Both of the newest members of our team have significant experience within the sector and most recently working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients and in remote communities.
How long have you been with BCLS?
Damien: Two and a half months.
Alex: While I have only been at BCLS for the last six months as the Community Legal Education and Development Worker, I have been working and volunteering in the community legal sector for ten years (that makes me feel very old!).
What drew you to the community legal sector?
Damien: The big bucks.
Alex: I love the holistic approach that community legal centres take and the ability to work strategically both within the legal system while also working to reform systemic injustices.
What experience do you bring to the role?
Damien: My career to date has been in the community sector. I’ve worked and volunteered for several CLCs. Most recently, I was a criminal law lawyer with the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.
Alex: For the last nearly four years I have been living and working in Darwin at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency within their Community Legal Education team working across both criminal and civil areas of law. This was an incredible experience and I got to travel to the most amazing far flung places of Australia. This experience really showed me the importance of legal education and community development as part of a holistic legal practice. I have also been a Judges’ Associate at the County Court of Victoria to Her Honour Judge Cohen and worked within the Indictable Crime team at Victoria Legal Aid!
What is the best aspect of your role and what is the most challenging?
Damien: Both the best and the most challenging aspect of my role to date has been the school lawyer project. BCLS and Western Heights College in Hamlyn Heights established this project in school Term 3 of this year. I’m at Western Heights two days a week, to provide legal education to classes as well as individual advice, casework, and representation to students. It’s been a major undertaking getting this project up and running, but it’s very rewarding to see it within a relatively short timeframe starting to function.
Alex: I love the opportunities for engagement in my role and being able to get out from behind my desk and into the community. A big challenge is that we only have one Community Legal Education and Development Worker for the whole of the Barwon region which goes from Queenscliff all the way to Colac, so it is a big region to cover for one person!
Tell us one of the highlights of your time at BCLS so far.
Damien: I represented a young woman with a cognitive disability and considerable mental health challenges in a short plea at Geelong Magistrates’ Court. She was facing a substantial fine which she would have struggled to pay, and the prospect of receiving a criminal record. I argued successfully for the charges to be proven and dismissed, meaning there was no penalty and no adverse finding against her.
Alex: Having the opportunity to work with an amazing array of local Barwon based non-legal services on the Barwon Month of Action to stop violence against women and children. You can find out more here: https://www.monthofaction.com.au/
Why did you decide to become a lawyer?
Damien: To help people and contribute to some lasting change.
Alex: I decided to become a lawyer as I saw it as the best way of being able to help people while also trying to effect systemic change!
What do you wish other people knew about working in a CLC?
Damien: The range of work we do, and how devoted CLC lawyers are to seeing real, enduring improvements for their community and society generally.
Alex: Hmm…that we don’t make big bucks?
If you weren’t a lawyer what would you be?
Damien: An archeologist with a penchant for field work, racing against time to beat the Nazis to the Ark of the Covenant.
Alex: I would be a full time baker and recipe book writer!
When you’re not at the office where can we find you?
Damien: Floundering on a 6’ 4” surfboard in Anglesea.
Alex: Walking along the beach in Anglesea where I live or staring into the oven at my latest baking creation.
What book can you read over and over again?
Damien: Where is the Green Sheep?, Meg on the Moon, and Piranhas Don’t Eat Bananas to my toddler. For myself: Hav; The Mosquito Coast; Everything that Rises Must Converge.
Alex: My favourite recipe book – My Darling Lemon Thyme by Emma Galloway or my favourite kids book growing up My Place by Nadia Wheatley.
If you had $1,000,000 to donate, who would you give it to?
Damien: Are you serious?
Alex: The asylum seekers in our community who have just been cut off from accessing Centrelink payments or I would give it to the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?
Damien: A tie between: ‘Start where you are, use what you have, do what you can’ – Arthur Ashe / Daisy Pearce and ‘Don’t get caught.’ – Dane Swan.
Alex: Do what you love.
If you were going to write a book about BCLS what would you call it?
Damien: The Two and a Half Months of Living Dangerously.
Alex: Cooking up Justice (it would be a recipe book).