Karen Lindley is a powerhouse. Not merely a successful businesswoman and a staunch supporter of our industry, she has also helped put some 25 paedophiles behind bars. Karen arrived in Sydney in 1968 on her way from New Zealand to London. She stopped over, and never left – a decision countless Australians will always be grateful for. A few years later, as a single mother, she joined the jewellery trade in the opal sector at a time when the industry was very male-dominated. “I began as the personal assistant to Tony Hammond, the MD of Australian Opal Distributors,” Karen said. “It was just a job at first, but then I fell in love with opal.” Karen was quick to notice that there weren’t any qualified gemmologists in Sydney who were dealers in opal so she hit the books becoming the first female gemmologist to wholesale black opal throughout Asia and then worldwide.
After making her name in the opal sector, and after recovering from breast cancer, Karen limited overseas travel and concentrated on building her own brand – Diamonds by Design –establishing it as one of Sydney’s most respected boutique jewellers. She continued promoting Australian opals, gems and jewellery and served on the board of the Jewellers’ Association of Australia for many years. Helping women in the industry was just one of the many ways in which Karen has devoted her life to helping others.
“I have fought long and hard for women in our industry,” she said. “For at least 25 years, Long time industry member Karen Lindley has been made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in the Queen’s Birthday honours in June for significant services to social welfare initiatives and to the jewellery industry. I was the only woman at any gem meeting I went to. To now see that the Chair of the JAA is a woman – Jo Tory – is very satisfying as is continuing my volunteer and justice work as I transition through my retirement.” In 2011, funds from a friend who had passed away allowed Karen to set up a private trust to assist those less fortunate. Working through support agencies, the trust has awarded over 200 grants, ranging from wheelchairs, scholarships, granting wishes to patients with terminal illnesses, funding masters studies, covering university fees for six doctors in Africa and funding sexual assault civil compensation cases.
But it is her volunteer work aiding sexual abuse victims that leads many in the community to name her their guardian angel. Working through agencies such as Bravehearts and the NSW Sex Crimes Unit, Karen provides nurturing and emotional support to victims, helping them find the strength to face the ordeals of court trials and the process of bringing offenders to justice. Karen believes it’s all about giving back. “My parents installed a strong sense of social injustice into me and my siblings,” she said. “I have had a great life and enjoy giving back.”
Although Karen says she’s ‘semi-retired’ she is serving on the management committee of the Lilian Howell Project, a shelter for girls aged 13 to 17, as well as the board for SAMSN, an organisation for male survivors of child sexual abuse. She’s currently serving on a NSW government board in the justice department. In the past, she’s worked with The Humpty Dumpty Foundation (raising funds for medical equipment in children’s wards and hospitals across Australia), Bravehearts (supporting children and adult survivors of child sexual assault) and numerous programmes mentoring women in business. Karen said she was very surprised to learn that she had been awarded the honour. “I was stunned,” she said, “and grateful to all those I’ve met along the way who taught me something that I have been able to pass on to others.”
“Using my Foundation to help improve someone’s quality of life or get justice has been some of the most rewarding moments in my life, but when I take time out, it’s gardening – and more gardening. Sometimes the things I am confronted with are daunting and horrific, and gardening allows me to switch off and recharge. When that doesn’t work I jump on my front end loader and play down the back of the property.” Karen has been a champion of the jewellery industry too, generously donating her time, skills and talent to the JAA, the Gemmological Association of Australia and the National Council of Valuers Association. At the moment, she’s acting as a consultant on the first global tender for pink diamonds open to the general public.
Looking back on a long career in the industry, Karen offers this memory – advice that is probably timeless. “I was selling to a big Japanese dealer in Tokyo. A three figure sum. He asked ‘Is this invoice Australian or US dollar?’ and quick as a flash, my brain did the sums. The exchange rate was 0.68 at the time. ‘US!’ I said. I never sold overseas in Australian dollars again.” And does she ever wonder where she might be if she’d gone all the way to London in 1968?
“No! I always look forwards.”