When I started studying law I didn’t know any lawyers, growing up in Mount Isa all of my family and family friends were people that had worked in the mines. My mother and step-father had also been separated and for long time and I didn’t have any male role models in my life. I was fortunate that at university we had an Indigenous law lecturer, Philip Falk, a Nygemba man who become a hero to me at the time – a role model, mentor and all the things you need when you are transitioning into a new stage in life. He was someone I could talk to and someone who knew how to translate my ambition into action. He also helped me navigate the difficulties of university life.
I knew before I finished university that I wanted to be a barrister and I went about building relationships with barristers who I thought would be good mentors. There is often a lot of opportunities to meet people, but you have to work hard to build a mentoring relationship. First, you need to find people that will be good mentors, usually they are people who are doing the things that you want to do and who have similar values or motivations as you. Once you make that connection, you then need to go about ensuring the relationship develops, through regular contact. In time that person will see that you are genuine and committed to your goals. Once you get to that stage, people will always be willing to help and the mentoring relationship develops.
When I was nearing the end of my studies, my mentors were helpful in guiding me through that next stage. I wanted to be a barrister as soon as possible. I was so eager I thought I would finish university on Friday and could start as a barrister on Monday. In hindsight that was a little naïve… My mentors where invaluable in tempering my eagerness and ensuring that I took a path which would help me acquire the necessary skills to build a successful career. One of my mentors helped me secure my first job, which was working for a Judge. And the Judge then became a mentor too. He was helpful when I was deciding which law firm was would work at. When I made that decision it was important for me that I worked in a firm that had lawyers who would be interested in mentoring me and help me achieve my goal of practicing at the Bar.
Even now, after 8 years as a barrister I still have a great relationship with the those how mentored me during the early days of my studies and career. I still consider them mentors who I can turn to for support and guidance.
Since I started at the Bar, I have taken on the role as a mentor, especially for Indigenous law students and other lawyers. It is an important role, because Indigenous students often don’t grow up in an environment where we are exposed to Indigenous people working in the areas we want to work. We don’t have that support and guidance that comes from having someone in the field in which you want to work or be successful. A mentor can help you jump over that hurdle.
As Indigenous people break into new roles and industries, the role of a mentor becomes ever so important. There can be so many ups and downs and so many questions and having one or two people that you can pick up the phone and talk things through will play an enormous part in your success.
I have started to reflect on the next stage of my life because I have interests outside of law, and recently thought about the need to search out people who could mentor me in the areas of tech and business and other things that I am interest in. Mentors don’t have to be about work or studies, often it is important that we have mentors to help us through life and this can be where parents, elders, friends or family can play an important role. To be successful you need to have people in your corner to help you along the away and a mentors should be there to help you get the best out of yourself.
Waanyi and Kalkadoon
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