Indigenous Law Bulletin
by Carl D’Souza
On 31st January 2003, the newest additions to the Indigenous legal fraternity graduated from the Indigenous Students Pre-Law Program (the ‘PLP’) at the University of New South Wales (‘UNSW’). The PLP is an intensive five-week program for Indigenous students who have been offered a place in an Australian law school or wish to apply to study law in the future. The scheme aims to boost access for Indigenous people into legal education and remedy the lack of educational opportunities for them.
Students study introductory subjects in the areas of legal process, contract law and Indigenous legal issues to get a feeling for the law, and a head start in their legal studies. The scheme also provides an alternative method of entry into the UNSW School of Law. Students do not require a Higher School Certificate (or an equivalent) and are admitted using a variety of criteria. These include the commitment to studying law as demonstrated during the PLP, their ability, work experience, community involvement and performance in an interview.
The graduation ceremony was attended by a constellation of legal superstars including His Honour, Mr Justice Michael Kirby, Professor Garth Nettheim, Hal Wootten QC, Professor George Williams and Professor Leon Trakman, the Dean of the UNSW Law Faculty. Uncle Chicka Dixon also came to talk with the graduates. However, all of these notables were outshone by the real heroes of the day, the exuberant PLP graduates.
The ceremony started with a welcome to country by Aunty Sylvia Scott who expressed her great pride in the students’ achievements. Sue Green, Director of the Aboriginal Education Program at UNSW, praised the strength and courage of the students. She pointed out that these students had come from regional communities around Australia, and had overcome many obstacles to make it through the PLP. The students were put through an intense and demanding schedule of study designed to make them prove their commitment and ability.
Justice Kirby urged the graduates to engage in their society and struggle for social justice with a sense of urgency and impatience. He told them that their legal education was the key to unlocking the door to Aboriginal equality. He said that lawyers had great power in society, and that they must be leaders in combating injustice. He advised the students not to criticise the mainstream from the sidelines but to engage with society’s institutions and change them from within.
Sue Green told the graduates that they were the future. She thanked them for the important part they will play in addressing the injustices that Indigenous peoples have faced for so long. The students held back tears that came with the realisation that they were living a moment that would change the course of their lives, and of all of those who they will help in the future. This was a moment that would stay with them forever.
All of the graduates thoroughly enjoyed the PLP and highly recommended it to other Indigenous people who want to make a difference in their communities. Jennifer Smith said, ‘I want to help the juveniles in custody in my community. Law will help me do this.’ Rex Betar said, ‘A lot more Indigenous people are capable of doing this. We can achieve anything.’ Veronica Graf said, ‘This program is for anyone thinking about doing law, but unsure whether they can handle it or believe they need more support with their study. The support we received was overwhelming.’ Cameron Grant said, ‘You’ll come away knowing if law is what you want to do.’
For further information on the PLP see www.aep.unsw.edu.au or call (02) 9385 3805.
Carl D’Souza is an editor at the Indigenous Law Bulletin. He studies law at the University of New South Wales.