Solicitor Bruce Miles OAM mostly served the disadvantaged during his 50-year legal career. Now some of the best and brightest minds in the School of Law and Justice at Southern Cross University have received scholarships in his honour.
The Bruce Miles Foundation encourages Aboriginal law students in their university studies by providing textbooks. Mr Miles was principal solicitor at the Aboriginal Legal Service Redfern for 14 years. He passed away in 2002.
Daniel Cahill, Lorraine Dawson and Mallary Welch, all studying a Bachelor of Laws at Southern Cross University, formally received their scholarship at a function in Lismore where they had the opportunity to meet Mr Miles’ son Robert Miles, also a solicitor. A fourth recipient, Eliza McCabe, was unable to attend.
They follow in the footsteps of the University’s 2016 Bruce Miles Foundation recipients Johanna Byrne (recently named the 2016 National Indigenous Law Student of the Year) and Blake Edwards who are both embarking on their legal careers: Johanna at top Perth legal firm Lavan Legal, while Blake has relocated to Canberra to work in the federal Attorney-General’s Department. Jackson Morgan, a third recipient, is now in the final year of his law degree.
Robert Miles said his father spent most of his professional life attending courts in regional NSW, including Lismore, acting for Aboriginal clients who were charged with multiple and varied offences.
“He was passionate about his belief in a fair go for the Aboriginal population. For him, there was nothing more important than to assist those who were less fortunate than him. In a very modest way through the Foundation, we’re reminding students that there are a lot of people in this country who are very supportive and encouraging of them.”
Mr Miles encouraged the students to help their communities.
“Try to make a difference,” he said. “It’s not about advancing yourself; it’s about being able to provide guidance and assistance and counsel to those in need. Whether that’s working in a local court or becoming a magistrate, judge or a barrister or solicitor, all of that is very important and will have significant ramifications.”
Student and Wiradjuri man Daniel Cahill wants to pursue postgraduate studies in the area of jurisprudence and criminal law after he graduates.
“Individuals should not lose their human side in the legal system,” Daniel said. “I would like to take up the fight for those due to circumstances of poverty, lack of opportunity or poor judgement face criminal law proceedings. In the event of guilt, I want to ensure they are afforded the opportunities to genuinely turn their life around and step forward.”
Lorraine Dawson, from the Mununjarli tribe (Beaudesert) and part of the Bundjalung Nation, works in human resources and industrial relations at a local government level.
“My passion is to work in advocacy, homelessness and refugees and with Indigenous people. The Tweed shire is unfortunately a growth area for those social welfare issues. I feel very strongly about equality and see a need for social justice advocacy within my local community. I wanted to be part of the solution, given I have the ability.”
Mallary Welch from the Bundjalung Nation has been working for the NSW Department of Justice at the Lismore courts for more than six years.
“With my law degree I plan on working a few years in rural Australia to gain the opportunity to help Aboriginal communities, to ensure they receive a fair and just decision in their court cases and help educate disadvantaged rural communities on their rights and obligations within the criminal law,” Mallary said.
“Eventually I would like to move to Sydney and specialise in criminal law, until I am capably equipped to become a barrister.”
Eliza McCabe learned of her Indigenous heritage just seven years ago.
“Since then, I have spent a lot of time learning about my Aboriginal heritage and the history of the Wiradjuri people,” said Eliza. “I want to make sure that my children are raised knowing about, and being proud of, their Aboriginality. I was horrified to learn of the 1824 massacre where hundreds of Wiradjuri men, women and children were indiscriminately slaughtered by the British.”
Eliza said she was pleased to learn Bruce Miles supported the Wiradjuri Nation in a 1993 land claim.
“Although unsuccessful, I loved Bruce Miles’ comment to counsel: ‘This is only the start for us. Everyone has the right to appeal’.”
Professor William MacNeil said he was proud of his students and honoured to be the Dean of the School of Law and Justice.
“These scholarships are integral to the success of our program. Here we have an assembly of outstanding students who have diverse interests, different aspirations and goals but are unified by their passion, commitment and excellence,” Professor MacNeil said.
“It’s a privilege and a pleasure to be partnered with the Bruce Miles Foundation. Bruce Miles is a man after our own heart. He was very much committed to social justice – just as we here are very much committed to social justice.”