KCLS grew from the efforts of a small group of Kimberley women from professional and community work backgrounds, who came together in 1996, to address the growing need for a legal service for women.
The establishment phase was facilitated by a Kimberley-wide steering group, assisted by Pilbara Community Legal Service. A year later, KCLS was officially incorporated as an Association!
In 1998, funding for specialist family and domestic violence services wasn't available and so, assisted by Gawooleng Yawoodeng Aboriginal Corporation (women's refuge), a Kununurra-based steering group applied to establish a generalist community legal service. The purpose of the new service was to offer culturally appropriate legal assistance and community education to women experiencing family and domestic violence and youth.
Kununurra was chosen as a base, because while the local Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) was available to provide face-to-face legal support to perpetrators, victims of domestic violence were required to wait for legal services to visit according to the court schedule.
From humble beginnings sharing Anglicare's office with one mobile phone and a lap top computer, KCLS opened its doors in 1999, with one solicitor (Naomi Brown), an administrator (Marc Buenic) and an Aboriginal Liaison Officer (Annie Brown). KCLS moved to its own office later in the year.
Community legal education (CLE) sessions started immediately and included a radio program called 'Half an Hour of Legal Power' on Waringarri Radio, that was presented in collaboration with the ALS. Community education initially focussed on Violence Restraining Orders (VROs), driven by clear evidence that many victims of family and domestic violence didn't understand how VROs worked and so were reluctant to use them. CLE sessions also took to the road, travelling to Balgo, Halls Creek, Warmun, Billuluna and Mulan.
In our first year, 58% of our clients were women, of whom only 27% identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Today, 67% of our clients are women, of whom 87% identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Over time, KCLS has continued to expand and today provides an integrated range of services to complement and enhance our free legal programs, including financial counselling, tenant advocacy and support, legal education and law reform.