For Thalia Anthony, the law isn’t all about theoretical arguments, it’s about people – both her clients and her students. The leading researcher is incorporating real-life practice – including an Indigenous legal clinic and journal – into her teaching to help students understand what the Indigenous experience of the law really looks like.
Law degrees are often stereotyped as strict, rigid and theory-based, however Associate Professor Thalia Anthony has transformed the UTS law degree into a much more hands-on experience.
Anthony began teaching at UTS in 2010, and since then has demonstrated her commitment to Indigenous justice by integrating her own research and teaching methods into UTS’s law degrees.
“What Thalia does is bring emotion to teaching, reminding us that what we are learning at university really does affect other people’s lives,” explains law student Jeffrey Leung.
Anthony is not only highly regarded by her students, but her colleagues too. Last year she was highly-commended for the Medal for Teaching and Research Integration at the UTS Vice-Chancellor’s Awards for Research Excellence.
This award recognises those academics who have integrated research into the UTS curriculum, shown excellence and innovation in course design and improved graduate attributes for their industry.
One of the ways Anthony has done this is through the elective subject Ngiya – Talk the Law: Editorial Role. The subject is a collaboration with the Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning.
Each semester, a small number of students are selected to take part in the subject. Here they edit, read and research articles relating to Indigenous community justice issues. These articles are then published in Jumbunna’s Ngiya journal.
“The whole aim of the journal is to give the students a hands-on experience that includes responding to the needs of Aboriginal organisations and communities,” explains Anthony.
“The benefits flow to the Australian society, in that we are enabling a society to be more tolerant and accommodating of Indigenous needs whilst also being more responsive to these calls for justice.”
Journalism/law student Sophie Quinn undertook the Ngiya editorial subject last semester. "The journal I worked on focused on the Bowraville murder cases, where three Indigenous children were murdered in the town of Bowraville during the early 1990s,” she says.
“Sadly, it has been over 20 years since their murders occurred, but no one has been convicted of the crimes.
“We were looking at all different legal, political and policy reasons for why a situation like that could happen,” explains Quinn. “It was really interesting; definitely one of the most interesting subjects I’ve done.”
Djarwan Eatock, a law student from the Wiradjuri nation who participated in the Ngiya editorial subject last semester also, agrees. “My heritage is one of the reasons I got into law. I’ve always had an interest in social justice, particularly with Indigenous issues. Although confronting at times, it motivated me to try to bring about justice.”
Eatock, Quinn and Leung credit Anthony’s knowledge, patience and dedication to building strong professional relationships with her students as keys to their success.
“She was so accessible to the point where I felt like the amount of questions I would ask her borderlined on me being annoying,” laughs Leung.
Anthony disagrees. For her, questioning is a part of learning.
“There is a long history of a lacking of cultural competency, especially in regards to how the law deals with Indigenous people and nations,” says Anthony. “My research and teaching aim to inform others that there is no one Indigenous experience, each is individual, and many are stories of resilience.”
Currently, Anthony is working on three major research projects relating to Indigenous people and justice. The first looks at Indigenous women in prison, the second regards night patrols in Central and Western Australia, and the third involves increasing Indigenous input in pre-sentence reports.
Last month, Anthony also participated in the panel for UTSpeaks: Fatal Injustice. The public lecture looked at why, 25 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Indigenous Australians are still dying in custody and how it is that only 30 of the commission’s 300 recommendations have been achieved.
Back in the classroom, Anthony’s working with Jumbunna’s Senior Researcher Craig Longman and Professor Larissa Behrendt to establish a litigation practice and clinic that will enable student interns to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities on strategic litigation, including coronial matters.
“Even though it is a small step, if we can create a legal system with lawyers who can better represents clients, and have Indigenous people more involved with decision-making, it will lead to greater justice in our systems.”
It’s a change Anthony is also effecting in how the content of core law subjects. Currently, she is working with other academics to set up a subject to teach students about professional responsibilities in strategic litigation. Anthony hopes it will further improve student cultural competency with regard to Indigenous people.
“Indigenous justice is a responsibility that all non-Indigenous Australians have. It is part of being a citizen of this nation.”
Watch UTSpeaks: Fatal Injustice at uts.ac/1PXIC5e