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Because Of Her We Can: Indigenous Women working in Law

This week is a very exciting time for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people across Australia, it’s NAIDOC Week. NAIDOC Week is a time to celebrate our culture and our community. This year the NAIDOC theme is ‘Because of her we can’. I wanted to use this time to recognise some of the amazing Indigenous women working in the law that have inspired me throughout my career as a Solicitor.

The first Indigenous woman to become a magistrate was Pat O’Shane, she also was the first Indigenous woman to become a barrister. Sue Gordon was the first Aboriginal Magistrate in Western Australia working in the Children’s Court. She became another Indigenous women lawyer who lead the way. I watched these women from afar as their careers advanced.

My sister Toni Janke was the first person in my family to go to University. She studied Law at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). I followed in her footsteps and studied Law too. We lived together and supported each other through it.

While I was studying, I met Robynne Quiggin, a Wiradjuri woman who also studied Law. She’s practised as a Solicitor for many years with a focus on human rights. She is now a Professor of Law at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). She was also the Former Deputy Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Human Rights Commission. She is an experienced company director and chair. Her leadership inspires me in my own business and my own work as a Solicitor and company director. I also met Rhonda ‘Jake’ Jacobsen at uni. She is also a lawyer and has over 15 years of experience working in Native Title.

Early in my career, I met Banduk Marika. Banduk is a Yolgnu woman and printmaker from Arnhem Land. I worked with her as a young lawyer when she was the applicant for a significant case, the Carpets case. A company had been using her artwork Djanda and the Sacred Waterhole, fraudulently, reproducing it onto carpets. Banduk decided to take legal action against the company. She inspired me, not only as a great artist, but as a strong Aboriginal woman who fought for her rights. Working on that case sparked my interest in Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). Because of her, my law firm now specialises in ICIP, advocating for Indigenous people and their rights.

Professor Larissa Behrendt is a Eualeyai and Kamillaroi woman. She’s a woman of many talents, not only a Professor of Law and academic at UTS, but also a writer and filmmaker. She has written academic legal textbooks on Indigenous legal issues, and novels. She has written and directed several films, including After the Apology. She was awarded the 2009 NAIDOC Person of the Year award and 2011 NSW Australian of the Year.

Professor Megan Davis is a Cobble Cobble woman from Queensland. She is also a Professor of Law and Pro Vice-Chancellor Indigenous at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). She is an expert member of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. She was the first Indigenous Australian to be elected to a UN body.

I am inspired by the young Indigenous women who are earlier on in their legal careers.

Leah Cameron is a Palawa woman from Tasmania. She is the Principal Solicitor and owner of her own law firm, Marrawah Law. Leah specialises in property and commercial law. I mentored her a few years ago, and it is good to see her doing well. She recently won the Queensland Law Society First Nations Lawyer of the Year 2018.

Stephanie Parkin is a Quandamooka woman and an intellectual property and commercial lawyer. She is currently completing a Masters by research at the Queensland University of Technology focussing on the sale of fake Aboriginal art and products. She has previously volunteered for her community as a committee member for the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland and Access Arts.

I also work with two young Indigenous women who make me proud. Sarah Grant is a Bundjalung woman who started at the firm as my Executive Assistant. She is now studying Law at the University of New South Wales and works with us as a Paralegal. Taryn Saunders is a Gunditjmara woman and our Office Manager. She manages the office operations and keeps all our clients happy when they engage with us.

Of course, there are many more Indigenous women working in the law. These are just a few that shine their light in my world. I am so proud to be an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander woman working in the legal profession. I’m proud to have so many strong successful black women as my peers. Because of them, we advocate for our people and benefit our community through the law.


[1] Sisters, Terri and Toni Janke

[2] Andrew Pitt, Terri Janke, Sarah Grant and Taryn Saunders representing Terri Janke and Company at the Supply Nation trade show

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