For many of us, having a will drafted is as easy as a short trip to a suburban solicitor’s office, not a 500km drive or a flight in a small plane to the nearest town.
But this is the reality for many Indigenous communities in remote areas of Western Australia.
So Wills and Estate team lawyers Emma Blay and Gabrielle Brown from Barry Nilsson Lawyers (Brisbane) leapt at the chance to participate in the firm’s Impact Project in the East Kimberley in June this year.
Their Pro Bono department was contacted by Law Access in WA to see if the firm would be interested in volunteering for the wills clinic project.
A view of the countryside on the plane ride to Kalumburu, WA.
Emma said engaging with and volunteering services to the Indigenous community formed a large part of the Impact Project work.
“In some of these communities, individuals do not have access to estate planning solicitors or even will kits. It is an extremely important initiative,” she said.
“This is the third year the program has taken place. The first clinic took place in the West Kimberley, followed by the Pilbara region and finally this most recent one in the East Kimberley.
“Several years ago, the West Australian Government ran a survey to identify unmet legal needs in Indigenous communities and one of the most highly ranked was estate planning.
“The government provided funding to Law Access to develop and run a clinic in collaboration with other community legal services such as Aboriginal Family Legal Services (AFLS), Kimberley Community Legal Services (KCLS) and Legal Aid WA in rural, regional and remote Indigenous communities.”
The team about to board the small plane to Kalumburu (left to right): Rachel Rima, Gabrielle Brown, Emma Blay, Arna Plaisted and Eliza Parry-Okenden.
So Emma and Gabrielle grabbed their hats and jeans, and jumped on a flight to Perth on 10 June.
They then flew from Perth to Kununurra as part of a six-strong legal team. The following day they boarded a small plane to Kalumburu, a community with a population of about 400, and more than 500km north-east of Kununurra.
The following day they were back on the ground in Kununurra and on the road to Halls Creek. Halls Creek is a small, isolated town with a population of about 3600. The lawyers completed a 620km return trip to provide clinic services.
“These trips allowed members of the communities to ensure their wishes were going to take effect if they passed away,” Emma said.
“This is crucial, not only from an asset perspective but also to ensure guardians are appointed for children and any cultural burial wishes are carried out.
“Essential advice was given regarding superannuation and insurance as well as many other referrals for legal services.
“This opportunity has also been extremely beneficial for us as practitioners. We have been able to engage with clients who we often do not get the opportunity to engage with. We also developed skills while working with interpreters.
“But most importantly, the satisfaction of being able to give back to the community and complete wills that will benefit people and hopefully prevent feuds upon their passing is incredibly enriching.”
Emma said her time in the East Kimberley was “unforgettable and extremely rewarding”.
The sweeping views from the plane.
“One of my most memorable moments happened while I was preparing a will for a young woman in Halls Creek. She knew exactly what she wanted to occur in the event of her death but she did not know how to actually make it happen,” she said.
“She was excited to let us know that she was currently completing a bookkeeping tertiary course and reading The Barefoot Investor. This was so she could not only learn all she could about growing her own assets and ensuring her daughters had every opportunity in life, but also she wanted to help other people in the community with her financial skills.
“Ultimately, we helped this young woman establish an education fund in her will for her twin daughters.
“She was very excited we were able to assist her and said she had always wanted a will but had never previously had access to legal services.
“She told us if we had not visited Halls Creek, she likely would not have made a will and was grateful we could help give her peace of mind about the future of her young daughters.”
Perfect reflections on the Ord River.
Emma was attracted to wills and estates even before her admission as a solicitor. It was while completing her studies and working as a law graduate that she “basically fell in love with it”.
“I enjoyed the clients – helping them through tough times and navigating the legal issues that really are unique to estates,” she said.
“There’s a lot of strategy involved in succession planning and it was exciting to see how it all pans out over time. It gave me the opportunity to help people and make a meaningful difference.”
The visiting lawyers also prepared wills for the community in Kununurra over several days. And although their schedule was busy covering hundreds of kilometres, they did take time to explore.
Spectacular sunset at Halls Creek.
“On our day in Kalumburu, some locals offered to take us out fishing for barramundi but unfortunately, we were unable to take part as we had to catch the return flight to Kununurra that afternoon,” she said.
“On one of the days in Kununurra, one of the local lawyers from Kimberley Community Legal Services took us out in the afternoon to climb Elephant Rock, which offered stunning views of the Kununurra area and the sunset over Lake Kununurra.
“We were able to go out on a day trip on the Ord River to learn about the river system, the region and the native wildlife. We saw a lot of friendly freshwater crocodiles!
One of the freshwater crocodiles sighted.
“The Kununurra lawyers were also extremely welcoming and took us to a local AFL game, the Kununurra markets and to all of the local art galleries.
“We were also lucky enough to dine at the iconic Pumphouse with stunning views overlooking the Ord River.”
The view from Elephant Rock, Kununurra.
Principal and head of pro bono Katie Swain said Barry Nilsson Lawyers was pleased to be able to support this important collaborative community legal project.
“As a firm, we are committed to providing free community legal services, with a strong focus on supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This commitment is embedded in our core business through our dedicated pro bono and responsible business arm, the Impact Project,” she said.
Principal Scott Wedgwood said Barry Nilsson was “delighted to be requested to participate and to be able to lend a hand”.
“Emma and Gabby have met some delightful people and have seen some of the most beautiful regions in Australia,” he said.
National Family Law Manager Maureen Schull said: “Every now and then we get the opportunity to participate in meaningful projects. The Wills Clinic has allowed us to deliver tangible benefits to First Nations people living in remote communities. Congratulations and sincere thanks to all involved.”
And for Emma it is an experience she won’t forget, and she felt “privileged to have had the opportunity to participate in the Wills Clinic for First Nations people in the East Kimberley”.
“I feel we made a meaningful difference by increasing the availability of community legal services to regional and remote First Nations peoples.
The team in Halls Creek (left to right): Eliza Parry-Okenden (KCLS), Rachel Rima, Gabrielle Brown, Emma Blay, Jacqueline Cox (Kimberley Language and Resource Centre), Arna Plaisted and Tawanda Mukosi.
“It was a pleasure to work alongside members of Aboriginal Family Legal Services, Legal Aid WA, Law Access Limited and Kimberley Community Legal Services to facilitate access to justice and provide important legal services to those people living in regional and remote Indigenous communities.
“We met some amazing local community residents along the way. They were all so welcoming and excited for us to return at some stage in the future.
“Hopefully this is another important step in the right direction – to building trust and ensuring everyone has access to crucial legal services.”