When Lauren Davies moved to Sydney, she remembers how she encountered systemic injustices that were previously hidden from view in the small coastal town of Ulladulla, where she grew up:
It was a very rude awakening coming to Sydney and seeing all the systemic issues that I was sheltered from.
Since seeing in first-person those social, economic, and legal inequalities, Lauren has devoted herself to fighting for real change.
Originally considering professional sport as a potential career path, an injury caused Lauren to consider an alternative. Lauren decided to study law and criminology at the Macquarie University, where she participated in the Social Justice Clinic coordinated by the National Justice Project. The clinic offered Lauren a way of gaining practical legal experience while under the supervision of experienced human rights lawyers.
Lauren’s passion for fair and equal treatment of all people before the law made her a perfect fit for the Social Justice Clinic:
“The Social Justice Clinic was a twelve-week class where we came into the National Justice Project office, attended conferences, help draft legal advice, and completed other law clerk tasks. I loved it, I thought it was really interesting and it wasn’t an area of law that I had previously worked in.”
“My education into the depth of civil law and what that entails is something that I am still on the journey of. There is always more to learn, particularly in how we can use civil law as a tool to effect systematic change.”
During her studies, Lauren balanced the demands of full-time study with further legal training, including a First Nations cadetship at the Redfern Legal Centre, and roles at Shopfront Youth Legal Centre and Herbert Smith Freehills.
“I had a taste of the corporate world, and it just wasn’t for me. Social justice is such an intrinsic issue for me. As long as there is a parallel between social justice and the work I do, that is where I will be.”
For Lauren, a Gomeroi-Ngarabal woman, “it is very hard to disconnect yourself from social justice issues when it is consistently your own people whose rights are being violated.”
Lauren believes that her role is to use the opportunities she has taken to help people who have suffered from discrimination and human rights abuses:
“I have been extremely lucky. Going to university was always an option for me. My circumstances meant that I was lucky enough to have a decent education throughout school – this is not something that my people always have to access to. So I have to make the most of it.”
Following her training, Lauren joined the National Justice Project team as a full-time junior solicitor.
“Because of my background, social justice within the law doesn’t just resonate with me in a professional space, but also in a personal space. It is something that I will always align with in terms of my interests and what I hope to achieve through my work.”
Through her work at the National Justice Project, Lauren has taken on particular interest in healthcare discrimination. Working with clients who have experienced poor and negligent treatment in healthcare because of systemic racism and bias has changed Lauren’s perspective on hospitals, seeing the health system as yet another place of poor treatment for First Nations people, along with the justice system, policing, and education system:
“I am so aware of how my family could be treated based on our Aboriginality. Whether it is as simple as a nurse not asking if we are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander based on our appearance, or the difficulties a black parent has in order to advocate for their child without being afraid of being labelled just an angry black person. These issues and encounters aren’t being addressed adequately because of outdated perceptions, bias, and ignorance engrained in institutions. It showcases the cracks that all of our systems have.”
While the work at National Justice Project can be challenging, Lauren says that she finds strength and inspiration from her clients, explaining that “the most rewarding part comes from the clients and their strength to continue fighting this broken system whilst trying to also move forward each and every day – that is inspiring.”
She sees her role as amplifying the voices of people and communities that are not being listened to:
“I have a role and I feel that I have to play my part as a result of the opportunities I have been afforded. It is hard to believe and incredibly infuriating when systemic issues aren’t being addressed. But when the wrongs have been acknowledged and addressed, change can happen, and when the clients definition of justice is achieved, then the work that we do is worth it.”
“Our clients have to consistently deal with grief and loss, and they are always fighting for social justice – not just for their own family, but to ensure that other families don’t have to go through the same experience. I can’t imagine the strength they have to do that – sometimes this means they have to keep reliving the worst day of their life.”
“They are willing to go through that for the greater good, for their communities, for systemic change. Sometimes their voices just aren’t being heard, because people in positions of power are not making decisions on a respectful ground. Too many of our lawmakers don’t understand this struggle because they don’t have the lived experiences, or they don’t know of anyone who has the lived experiences. To me, this is obvious because they are not listening to the recommendations multiple inquiries have provided – not even half of them are being implemented – so it is an infuriating conversation to continuously have.”
Despite this resistance to change from those with power, and in spite of the setbacks and the challenges, Lauren says that she can’t stop now:
“I do love it and I wouldn’t want to be doing anything else.”