How a passion for social justice drives AAL First Nations Scholar Lillian Ireland
Lillian Ireland and The Hon Alan Robertson
Lillian Ireland, who has been awarded the Australian Academy of Law's (AAL) First Nations Scholarship for 2022, with AAL President and retired Federal Court of Australia Judge, The Hon Alan Robertson SC.
If I can do it, anyone can do it. You’ve just got to believe in yourself and do your best.

By Audrey Mims (student ambassador)

When Lillian Ireland moved from Tasmania (lutruwita) to Canberra (Ngunnawal-Ngambri Country) in 2016 to study at The Australian National University (ANU), she was excited about growing within a supportive community of Indigenous students.

Six years on, the Bachelor of Laws (Hons)/Science student and Melukerdee woman has furthered her academic growth by being awarded the Australian Academy of Law (AAL) First Nations Scholarship for 2022. It marks another step in her journey toward a career in social justice.

“My goal is to use the law as a tool to advance the rights of First Nations peoples,” says Lilli.

“I would like to start practising as a criminal lawyer and then hopefully combine this experience with my passion to protect Country, enhancing the essential role of First Nations laws and peoples in both these areas.”

Studying a flexible double degree, Lilli has enjoyed seeing law and science intersect in environmental and bioethical issues. Through various volunteer and paid legal work, her theoretical understanding of the law has been applied to legal practice and inspired her to pursue a career in law once she graduates in July 2022.   

Lilli’s ambition and experience have developed through her law school journey. Finding a supportive community of like-minded people has enabled her to overcome the challenge of learning in a new environment, far from home.

She reflects on the self-doubt and insecurity she felt when she began studying law, entering a competitive environment and feeling like she was comparing herself to those around her.

Now, Lilli considers herself an example of what's possible when you believe in yourself and have faith in your journey. Her message is simple: tune out external voices and focus on your own unique strengths and abilities.

“If I can do it, anyone can do it,” she says.

“You’ve just got to believe in yourself and do your best. Stop listening to what other people are saying.”

Personally, Lilli advocates for the importance of finding balance while at university. Outside of studying and work, she makes sure she finds time to exercise and spend time with friends.

Lilli has been inspired by others working in the legal profession who she has connected with through her journey studying law.

Recently, she participated in a landmark course offered at ANU taught at Alice Springs (Mparntwe), Northern Territory. Legal Education for True Justice: Indigenous Perspectives and Deep Listening on Country (LAWS6307) allowed Lilli to learn from Traditional Owners on Arrernte Country, as well as from Professor Asmi Wood (ANU College of Law) and her fellow Aboriginal students on the course.

This emphasised the understanding and acknowledgement of the operation of the law as both a tool for empowerment and one which can harm people. She also was drawn to Associate Professor Anthony Hopkins’ teaching approach, namely his emphasis on the need to be present in experiences, and for lawyers to care for their wellbeing while practising law.

Another inspiration for Lilli is ACT Magistrate, ANU College of Law alumna and Kamilaroi woman Louise Taylor (BA, LLB ’01), who Lilli worked as an associate for while studying. Lilli reflects on Magistrate Taylor’s approach to bringing compassion to the law, balanced with her strength and directness.

Valued at $5,000, the AAL First Nations Scholarship will not only assist Lilli in funding her Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice studies but also connect her with community mentors who will continue to inspire her in her life and career.

The scholarship is in its second year and is made possible by the generosity of donors to the Academy’s Public Fund.