Proctor : October 2018
42 PROCTOR | October 2018 Generosity, and corporate reconciliation If you’ve ever wondered what it feels like when your firm doubles its size overnight, purely from a gift, ask me. That’s exactly what happened a couple of months ago when my firm, Marrawah Law, was given the practice owned by Oliver Gilkerson, Gilkerson Legal. The answer is that it feels amazing, humbling and exciting all at the same time. It also means that Queensland can now lay claim to one of the largest 100%-owned Indigenous law firms in the country, thanks to Oliver’s generosity. But this article isn’t about Marrawah Law’s good fortune. The aim is to salute one of the best practitioners I’ve ever met, and also to show how Indigenous reconciliation can benefit your firm. Oliver will likely cringe reading this in his semi-retirement, but from his 30 years of legal work, he has earned the highest respect from both clients and his legal colleagues and adversaries as one of the best Indigenous law experts in the country. Having been on the other side of the ledger from him on more occasions than I can count, I can say that he is formidable. His near-encyclopaedic knowledge of property law, savant-like ability to fill a work day with billable hours, unfailing tenacity and knack of thinking outside of the square make him a technically superior lawyer. His decency, his integrity and level of care, particularly of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have always and often still are bullied and bamboozled when confronted with legal issues, make him an unquestionably decent practitioner. It was in March this year that Oliver invited me to a lunch apropos of nothing when he asked if I’d accept the gift of Gilkerson Legal so he could slip off into semi-retirement. He said that he made his decision off the back of hearing that I’d sent flowers to an opposing solicitor because I knew they were having a terrible time. When things aren’t going well, the legal profession can be a lonely and horribly dehumanising place and even though we were on different sides of the ledger, I thought the gesture would help in a very small way. He told me those flowers, along with how Marrawah did business the “right way and not the easy way”, cemented his decision to hand his clients across. But for someone to hand over a lucrative and long-standing practice for nix indicates something more. I think the unspoken third prong of Oliver’s decision was that much-bandied and often-misunderstood thing called Indigenous ‘reconciliation’. The other view of reconciliation Australia’s ‘official’ reconciliation process began in 1991 when the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody showed the world what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have always known – that despite Australia cloaking itself in the virtues of the rule of law, mateship and a ‘fair go’ for all, underneath ran a deliberately-hidden dark thread of persecution and exclusion of ‘outsiders’, specifically, Indigenous people. Since then reconciliation has taken on many shapes and forms all around the rubric of the definition of the word ‘to re-establish friendly relations’ by attempting to deal with Australia’s elephant in the living room, its treatment of its Indigenous people. That’s included admitting Australia’s hidden history, appreciating the value of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and addressing disadvantage that are still endemic today. While these atonements are necessary, I believe the greatest value that reconciliation has to Australian society is the more challenging and ultimately more beneficial permission of allowing Australia to deal with its own cultural superiority complex. Reconciliation isn’t a beating up of the psyche; it’s an opening up. While uncomfortable and challenging, by developing a stronger understanding ourselves, our biases and motivations, we become more respected, we grow, and we learn. And that’s on a personal level, on an organisational level, and ultimately nationally. Marrawah Law owner and Principal Solicitor Leah Cameron with Oliver Gilkerson of Gilkerson Legal.