Catherine was born in England of Irish and English ancestry. When she was 7 her family migrated to Sydney where she completed a Science degree. She then returned to England, completed a Social Science diploma, and became involved in racial equality work with West Indians. Back in Australia she took up a pioneering opportunity as a community development worker with Aboriginal communities, eventually meeting her life partner, Dr Wayne Atkinson, a Yorta Yorta man from the Murray River. In 1989 she completed a Masters Degree in Social Science at RMIT. Her career encompassed adult education and community work with Aboriginal communities, women, refugees and migrants. She taught Community Development at Universities and TAFE colleges. Before retiring she worked with refugee groups from Vietnam and Africa.