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Internship transforms law student’s world view

9 July, 2019

The “undeniable cultural gap” between herself and the Aboriginal community had University of WA postgraduate law student Julia Pedulla filled with nerves on her first day interning at the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA).

The Morley resident (22) said her McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship made her “completely re-think” her personal world view.

“It has made me so much more aware of the disadvantages that Aboriginal people have in WA, and I feel a lot more confident in my understanding of their experience and what they really go through,” she said.  

“I am also so much more aware of my own privilege.

“I can see that they are targeted in ways that I would never be. There is nothing better than firsthand experience to understand what is really happening. I won’t shy away from it anymore.”

Ms Pedulla had multiple responsibilities during her 100-hour internship at ALSWA’s Civil Law and Human Rights Unit including; accompanying lawyers and court officers to the Magistrate Court, Children’s Court and Coroner’s Court, completing Freedom of Information applications, researching various acts, statutory obligations, by-laws and procedures for clients, reviewing materials, drafting briefs and more.

ALSWA Legal Services Director Peter Collins said her work “directly benefitted” Aboriginal clients from remote and regional WA.

“Quite simply, with Julia’s help we were able to get more done to assist our clients,” Mr Collins said.  

“Julia’s skills and abilities were utilised to help ALSWA to help vulnerable people with their legal needs.

“Julia’s positive, friendly and compassionate attitude was greatly was appreciated.”

Every student who undertakes a McCusker Centre for Citizenship internship attends a cultural awareness session led by Noongar performer and campaigner Dr Richard Walley.

Ms Pedulla said the session was incredibly useful during her time at the ALSWA.

“One of our clients had been transferred from a jail in other state to a Western Australian jail,” she recalled.

“He was very distressed about it, because that move took him off-country.

“During my cultural awareness training, we learnt about Aboriginal peoples’ connection to the land and their people, so I had that context and I was able to better understand how the client felt and why it was so important to help him. Thankfully, we were able to get him transferred back.”

As she approaches the final year of her Juris Doctor, Ms Pedulla said people were starting to ask what kind of law she wanted to practice. 

“The workplace I experienced at the ALSWA was such a close knit, supportive, friendly environment,’ she said.

“It wasn’t about money for them, they genuinely wanted to help. I now know that’s the kind of place I want to work when I graduate.”