With hopes of taking her knowledge and skills to Canberra one day, proud Wilman Noongar lawyer Chloe D’Souza has been awarded the inaugural Bob Hawke John Monash Scholarship for 2020.
One of the prestigious scholarships offered by the General Sir John Monash Foundation, the scholarship will allow Ms D’Souza to travel overseas and complete her Master of Laws at elite Ivy League school, Columbia University in New York.
Still taking in the big win, Ms D’Souza said while she feels a mix of emotions, she mainly feels honoured at being chosen.
“The fact the Foundation has seen the potential in the leadership qualities I have, that’s really humbling,” she said.
Currently working in heritage at BHP, Ms D’Souza grew up reading a lot about Indigenous people in the law and their overrepresentation in the justice system.
“I realised I wanted to be a part of changing that,” Ms D’Souza said.
“I want to attend the conferences and be on panels and committees and contributing with like minded people.”
“I also just want to be a voice for my community as well, and I think law creates a platform for that.”
In her current role at BHP, the young Noongar woman said there is still quite a big gap between mining companies and Indigenous communities.
“I wanted to work in that area to educate the business on what heritage means and why it’s so important [to Indigenous people],” Ms D’Souza said.
Valuing education and support
Proud mother of Ms D’Souza, Gina Hill said she always tried to instil the importance of education in her children just as her mother did with her.
“My mum didn’t have those opportunities … [so] I made sure my children value education just as much as I do.”
Ms Hill said she was so proud of the hard work her daughter has put into her career, particularly her perseverance when times were tough.
“Things have not always been easy for my children and … I’ve been a single parent for a long time, and it’s been a real struggle,” Ms Hill said.
“What I wanted to do was look at my children’s success and have that as a way for other young people in the community to look at how you’re able to achieve.
“As a parent, [I made sure I] gave them all the support that they needed. So, their emotional, social, spiritual wellbeing and connection to culture
“I didn’t really see them as sacrifices, I see them as the legacy that I’ve left behind.”
When Ms D’Souza arrives in New York in October 2020, her Master of Laws will be focused on human rights and comparative studies.
“Columbia has a very broad human rights subject offering in the Master of Laws program and they also combine a lot of public policy,” Ms D’Souza said.
“I’m interested in the intersection of law and policy and how Indigenous people can contribute to communities.”
For Ms D’Souza, her biggest inspiration is Aboriginal activist and lawyer, Megan Davis.
A Professor of Law at the University of New South Wales, Professor Davis was the first Indigenous Australian elected to a United Nations body when she was appointed to the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues.
“[She] has really inspired me … I can contribute academically to laws that affect Indigenous people but also part of social policy and proposals,” Ms D’Souza said.
The young lawyer believes in the importance of being able to combine academia and law in practice.
“[Megan Davis] inspired me to address really different questions in my future career.”
Working up to give back
Ms D’Souza is dreaming big, and one day hopes to become the Minister for Indigenous Australians.
However, she is wary of the journey it will take to make it to the top spot.
“I think to get there I want to have a lot more knowledge about Indigenous people,” she said.
“Being Indigenous yourself isn’t enough … I want to work closer with communities, working my way up into politics.”
Ambitious and passionate, the young lawyer easily identifies the gaps and spaces in Indigenous policymaking, including the lack of inclusion when laws that may disproportionately affect Indigenous people are being made.
“The biggest gap is Indigenous people not actually being part of the conversation and consultation,” Ms D’Souza said.
“Aboriginal people hold so much knowledge and have gone through so much in Australian history that can shape … future policy.”
For Ms Hill, she wants her children to have a broader outlook beyond their own needs, something clearly evident in Ms D’Souza’s future ambitions.
“Giving back is really important … make things better for the next generation and continue the good work that has been done,” Ms Hill said.
“[It’s about] listening to Elders …. [doing] things in the right way.”
When asked what advice she would give to any young Aboriginal person wishing to pursue law, Ms D’Souza spoke of the diversity of a career in law.
“Give it a go, I think law is very broad. It doesn’t mean you have to practice in one area for your lifetime.
“You can pursue academia … use your law degree for that strong commercial aspect that comes along with it
“Explore where you think you can make the biggest impact.”
By Hannah Cross