VICTORIA CAN welcome its first female Indigenous barrister this week. Yesterday, Linda Lovett completed her final classes to become a member of the Bar. Unlike that taken by most of her peers, Lovett’s journey was a long one.
Lovett spent years in her childhood living and travelling in a car with the rest of her family. Her mother was determined that her children would not become members of what was later called ‘The Stolen Generation’, so the family was without a permanent residence through many of those years.
She recalls her father calling her mother ‘the two bob millionaire’ — “she didn’t have two cents to rub together but she always thought she was a bit better than everyone else”. Not wanting their children to go into a home, the parents travelled around Victoria until the system of taking Indigenous children from their families was abolished in 1972, Lovett told Lawyers Weekly.
Lovett subsequently became a lawyer with Victoria Legal Aid. An interest in law, she said, came from “always wanting to know my rights” after a childhood marked by racism.
During her childhood years she recalls her father being called ‘Sambo’, but despite such racist attitudes, he was still able to get work. “Because he was a six foot, very solid person, he always got labouring work. But when there was no work, there was no food.”
At the age of 21, Lovett had children, but a single parent income was barely enough for her and her three children. On this meagre income, and living in a commission house, she thought, “I have got to get out of here”. But she had to be careful about timing and education, wanting to be there for her children as they grew up.
“I studied during the day after dropping them at school, and studied off-campus. So, the majority of my studies could be done at home. At this point I had a son in grade three and one child in grade six. I would give half my pension to paying someone to pick them up from school when I had to go to the campus.”
Dux of her class, Lovett worked for the Department of Justice in her final years of study, and had a Koori tertiary scholarship with the Aboriginal Justice Agreement. “That was for my last year only, but the previous two years were done through single parent benefits,” she said.
Lovett joined VLA four years ago, working first as an articled clerk and then as a criminal lawyer. She worked in the Magistrates’ and Children’s courts at Werribee, Sunshine, Bacchus Marsh, Preston and Heidelberg. As well, she worked with the Mental Health Review Board, assisting clients with treatment orders.
“The [Victoria Legal Aid] is a great environment for learning and practising in the legal profession,” Lovett said. “The professional knowledge of the lawyers within VLA is very extensive.”
A priority for Lovett is encouraging Indigenous people to become lawyers. Working with the Department of Justice and the Supreme Court, she helped to establish the Indigenous Law Students and Lawyers Association four years ago. She told Lawyers Weekly that many Indigenous law students do not go on to practise law, often going instead to Indigenous organisations within their communities where they feel they can serve their community in other ways.
“Many Indigenous people go on to work in Aboriginal organisations, or maybe start up their own business. There are Indigenous lawyers practising, though. A lot of people do their law degrees so they can help their communities. In some communities there is racism, so people often study law to help,” she said.
Lovett is about to look for her own chambers and has noted how expensive they are. “There are chambers available, but the prices… Some people have a [life] partner, so they have an income coming in. Mine was whatever I had when I left Legal Aid. I haven’t got a partner at the moment.”
Tony Parsons, VLA’s managing director, said Lovett has a “tremendous commitment to the law and to Indigenous people”.
“VLA is very proud to have had a role in nurturing [Lovett’s] significant achievement. She was the first Indigenous person to be a permanent employee at VLA after she had done her articles here,” Parsons said.