A Mamu and Kuku Yalanji man working for First Nations Peoples

A Mamu and Kuku Yalanji man working for First Nations Peoples

Monday, 9 November 2020
Geelong Lawyer Ron Davis wearing a blue shirt and standing in front of a wire fence
Geelong Senior Lawyer Ron Davis

A Mamu and Kuku Yalanji man from Far North Queensland, Geelong lawyer Ron Davis is one of our long-serving Indigenous lawyers, having been with us for 15 years.

It’s a career that very nearly didn’t happen according to Ron.

‘I used to work at the Federal Court of Australia, where I managed the Victorian Native Title Unit. This was early in the native title process and applicants and respondents were trying to sort out who was who and what native title meant in a Victorian context.

‘I would keep the judge up-to-date with state developments and the unit would also mediate early inter and intra group disputes, not only in Victoria, but in other states as well.

‘I came to Victoria Legal Aid with the intention of completing my Articles and returning to the Federal Court, but found the Federal Court no longer interested me after experiencing working in the Magistrates Court,’ he said.

Ron’s role involves plenty of work in summary crime and indictable file work, as well as being available to colleagues to discuss files and strategise, but it’s the entirety of the role that he really enjoys.

‘I love the whole role including the client contact, resolving legal issues, the negotiating and the advocacy.

‘Everybody has a life story and a reason for acting or reacting the way they did, so it’s not only understanding the motivations of your client, but also helping them understand their legal issues.

‘The challenge is to put your client’s instructions meaningfully to the bench.’

A special time

NAIDOC Week is a special time for Ron as it challenges him to ask himself what it means to be a First Nations person.

‘Being a First Nations person is far more than simply being Indigenous by birth.

‘It has connotations of ancestral links to land and waters from time immemorial, as well as questions regarding the now and where in which communities find themselves.

‘Although I am not from Victoria, the values and struggles of local Indigenous communities are fundamentally the same as those shared by my family and community in Far North Queensland.

‘Life can also be challenging for First Nations peoples as they are often straddling two worlds. On the one hand they are trying to preserve their ancestral links and follow their culture, whilst living and working within Australian laws,’ he said.

Changing the system for the better

Whilst acknowledging some positive steps in the right direction, Ron believes there is still much work to do.

‘There have been some positive changes with programs such as Koori Court recognising that sentencing in the ‘usual’ manner is not always suitable for First Nations people.

‘And of course, the ending of the offence of being drunk in public and the creation of a spent convictions scheme, will hopefully have a great impact on the community.

‘With Victoria moving towards a Treaty with the First Nations community in this state, it shows that government is finally recognising the need to acknowledge what has happened in the past.

‘However, with deaths still occurring in custody, it is a warning that the system still needs change and people need to apply those changes on the ground.’

Pressed on how he would change the legal system for the better for his people, Ron is blunt.

‘Because I work in crime, I would ensure no Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander child is remanded as it’s well proven that jailing young people at an early age results in more difficulties down the road.

‘Extending that line of thought, I would also advocate for adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander to only be remanded in exceptional circumstances.

‘These changes will ensure that money is not wasted on imprisoning people, but rather put towards rehabilitative programs run in the community by First Nations peoples,’ said Ron.

More information

Reconciliation Action Plan 2019–21

Aboriginal Services Strategy 2020–25

Commitment to Aboriginal services as strong as ever

Welcoming Lawrence Moser as Associate Director, Aboriginal Services

Aboriginal community engagement officers

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