Stories for a Brighter Tomorrow | Activist
Solicitor and Aboriginal advocate Neane Carter
For Neane Carter, her dual passion for law and politics shares an important cultural root. Neane is a multi-clan woman – Yorta Yorta, Wamba Wamba, Djaara/Dja Dja Wurrung, Wotjobaluk and Wergaia from central and northern Victoria.
“I grew up in a staunch family that encouraged me to pursue a career that would enable me to advocate for my community,” says Neane. “Law has always played an instrumental role in our recognition and participation in colonial Australia, and I wanted to participate in that discourse rather than always observe from the outside.”
Laying the foundations for change
In 2016, Neane began her journey to making an impact by undertaking a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) & Bachelor of Arts (Politics and International Relations) at Swinburne. Growing up in the Mallee on Wamba Wamba country, Neane was worried about making the transition to the city, having felt a pull to move to her birthplace. “It was Swinburne’s close, community-drive environment which was ideal in making that transition”, says Neane.
“Tertiary education was an invaluable experience where I felt empowered to find my place within a system that has historically unwelcomed and prohibited my people from participating.”
Determined to make the most of her time there, Neane immersed herself in Swinburne’s communities and quickly became an active participant in the Moondani Toombadool Centre, which is responsible for all Indigenous matters at the university. It was through a close relationship at the centre that Neane developed the confidence to explore various opportunities, which would advance her and others.
Golden opportunities and new horizons
In 2017, Neane participated in the Scanlon Swinburne Intercultural Fellowship. As part of the fellowship Neane was invited to India and Taiwan, to speak with government officials and local community members, to discuss the issue of multiculturalism.
“I am interested in the way a colonised and colonial state recognises First Nations people, and cross-cultural relations. This fellowship provided me with an introductory and critical perspective.” Neane broadened this interest in 2020 by being awarded the prestigious New Colombo Plan (NCP) scholarship, enabling her to expand her studies overseas. This was the second time Neane would do this, after participating in exchange in Japan in 2018. Neane was the 2020 Indigenous Fellow, and intended to move to Indonesia. Neane would study at Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta for four months, complete an intensive language course at Wisma Bahasa language school, and finally complete an internship applying the language and skills she has developed.
Neane was interested in exploring Adat law and the way in which customary law can be used to support the rights of First Nations people. Unfortunately, due to COVID-19, she had to return to Australia and enrol halfway through the semester at Swinburne to keep her degree on track.
From strength to strength
In 2020, after having to redefine her direction in a pandemic environment, Neane was appointed as an Associate to his Honour Judge Purcell in the Common Law Division of the Victorian County Court. As an Associate, Neane was responsible for briefing Judge Purcell before each case, liaising with lawyers and overseeing hearings.
“First Nations people are underrepresented in the legal profession, for which there are many reasons, and so it was a daunting experience commencing employment in what is a culturally unsafe place for community.”
Throughout Neane’s time at the County Court she and his Honour Judge Pillay were integral in commencing the Court’s involvement in the Victorian Bar Indigenous Clerkship Program. This work will improve the participation and visibility of First Nations people in the judiciary and create a legacy which seeks to improve the cultural safety of the institution and improve outcomes for community.
Today, she is a solicitor at award-winning Indigenous law firm Terri Janke and Company, where she has been since February 2022. In 2020, Neane wrote a piece titled Hindmarsh Island Bridge Case: The Ongoing Conflict Between Western Ideologies, Copyright Law and the Protection of Indigenous Knowledge. It was through this piece that her interest in Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property rights was born.
“It’s a real pleasure to be a part of such a wonderful team. Terri Janke is the perfect firm to develop my skills in commercial law – specifically intellectual property and Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property rights – so that I can positively impact my community.”
Neane also continues her advocacy and involvement in community. She is a Board member for Tarwirri, an organisation that aims to increase and enhance the representation, professional profile and excellence of First Nations people in the legal profession and amongst law students. Neane is also a Victorian Uluru Youth Delegate and has been involved with the Uluru Statement from the Heart since 2019, campaigning for the three pillars of reform: Voice, Treaty and Truth.
As an inspiring Swinburne graduate who has already excelled in many opportunities, Neane has some words of wisdom to share for anyone following a similar path.
“Put yourself out there. Starting out at university is a daunting process for everyone – some just hide it better than others – so you’re not alone,” says Neane.
“Make the most of every opportunity and find the people who are going to help you on your path. Build a strong community that will always seek to support and encourage you. We are only as strong as the people we surround ourselves with. For mob, we have over 70,000 years of songs, customs and history running through our veins. Your strength is endless.”