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Career boost for mature Indigenous students

News

Cite as: (2008) 82(7) LIJ, p. 33

The LIV and College of Law Victoria have each offered bursaries to Indigenous law students.

Two mature-aged Indigenous women have been awarded bursaries to enable them to cap off years of study and complete their practical legal training towards admission to practice.

Sharon Barnes, 47, of Ivanhoe, was awarded an inaugural Indigenous bursary worth $6280 from the LIV to complete the College of Law Victoria’s professional program.

And Maria Lovison, 48, of Darwin, won a bursary on offer from College of Law Victoria to complete her practical legal training.

The LIV’s new, annual Indigenous bursary for the College of Law was developed to mark the federal government’s 13 February apology for past injustices to Aborigines.

The bursary is for an Indigenous law graduate who has financial, social or family hardship, and who has shown personal contributions to the community.

Ms Barnes was honoured to be the recipient of the inaugural LIV bursary.

“It is fantastic that the LIV is offering this to an Indigenous person ... it helps create equity,” she said.

Ms Barnes, who works as a County Court judge’s associate, said it would have taken her much longer to achieve admission to practice because she wouldn’t have been able to afford the course.

Ms Barnes, who studied law part-time and full-time over 10 years and graduated from Melbourne University last year, said it had “not necessarily been an easy path”.

But she was glad of her decision to pursue a legal career, saying it was important to her to be a role model for other Indigenous people.

“When I was born I came under the Flora and Fauna Act ... I have certainly come a long way,” she said.

Ms Barnes is treasurer for Tarwirri, the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association of Victoria, and also acts as a mentor to younger Indigenous people undertaking a law degree.

She said that when she was admitted to practice she wanted to work with Aboriginal communities in remote areas.

Tarwirri president Abigail Burchall said Tarwirri complimented the LIV for establsihing the bursary, which would be an ongoing, annual scholarship.

The financial struggle was often a big issue for Indigenous law students, she said, and “to have the structural support that paid articles positions and bursaries offer is important”.

The LIV has helped raise awareness of the cause of Indigenous Australians in the legal profession.

Since 2005, the LIV has housed and offered administrative support to Tarwirri, and last year the LIJ exposed the under-representation of Indigenous Australians in the legal profession in a series of award-winning articles.

LIV CEO Mike Brett Young said the federal apology prompted the LIV to consider what it could do to help Indigenous lawyers.

“We found they were lacking the ability to complete their qualifications due to financial hardship, and the bursary will help alleviate that situation,” he said.

The College of Law Victoria bursary, offered for the second time this year, was open to Indigenous law students nationwide.

Ms Lovison said she already had two HECS fees and was at a “crossroad” in relation to her legal career.

She obtained her law degree at Charles Darwin University in 2003 and will this year complete a Bachelor of Applied Science in Indigenous Community Management and Development.

She envisaged eventually practising law in the Kimberley region in areas such as native title and land/resource negotiations.

“In the long term, I would like to talk to other Indigenous lawyers about establishing an Indigenous law firm,” she said.

College of Law Victoria CEO Anita Kwong said Ms Lovison could complete most of the course online and would travel to Victoria for the on-site and assessment components.

She said Indigenous law graduates faced greater challenges in getting to university and then completing their degree.

“In recognition of that, we want to offer assistance to help them enter the profession,” Ms Kwong said.

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