Africa because the changes were not happening when we were there…

"Ralph chose New Zealand because he thought the racial relations were better here than in Australia so we came here in 1978."

That's when work and qualification acceptance issues saw the couple move to Australia for some years, where, before returning to settle and set up practice in Dunedin, Adriana worked for two years as criminal legal counsel in Townsville for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service.

A keen advocate for access to justice, she says there is a need for lawyers to act for people who don't qualify for legal aid and cannot afford the normal lawyers' rates.

"I'm hoping to get a group of lawyers together who, like me, are not in a firm and do not have the overheads of a firm - perhaps some on the brink of retirement who could afford to be more flexible – and establish a virtual chambers…

"If a group of practitioners could get together offering a range of services, provide opinions, work on pleadings and do the odd appeal, it wouldn't matter where they were … They could operate as a virtual chambers, at a lower rate and with more flexible terms for people who do not have lawyers…

"It's not aiming to take work away from others but provide a service for people who do not have it…

"The legal aid income bar is low and it leaves out a lot of people who do not qualify … I'm not sure yet how great the need is and it's still in the planning stage, but there is definitely a need…"

Settling in Dunedin has allowed Adriana to pursue her love of leadlight glass art, which began on a beginner's course in Townsville.

"I have always been fascinated by glass and wanted to learn to use it…

"I tried glass blowing in Auckland but found it incredibly difficult and concluded it would probably take the rest of life to learn how to do, so gave that up…"

She found internationally-renowned stained glass artist Peter Mackenzie, of Otago Stained Glass, whose work appears all over New Zealand and Australia and further afield.

"He gives lessons, and I work at his studio about four hours a week at my own pace and doing my own projects … Peter imports best quality glass Germany, France and the US and I have been using off-cuts from his commissions…

"He has taught me to paint on glass … The glass is stained when we get it and we paint on that … I use lead and solder outside on a portable workbench I set up in the garden…

"I read a bit – I've read all of Maurice Gee - and have been busy taking lessons in life drawing because I want to do a mosaic course in Venice and the prerequisite is that you must be able to draw the human body, so I'm learning to draw…

"I like TV documentaries and David Attenborough…

"I'm not musical, but like the sound of the flute and took flute lessons…

"Ralph and I are going on The Ghan railway trip from Adelaide to Darwin soon and in August Ralph has a conference in Barcelona, so we have planned a bus tour of Spain after that…"

Adriana drives a ten-year-old Saab station wagon, the 9-3 turbo Aero model – her fourth Saab. "I love them…"

"Ralph has a Mazda convertible which he uses more in Dunedin than in north Queensland, where he got his head burnt…

"If I wasn't a lawyer I would still want to work … What I thought I would end up doing was teaching or being an interpreter, something like that…

"Languages are all a part of my life … we always spoke Italian at home although much of my schooling was in English…

"My father insisted we speak Italian at home … I grew up with that, then studied French … I would do something to do with languages…

And who would Adriana have round for dinner???

"Would it not be wonderful to have Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and Mark Zucherberg in the same room at the same time as Mother Theresa, Pope Francis Fred Hollows and Ed Hillary??? The first three would have the funds to achieve what the last four would want for the world..." 

Jock Anderson has been writing and commenting on New Zealand lawyers and New Zealand's courts for most of his career in journalism. Contact Jock at jockanderson123@gmail.com.

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Last updated on the 7th April 2016