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tim goodwin

Roberta Sykes Scholar at Harvard University

Roberta Sykes Harvard Club Scholar 2011 Tim Goodwin

My journey proves that a successful undergraduate degree can lead to amazing opportunities and possibilities.

My name is Tim Goodwin. I am a member of the Yuin people from the south-east coast of New South Wales. My Grandfather grew up on the mission at Wallaga Lake, and my Grandmother, a Wiradjuri woman, grew up on the mission outside of Narrandera. My Grandparents raised my Mum at La Perouse in Sydney. My Dad is a non-Indigenous man from Adelaide, where I was born. My parents raised me in Canberra.

I received a Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Laws with Honours at the Australian National University (ANU) in Canberra. I wanted to study Arts because I loved political science. It’s hard to escape politics when you grow up in Canberra. I decided to study law for a few reasons. I have always been interested in issues of social justice for our people. Through my own research and learning I began to understand how legal recognition, through treaties and law reform, has helped the Indigenous peoples of other countries. Many of those positive steps have not been taken in Australia. It was this that made me interested in doing a law degree.

In addition, an Aunty of mine had just finished her arts and law degrees. She said that if I was interested in politics, I should study law as she believed an understanding of the law is so important to the political process, and vice versa. I found it hard to say no to a strong Aboriginal Aunty!

I was lucky enough to participate in the Indigenous pre-law course at the University of New South Wales over summer in 2002, just prior to beginning my studies at ANU. I developed a real passion for the law during that course, where we were taught by inspirational people about Indigenous legal issues such as Garth Nettheim, (who was central in the Mabo case), Larissa Behrendt and Terri Janke. It was there I realised the law had been used against us for so long, but now we were beginning to use it as a tool for change and recognition of our rights.

While at university, it really hit me how few Indigenous students there were. That can make university a difficult journey. However, what got me through was the support of my friends at university, and the great group of Indigenous students that would meet together at the Jabal Centre, the local Indigenous support unit on campus.

It was also important to have mentors who gave advice and believed in my abilities. Professor Larissa Behrendt helped me believe that I could get through my law degree and make an important contribution to the future of our people. Professor Mick Dodson was very approachable and supportive, and was kind enough to agree to supervise my thesis. I learnt so much from him during my time working with him.

I am currently a lawyer at Allens Arthur Robinson after spending two years at the Federal Court as a judge’s associate. I have learned and continue to learn so much from both positions. To those considering studying, I would say that it is important to back yourself and never think that university is beyond you.

Once you are there, surround yourself with supportive friends and share your experiences with other Indigenous students. Also, find a good mentor who can give you useful feedback and who will push you to finish. Sometimes the greatest barrier to success can be the limitations of our minds, not the limitations of our abilities.

As a university student you need to have high expectations of yourself. This does not mean you should have unrealistic expectations, or place unnecessary pressure on yourself to achieve. Rather, you must strive for excellence and do the best you can at all times. Our people are a proud people. We do our ancestors justice when we utilise, to our full capacity, the opportunities they fought so hard to get for us. Striving for excellence will also help if you decide to go onto further study beyond your undergraduate degree. Postgraduate programs usually require good grades during your undergraduate studies.

I feel privileged to be accepted into the Master’s of Law course at Harvard Law School in the US for the 2011-12 academic year. I intend to study how constitutional and legal recognition of Indigenous rights can assist in our social and economic development. I then want to bring my knowledge back to Australia and work towards greater legal recognition for our people from within the legal profession.

I’m privileged to have received the Roberta Sykes Harvard Club of Australia Indigenous Scholarship for my studies at Harvard, particularly because of the amazing woman after whom the scholarship is named. I am humbled to be part of her legacy.

My journey proves that a successful undergraduate degree can lead to amazing opportunities and possibilities.

Tim Goodwin, the inaugural Roberta Sykes Harvard Club Scholarship recipient, completed his Masters of Law at Harvard University in May 2012 and has been appointed as an Associate to a Judge in the Constitutional Court of South Africa.