Because of Her, We Can!

This was the theme of NAIDOC Week 2018: a celebration of the important roles that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women hold in the community. There can be few women who embody the concept as wholeheartedly as University of Tasmania graduate, award-winning lawyer and proud Palawa woman Leah Cameron (BA/LLB 2006).

Leah is the founder and Principal Solicitor of Marrawah Law, a Cairns-based practice providing legal services in the areas of native title, cultural heritage and commercial law. The firm is only the second in Australia to be certified by Supply Nation as a majority Indigenous-owned, controlled and managed legal practice.

Since graduating in 2006, Leah has received several accolades including Tasmanian Young Achiever of the Year Award in the category of Trade and Career Achievement (2008) and National Indigenous Legal Professional of the Year Award (2016).

Most recently, she was the first recipient of the inaugural Queensland Law Society First Nations Lawyer of the Year (2018), an honour that she believes reflects the work and ethos of her entire team.

It was such an incredible honour to receive this award. It reaffirms the hard work the Marrawah Law team has put into practising law the right way, not the easy way.

“We are ensuring we don’t just give our clients a voice: we let them speak through us in accordance with their laws and customs, on country.”

Marrawah Law is founded on the philosophy of providing comprehensive, accurate and culturally appropriate advice to First Nations clients in relation to personal, government and business interests.

Although Leah’s decision to establish Marrawah Law was prompted by her early days as a lawyer, dealing with Indigenous clients in circumstances that she describes as ‘heavily laden with injustice, bullying and intimidation’, her determination to advance the interests of First Nations peoples was first informed by her experiences as a young Palawa woman.

“Growing up, I didn’t know what lawyers were,” she said.

I was acutely aware, however, of how Aboriginal people were treated by society, law enforcement and the courts through my family’s experiences.

It was this background that ingrained in me the desire to get a better outcome for my mob. It wasn’t until I was receiving tutoring from a University of Tasmania graduate, Diana Sargent, in high school that I worked out who lawyers were and that it was possible for me to become one.”

 Starting university was a daunting challenge for Leah, but the combination of care provided by the Riawunna Centre and the friends she made in the Law School left her with many happy memories of her time as an undergraduate.

Riawunna provides amazing support for Aboriginal students studying at the University.

“The hike up the hill was worth it [Riawunna was then based in Hytten Hall above Churchill Avenue]. During the course of my study, I became part of a really close-knit friendship group.

We helped each other through the ups and downs of studying and life.

“I look back very fondly at my time at the Law School and the fun I had. One of my  favourite memories was in my second year competing the ‘Scav Hunt’. One of the items on the list was hair clippings from Premier Jim Bacon’s moustache, and we managed to get it!”

Professional life for Leah is busier now than it has ever been. In the past few months, Marrawah Law has recently taken over two other legal practices – in Cairns and Brisbane – and doubled its practice size. In addition to her work through Marrawah Law, Leah is a regular contributor to the National Talk Black radio program, a mentor to young Indigenous businesswomen, and a director and deputy chairperson of a not-for-profit social housing provider.

Despite this gruelling professional schedule, Leah says she and her husband, fellow alumnus and law graduate Thomas Cameron, try to get back to Tasmania at least once a year.

“Whenever I return home, I do like to spend time in places that mean a great deal to my family such as Oyster Cove and Bicheno,” she said.

“These places really ground me and give me a renewed focus in life and in business.”

Described by Gimuy Walubara Yidinji elder and Associate Professor at Central Queensland University Henrietta Marrie AM as “an outstanding leader who will no doubt inspire other young women to take up law as a way of creating change for the betterment of our communities”, Leah Cameron is indeed an inspiration.

Because of her, we can.

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