Bruno Jupurrula Wilson is a young man from Yuendumu, 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs on the fringes of the Tanami Desert. Late last year Jupurrula went down to Sydney to do a pre-law qualification course at the Nura Gili Indigenous Law Centre at the University of New South Wales.

Jupurrula will be heading back down that way again soon to start the full four year degree course in Law and Politics.

As the Law Council of Australia noted earlier this week, we need more young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lawyers.

Bruno Jupurrula Wilson. Photo: Liam Campbell
Bruno Jupurrula Wilson. Photo: Liam Campbell

Launching the Law Council’s recently developed Policy Statement on Indigenous Australian and the Legal Profession, Law Council President Glenn Ferguson noted the:

…Law Council’s commitment to promoting greater participation of Indigenous Australians in the study and practice of law. In a practical sense, this means working with Indigenous associations, Australian law schools, law practices and the state and territory Law Societies and Bar Associations to develop pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into legal practice.

It is my hope that with concerted effort and partnership, the legal profession and Indigenous bodies can dramatically increase the number of practicing Indigenous lawyers toward equal representation within a generation. It is also timely to reflect on the Northern Territory Intervention and, in particular, the impact it has had on the human rights of many Aboriginal people living in this jurisdiction.

I caught up with Jupurrula at Yuendumu a month or so ago and we talked about his family, his country, why he chose to study law and what it was like living at Yuendumu under the NT Intervention.

The Northern Myth: Where did you grow up?

Bruno Jupurrula Wilson: I was born in Alice Springs in 1989 and grew up here at Yuendumu. My mum is Warlpiri and from my father’s side I am Anmatyerre & Jaru. My mum is from Pikilyi way on what is known to Kardiya as Mount Doreen station. Pikilyi is a very important place for my family and lots of other people in this country. I call that my country. I am Kurdungurlu (see Note below) for Pikilyi.

I started off school at Yuendumu, spent my young schooling years here doing the bilingual program first then after that I went to Yirara College in Alice Springs in 2001. I stayed there for five years. And while I was at Yirara I was studying Year 11 at Charles Darwin University in Alice Springs. I was doing English, Maths and a bit of Science work as well. I finished Year 11 and – I started Year 12 but then I got a bit homesick and came back to Yuendumu.

When I first came back here I didn’t get a job for a while. I was a bit of a lazy one (laughs) but I’ve got my family now. I met my girlfriend here and we had a little baby girl and after she was born I started working. I started off with the Mount Theo program as a Youth Worker and a mentor to the younger kids and doing sports and recreation work. After that I worked for PAW Media (also known as Warlpiri Media) here for one year. I’m still working with PAW Media but part-time now. I’m learning how to be a producer of TV and Radio programs, learning editing and also how to be a cameraman. I’ll be working there until March and then I go off to University again.

TNM: You’ve just come back from doing the pre-law course at the Nura Gilli Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. How was that?

BJW: I decided that I wanted to go to University when I came back to Yuendumu. I stayed home but I was seeing things at Yuendumu that were not good. Because when the NT Intervention came in, I didn’t really like it. And late in 2009 I went to the UNSW to do the pre-law course. Everyday we went through all different aspects of law – torts, negligence, constitutional law.

It was really challenging and hard – but it was worth it.  I got 99% in the exam. We had a graduation ceremony in the last week and that was really good, a great day. There were about 30 or more Yapa (aboriginal) students from all over the country. From the east coast, the Northern Territory and Queensland. It was good to hear different ideas from different parts of the country and meet other Yapa from the east coast. Some of the students from all that area around Sydney, Brisbane they’ve never seen a full Yapa person like me – before. So they had a lot of questions about Yapa culture and knowledge and so on.

I think it is really important that we can sit down with each other – young people from all different parts of the country – and talk to each other about what is going on in all our different areas. They couldn’t believe it when I was talking to them about what is happening in central Australia. That our culture is really strong. They are still waiting for more stories. (laughs).

TNM: What kind of law do you want to do when you graduate?

BJW: Mainly constitutional law but also every area of law of course. I also want to study political science. I want to get into the political side because I am interested in being a politician.

TNM: Why do you want to be a politician?

BJW: The person who inspired me most about wanting to become a politician is the new President of the United States, Barack Obama – he opened the door for me. I couldn’t believe it when I heard that Barack Obama was standing [for President]. I just looked away. I thought, “He won’t win.”

TNM: But he did!

BJW: Yes, and before that I was too nervous because in Australia nowadays I thought it was to hard to give it a go. But what happened in America, and what happened in Australia years ago with the [1967] referendum and all that. That opened the gates. It is all possible now.

TNM: And what about local Aboriginal politicians in the NT?  Is Marion Scrymgour a good role model for you? For a while there she was the most powerful elected Aboriginal politician in the country – and Deputy Chief Minister of the Northern Territory.

BJW: Yes, she was a good role model, but she has lost that now.

TNM: Have you had any mentors?

BJW: First of all my Dad. I always saw him from when I was growing up – going to local government meetings and being on the local council – fighting for his community here. He became the President of the Yuendumu Council and spent a lot of time traveling around other communities and people in those communities have a lot of respect for him and they all looked up to him and Yuendumu and saw this place as a good model – before. Some of the Mt Theo mob, they mentored me as well, and also Susan and Trevor and all the others from Warlpiri Media at Yuendumu.

TNM: What about the NT Intervention. Have you seen any changes in people’s lives here at Yuendumu?

BJW: For me and my family, no, not really. Most of the people working for the intervention are Kardia (non-Aboriginal) – there is not much work for Yapa from the Intervention – most of those jobs go to Kardia people. When they come in with all their flash new cars, flash Toyotas, that makes us feel down. What the Yapa are thinking is that all the Kardia are “moneyfaces” (that they only care about money).  And some people think like it was a hundred years ago and is still happening now. That the Kardia are still thinking “Oh, we’ll take the land over.” Like these township leases the Governments are talking about right now. So Yapa, Yapa don’t trust those Kardia working for the Intervention right now.

TNM: Do you think that people really know what the Intervention is about – and that Shires business that the NT government has bought in here?

BJW: No. People don’t know about what is happening. Even from the NT government people don’t still know what’s happening. Yes, sometimes the meetings here have just been run by the Government, not by the Yapa . That is another thing – when the Government run the meetings, most of the Yapa don’t come out to the meeting. They just sit in their house. It is a big problem. Many people don’t understand what that Kardia government is. They understand their Yapa ways of government, but not that Kardia way.

NOTE: Country, ceremonies, stories and other things in Warlpiri cosmology are jointly held by kirda and kurdungurlu (see Dussart 2000; Meggitt 1962; Munn 1973). Every person is kirda for some places and ceremonies and kurdungurlu for others, and these positions are acquired in different ways. No ceremony can be performed, no sacred site can be visited by only one or the other. Kirda and kurdungurlu have to operate jointly and are tied to each other by intricate rules of obligations, rights, duties and exchange. From The Indigenous Welfare Economy and the CDEP Scheme. F. Morphy & W. G. Sanders (eds) CAEPR, 2001.]