There’s something about Clark Donovan that makes you say ‘wow’. Well, a few things actually.
Donovan is in his fifth and final year of a Bachelor of Laws. At the same time he’s also completing a Diploma in Languages in Mandarin Chinese, participates in decathlons, plays the bass guitar and can sing. And did we mention he’s only 23?
Donovan is clearly cluey, recognising that having Mandarin under his belt would help set him apart from other law students upon graduation. But his decision to study the language was also personal.
“I live in UTS Housing and my international friends in housing are mainly Chinese and here to learn English, so I started learning their language,” he says. “It seemed right not only to help make them feel welcome, but for commercial reasons.”
With the help of CareerTrackers, a not-for-profit program that helps Indigenous uni students secure internships, Donovan started an internship with Gadens lawyers in 2012. Realising that most of the firm’s work was coming from China, he decided to take the leap and formalise his language study on top of his degree.
In the last two years, and with the help of UTS’s Beyond UTS International Leadership Development (BUiLD) program, Donovan has twice travelled to China for language and Chinese business courses.
“I just finished my clerkship in the Sydney office of Dentons and I was one of only three who spoke Mandarin,” admits Donovan. “It’s still surreal to me that I’ve been able to greet clients in their native language.”
Back at UTS, Donovan is regularly asked to deliver acknowledgements of country, at university events and in Yura Mudang housing, in both his traditional Aboriginal language and in Chinese.
“Most of the students wouldn't understand what the acknowledgment is, but if you say it in their language it's a little more touching. My mum always said if you talk to someone in their second language, you're talking to their head, but if you talk with their first language, you're talking to their heart.”
Donovan is clearly close to his family, including his famous sister Casey Donovan (you might remember her as the 2004 winner of Australian Idol). He says music runs throughout his family’s history. In fact, his grandparents used to hold open parties in the 60s, attended mainly by Indigenous people from the Mid North Coast of New South Wales.
“They were like a hoe-down where everyone would play country music,” says Donovan with pride. “My dad grew up on a mission in Bowraville and his family would run events for Indigenous people to come and party in the country because they couldn’t hire an official venue.”
And though a career in law beckons (he’s already secured a 2019 graduate position at Dentons which he’ll start after a gap year, most likely teaching English in China), Donovan confides he’s always wanted to be a country music singer. “I was playing violin from Year 2. When I got to Year 6 I decided I liked girls and thought learning the electric guitar was cooler.
“Now, I’m the first in my family to go to uni. Indigenous people have a higher chance of being arrested than finishing high school. I'm changing that for myself and my own future family.”