Women star in First Nations arena

Ceferina Villarin received the First Nations Student Award from Uncle Terry Stedman. Photo: Event Photos Australia

Although they support different rugby league teams, the winners of the First Nations awards at the 2023 Queensland Law Society Excellence in Laws Gala have a proud heritage in common.

Passionate Broncos fan Ceferina Villarin won the First Nations Student Award while Cowboys supporter Lorelei Billing received the First Nations Solicitor of the Year Award on Saturday night at the Brisbane City Hall.

Ceferina is a proud Aboriginal woman from the Kooma Nation with ancestral and familial ties to Cherbourg and North Queensland. She is currently in her fifth year studying a Bachelor of Laws (Honours)/Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University.

“Honestly I wasn’t expecting this,” she said, while also acknowledging the other five student finalists.

“I’m still buzzing from the Broncos’ win tonight. Congratulations to all the finalists and thanks to the judges, it would have been hard to pick.

“Griffith University gives us the resources and positive environment to do succeed. I also need to thank Shantal Evans at Gadens, she keeps me busy! Thanks to my family, you have been very helpful.


“I am the first person in my family to go to university. I feel very honoured.”

Throughout her studies, Ceferina has worked as a legal intern at Gadens through the CareerTrackers Program. In her spare time, she gives back to her community through educational programs such as Beyond the Broncos and sport and health programs such as The Boss Boxing.

Lorelei also acknowledged and congratulated the other finalist Jahmillah Johnson from Rio Tinto. 

“I am very honoured to be standing her tonight as a proud Quandamooka, Bundjalung and South Sea Islander woman. I’m also a bit nervous, this is worse than court,” she joked.

Lorelei Billing accepts her award.

“I don’t stand here alone. I have my parents and partner all the way from Townsville with me. Unfortunately the Cowboys did lose to the Broncos.


“I would like to acknowledge the struggles of my elders and ancestors, including my grandparents who were founding members of many First Nations organisations, including ATSI Legal Service.

“They fought for access to justice. To my First Nations mob, I want to say you do have a place here in this profession. Together, let’s fight racism.”

Lorelei was admitted in 2015 and took up a role as a criminal lawyer at ATSILS in 2017. In 2018, she started her current position as a criminal lawyer with Legal Aid Queensland.

Access to Justice Award

Access to Justice Award winner Thelma Schwartz paid tribute to her Samoan and Torres Strait Islander heritage by wearing a special necklace to the gala.    
Thelma Schwartz receives her award from Nick James of Bond University.

Thelma is the Principal Legal Officer at Queensland Indigenous Family Violence Legal Service (QIFVLS), an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisation providing legal and non-legal support services.

“My necklace tonight is a tribute to my Samoan and Torres Strait Island heritage. I couldn’t do this without those behind me, such as Aunty Margaret,” she said. “We hold and play a fundamental role in our democratic society – providing justice and access to all. It is a privilege not a right. You all play a major part in the landscape.


“Be proud of the skin you’re in. Be proud of your culture. I’m proud and strong in my culture, and have the utmost pride. We are at a pivotal point in our history. I’m a proud Australian, proud Queenslander, but I want to see our place in Australia acknowledged, help us make that possible.”

Thelma has worked extensively with and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in regional and remote Queensland. She has served as a member of the Queensland Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce, which produced the Hear her voice reports and is a current member of the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel as well as the co-chair of the Justice Policy Partnership Cross Agency Working Group in Queensland.

Keep an eye on QLS Proctor for profiles of the award winners.

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