Indigenous legal issues move out of the classroom and open students' eyes

Media release
25 May 2010
Deakin University law students had their eyes well and truly opened when they took part in the University’s first Indigenous Study Tour.

Deakin University law students had their eyes well and truly opened when they took part in the University's first Indigenous Study Tour.

The tour, developed with and run by Indigenous tour providers, was run as a pilot by the University's Law School and aimed to take the Indigenous legal issues that the students study out of the classroom and give them life, explained Aboriginal legal expert and tour organiser Associate Professor Julie Cassidy.

"During their studies the students sit through lectures on native title and the stolen generations and they read case material," Associate Professor Cassidy said.

"But I have found from my own experience that there are incredible benefits when you are learning about an issue by talking to someone who has gone through a native title application or is a member of the stolen generation. These legal issues become 'real' through this personal interaction.

And become real they did, though in ways the students hadn't planned.

"The tour really opened my eyes in a way that I never expected and has left me questioning our history, my morals and my future career path," said Hannah Stevens, a third year Arts/Law student at the Melbourne Campus at Burwood.

"As law students, we are often taught the law without witnessing the real life impacts that parliamentary and judicial decision making can have on real life people.

"I think the best part of the tour was that it allowed me to contextualise my theoretical knowledge of the law in a way that was truly eye opening.

"Spending time in the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha people and listening to the effects of legal issues such as native title, the stolen generations and stolen wages on their people was something that I could never have really understood from reading a textbook."

Fellow tour participant Jarryd Willson, a sixth year Economics/Law student at the Geelong Campus at Waurn Ponds, said the tour was "simply inspiring".

"This was because of the people we got to speak to, the sites we got to visit and the context it gave to every other Indigenous issue you may hear about," he said.

"I decided to go on the tour because I had a slight interest in Indigenous legal issues, now I have a huge one.

"On the last day we sat down in a hall, that had been converted from an old mission, where they had taken the children.

"An Aunty talked about her experience as a child sleeping in this exact room.

"It was really emotional, you could see it and feel it; it was real. It was definitely the highlight of the trip."

Associate Professor Cassidy said the issues the students focussed on during their six day tour of South Australia included native title, Aboriginal land management, stolen wages and the stolen generations.

"One goal of the tour is to dispel the myths about Australian Indigenous peoples and dispel the perception that all Aboriginal communities were nomadic hunter-gatherers who had primitive unsophisticated social/political systems (by western standards) and who were peacefully dispossessed," she said.

"Moreover, it showed through visits to Marion and Adelaide that in contemporary Australia, Indigenous people do not all live in the outback, but rather have strong connections to their traditional lands within capital cities."

Associate Professor Cassidy is seeking philanthropic/corporate sponsorship to allow students from all walks of life to benefit from this cross cultural experience.

Further information:

The tour took in Warraparinga Living Cultural Centre, the Flinders and Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges, the traditional lands of the Adnyamathanha, Yourambulla Caves, Stokes lookout, Sacred Canyon, Mineruta, Bunyeroo gorges, Arcaro rock art site, Wangara lookout.

The cultural mentors for first part of the tour were Paul Dixon and Jamie Goldsmith, both of whom are Kaurna men. The second part of the tour was led by Haydyn Bromley, an Adnyamathanha man. Important elders such as Haydyn's grandfathers, uncles and other community members have contributed to the depth of knowledge and experiences shared on the tour.

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