‘My son’s studies inspired me to do a law degree – 14 years later he admitted me into the supreme court’
I never considered leaving my home town, or going to university, when I was growing up. I thought that I would live in Mount Isa all my life, and find a job there in one of the shops. No one I knew at that time lived outside of Mount Isa.
I am Wannyi/Kalkadoon, and I was born prematurely as my mother had cancer. Sadly, she passed six months later. My sister said I was small, but a fighter. I was the youngest of 12 children. Growing up, my father eventually had to go back out to the stations to work as a cook, while my elder sisters and my mother’s family helped look after us.
Having a large family around was a good foundation for me. We didn’t have much – even food was limited – but we could make do with what we had. Times may have been hard, but I did not notice it much, because I just loved being with my family. When I was 15 years old, I went to boarding school. Although I had good grades, a mix-up put me back into grade 9. That lasted one year and the next year I left school and moved to Brisbane to do business college.
Now, as I look back, I realise it was meant to be. It led me to the path I’m on now. My first job was with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Brisbane, where I worked as the receptionist. I enjoyed working there. The CEO at that time was a wonderful lady and she made the whole office feel comfortable as well as included. It was there I was able to learn about the justice system and understand how important legal aid is for people who have to go to court.
After five years, I left Brisbane and got married. But, seven years into my marriage, I knew I had to leave.
I moved north to Yeppoon. As a single mother of four children, I had many dark days and times of struggle. This is when I learnt about resilience.
During their high school years, my children went to work after school, to help me pay school fees and household bills. It was really difficult – and I was sad for my children, I really struggled being away from my family in Mount Isa too.
But none of my children complained about having to help out, they were always supportive, and it gave them the experience of working and meeting people. I believe all of this gave all of us an understanding of resilience and determination.
I believe all of this gave all of us an understanding of resilience and determination
My eldest son, Joshua, took an apprenticeship as a butcher. He told me that once he was finished, he planned on going to university to study law. This made me think about going back to study myself.
I had tried to study once before at university, but it didn’t work out. But still, I thought, “I would like to do law too”. At the time, I was employed as a community worker at the schools, and I felt that I needed to learn more on social justice issues.
I enrolled at the Institute of Koorie Education at Deakin University. Someone said to me: “Do you really think you can do a law degree? It’s hard.” I said: “Being a single mother and raising four children by myself is hard, and if I can do that, I know I can do a law degree.” My children were happy for me, but it was difficult for them because sometimes I had to spend two weeks away from home at a time, undertaking intensives.
My son Joshua was already studying law when I started out. He advised me to seek a mentor. Joshua had mentorship too, and he told me my mentor could be someone I could talk to if I found the road to studying hard – which I did. Joshua also lent me some of his books, and told me to read cases, because that’s how you learn more about the law. His advice really helped.
During my study, Joshua undertook human rights training. After he returned, he said: “Mum you need to go, this training is for you and it’s only for two weeks.”
I took his advice, and that is where I really felt my heart beat. Learning more about human rights gave me the determination to finish my degree. It also opened the door for me to attend the United Nations Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples in New York, which I have now been attending for the last 14 years.
The road is hard but it was harder for those who had to break the glass ceiling for us
Once Joshua graduated, seeing him working at law firms continued to provide me with encouragement. We talked often and he could really help explain things to me. I was so proud when Joshua went on to become a barrister – he had to work and study hard all the way through, and I knew exactly how much time he put into both.
Eventually I finished my degree too, and I went straight on to do my College of Law. Eight years later, on 27 July 2020, Joshua admitted me into the supreme court. It was the first time an Indigenous son had admitted his mother. This was a proud moment for myself, Joshua, my children and family.
I’m hoping to sit for the bar next year, because I am passionate about equality and justice. I will continue in my roles on boards around the world, and stay involved in international work as well as in Australia.