A special time in the Kimberley

Volunteering as an intern at the KCLS office in Kununurra was a highly rewarding experience. I enjoyed life in the East Kimberley, gained experience working with Indigenous clients, and saw first-hand the effects of the structural disadvantages experienced by many of our clients.

My work at KCLS was interesting and varied. I assisted with matters ranging from Criminal Injuries Compensation to Debt and Social Security Law, to Family Law and Child Protection. I was even given a research task on the Dog Act! My tasks included drafting letters, carrying out legal research, meeting with clients, and liaising with other service providers. I was also given the opportunity to attend staff training sessions, observe court proceedings, and accompany KCLS solicitors and staff on the monthly outreach trip to Halls Creek, and on weekly outreach trips to Wyndham.

During my time at KCLS, I was exposed to new areas of law; for example, copyright and royalties. I had never considered before how important this could be to Indigenous artists and their beneficiaries. Family violence and alcohol abuse are also issues for many of the clients at KCLS, so it was particularly exciting to observe the implementation of the new Family Violence Unit at KCLS whilst I was there. My time at KCLS also demonstrated that the current laws do not adequately accommodate the nuanced ways in which KCLS’ clients, and in particular the service’s Indigenous clients, experience family violence.

Another valuable aspect of my internship was observing how the solicitors at KCLS addressed their clients’ legal and non-legal needs. At law school, we were only taught about the legal aspects of a client’s problems. However, a lack of understanding of broader issues and a failure to consider the non-legal context may make any legal advice given to the client effectively useless. While I was at KCLS I also assisted with a research paper on the role of collaboration amongst community services providers, and the ways in which this can address the structural disadvantages experienced by vulnerable clients. This illustrated the important contribution that Community Legal Centres make to advocating for social reform and engaging in debate about social change.

Living in Kununurra was also a fantastic experience. Kununurra is a beautiful part of the country and there are amazing places to explore on the weekend. Coming from a big city, I loved the more relaxed vibe in the town, and the sense of community. Living in such a remote area does have its challenges, however. For one matter I asked a telecommunications company to allow me to send documents by email or post, rather than bring them in person. The phone operator didn’t seem to appreciate that our nearest store was 8 hours drive away! Some clients live in areas that are even more remote than Kununurra, making it difficult to get in contact with them. This made me appreciate that in the city there are a large range of resources to draw upon that are not available in a small town like Kununurra, or in the Indigenous communities in the East Kimberley.

 

My time at KCLS provided the opportunity for me to challenge myself, broaden my horizons and learn more about a unique part of Australia. I have learnt a lot from my experiences there, and have a greater appreciation for the important role that Community Legal Centres fulfil. Thank you to KCLS for giving me such a valuable experience. 

Sarah Ienna, Aurora Project intern, August-September 2016. 

A continuing journey ...

Kimberley Community Legal Services, has a long history.  It moved to its the current premises in 1999, although the building has been extended and renovated since then.

When I first started in November 2000, four people were employed, a lawyer, a co-ordinator, a receptionist and me, the Aboriginal Legal Liaison Officer.

Word got around about the services that KCLS was offering to other towns and communities and now it's grown, with a second office in Broome and 10 staff, including several more Aboriginal workers. There's been a lot of changes in staff and lawyers throughout the years and yet KCLS has managed to continue delivering its services to people in need, right through the East Kimberley to the Gibb River and the desert and more recently to the West, including Derby and Fitzroy Crossing.

With a lot of positive workers and results to show with clients, remote communities began using KCLS services for Court as well as education and welfare matters. They started wanting the lawyers and Aboriginal workers to visit their communities to meet their local councils and community members and so talks began to identify community needs and what legal advice could be sought to help the community or individuals and family members to better themselves and their family groups.

The main role of KCLS in the early days, was assisting clients with civil matters in the Magistrates’ Court and providing legal advice and support for other legal matters of concern. The work involved travelling by car or flying to Wyndham, Halls Creek, Oombulgurri and Kalumburu.

I have had a soft spot for KCLS from the beginning of its long journey and have seen different staff come and go. The service delivery has grown so much: more clients, more positive outcomes and more Government Departments and agencies recognising the organisation for its potential, especially in working with our Aboriginal clients.

I hope to see more positive years of what KCLS can offer to the broader community.

Ruth Abdullah, Senior Indigenous Worker