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QUT's 2023 outstanding alumni awards recognise First Nations trailblazers

Jess Whaler -

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) have announced the winners of the 2023 Outstanding Alumni awards, with legal trailblazers Quandamooka and Minjerribah woman Stephanie Parkin and Bundjalung woman Cassie Lang receiving recognition as joint winners of the Outstanding Indigenous Australian Alumnus category.

Ms Parkin and Ms Lang are the co-founders of Parallax Legal, a law firm that focuses on native title, cultural heritage, intellectual property, and Indigenous cultural and intellectual property rights and have now been recognised alongside fellow fighter for justice Natalie Walker, who is the Social Commissioner for the Greater Cities Commission NSW.

The QUT Outstanding Alumni Awards (OAA) were established in 1991 to recognise graduates of QUT and its predecessor institutions for exceptional professional and personal achievements and contributions locally, nationally, and internationally.

The Indigenous category commenced in 2020, with the first recipient being His Honour Judge Nathan Jarro a Ghangulu and Bidjara man.

Ms Parkin, Ms Lang and Ms Walker are the first Indigenous women to receive the award and have joined the likes of previous First Nations recipients Waka Waka man David Williams, Bundjalung and Kalali man Daniel Browning.

Ms Parkin who is the current Director of the Quandamooka Yoolooburrabee Aboriginal Corporation made waves in the Intellectual Property and cultural rights advocacy in the arts space, having completed a thesis in 2020 which addressed the issue of fake Aboriginal art and craft in the souvenir market and explored relevant IP and consumer laws and the colonial influences and power imbalances that contribute to the lack of law reform and change.

Intellectual Property and cultural rights, hit the national spotlight last year when a Productivity Commission report called for new laws to stop the misappropriation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture. Reporting that the industry trades more than $250 million annually and that as much as two out of every three souvenirs are fake, with the creators having no connection to First Nations people. Fake non-Indigenous art accounted for $54 million of that figure.

Ms Lang has received accolades from industry and peers, she is a solicitor of the High Court of Australia and the Supreme Court of Queensland and currently serves as Vice-President of the Indigenous Lawyers Association of Queensland. After a fifteen year career Ms Lang has grown to become a leader within the Native Title and Indigenous Cultural Heritage legal space.

The formidable duo offer a free 30-minute consultation for anyone needing advice on cultural intellectual property or native title. They also offer general and cultural governance training which covers compliance and implementation. They also offer support with engagement, protocols, dispute resolution and mediation.

In a statement Ms Parkin said "A core value that we hold onto at Parallax Legal really is embedded in the meaning of our name. The term 'parallax' is about looking at the same thing from two different points of view, and so for us in the work that we do at Parallax Legal, our work is about bringing perspectives together for our clients," Ms Parkin said.

"A motivating factor for me right now is knowing the work that we're doing, we are doing it for the right reasons, that is for our people" she said.

Ms Lang said: "As a native title lawyer, my passion and love for the industry that I'm currently in is watching my clients feel empowered and confident as they get educated around how they can exercise their rights."

"The approach that we bring from Parallax Legal is that we understand what they're going through from an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lens."

Ms Parkins added: "Something that I think our legal industry would benefit from goes back to understanding the history of our country, understanding the history around the legislation and the policies that founded a lot of the institutions we have in Queensland and Australia."

Ms Lang said this was a driving force behind the establishment of Parallax.

"Once you understand the true history of this country and how that applies to the experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, you will understand why certain things are the way they are in our legal systems and why it's important to have practitioners like myself and Cassie at the forefront of those discussions."

Helpful resources and information can be found on their website.

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