The arts are often misconstrued as wishy-washy and meaningless compared to the hard sciences or business. This week at the University, students in the Humanities and Law stream of the Wingara Mura – Bunga Barrabugu Summer Program found out it’s anything but.
One of the feature events was a visit to the the Downing Centre Local Court and an opportunity to speak to both Deputy Chief Magistrates about how they adjudicate cases and determine sentencing.
Both magistrates spoke of the emotional toll it takes when you’re dealing with “the mad, the bad, and the sad” on a daily basis, all the while remaining emotionally indifferent and impartial.
Chris O’Brien discussed his continuing education as a judicial officer, especially with regard to the circumstances of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Following this, Joanne Selfe from the NSW Judicial Commission gave an inspiring talk to the cohort about the role of young Aboriginal leaders in the future and the challenges they face in the 21st century. Ms Selfe also spoke about the role that the social sciences and humanities contribute to the legal profession – especially with regards to understanding why people offend and how best to rehabilitate offenders.
The speech resonated with the students, with Newcastle student, Wessley, remarking, “I was so engaged; I hung on to every word. I hadn’t thought about society like that.”
Afterwards, we headed over to Hyde Park Barracks, where the students were given an insight into life in colonial Sydney. Students learnt about life in the colony in the 19th century, as the settlement was transforming from a convict town to a modern city in its own right.
On the way back to the University, the history lesson at the Barracks sparked a lively discussion about the place of Aboriginal history and the role of Indigenous Australians in the early years of Australia. We came to the conclusion that the history of the first Australians – despite being over 50,000 years old – is often neglected because it’s predominately oral history as opposed to Western history, which is more frequently recorded in writing.
A highlight of the week was a mock court trial, filmed by global television network Al Jazeera. During the course of the trial, the barrister for the defence, Vanessa, successfully defended her client – accused of pinging a netball at the victim’s face – and determined that it was the French referee, “Simon Referee”, that was the real culprit: typical.
For some students, the program was eye opening and helped them choose what path they wanted to pursue and why they wanted to pursue it, while others made the decision that they did indeed want to go to university.
However, the highlight for most students were the friends they made and the connections they forged with each other – friends that could last beyond high school and even university.