Jack Quirk with Kaltjiti artists, Beverley Cameron and Imitjala Curley. Photo: Delwyn Everard
As a seasonal clerk in DLA Piper's Perth (and later Melbourne) office, I clearly recall how my interest in the firm's pro bono program was piqued when told about DLA Piper's involvement with the Artists in the Black program, an initiative designed to educate and provide legal advice to remote Indigenous artists who would not otherwise have access to legal advice. It is coordinated and run by the Arts Law Centre of Australia, with the aim of reaching Aboriginal communities all over the country at least once every few years. Historically, DLA Piper has assisted in sending along solicitors to assist Arts Law once or twice yearly.
Fast-forward two and a half years from my year as a seasonal clerk, now a solicitor in Melbourne's Corporate team I was selected to assist with Artists in the Black. The trip involved spending the first week of May 2016 travelling to the remote lands of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara people (or 'APY Lands' for short) in north-western South Australia to provide legal advice to indigenous artists and art centre managers.
My travelling companion was Delwyn Everard, the deputy director of Arts Law who also acted as my legal supervisor. Our itinerary involved travelling to three different remote art centres, Ernabella Arts (in Ernabella/Pukatja), Kaltjiti Arts (in Fregon), and Ninuku Arts (in Kalka), to provide legal advice and draft numerous wills for the artists (many of who spoke English as a second language). As part of this process, we assisted in educating the artists on issues such as copyright and resale royalties. It should be noted on this point that Arts Law also run similar trips in support of the Indigenous Art Code, to educate artists and arts bodies on exploitation in the Indigenous art world (a phenomenon - I'm regrettably informed - happens all too frequently).
Ernabella Art Centre. Photo: Delwyn Everard
Delwyn and I set up shop in each art centre, which for the day became a sort-of temporary legal clinic. Artists could come and have their will drafted, or in some cases, revised (if they had formerly drafted a will, but one of the named beneficiaries had since passed away). Though some were initially reluctant, many artists were keen to provide us with instructions and genuinely appreciative of our assistance. Many also enjoyed talking about their family and were proud of their children, many of who may still have remained in the community or in some cases had moved to Adelaide or elsewhere. What seemed apparent to me, having never drafted a will before, creating a will gives a person agency over their affairs. It gives that person an ability to provide for one's loved ones once they shuffle off this mortal coil, and such a right should not only be afforded to those in more populous communities.
We also provided advice to the community art centres in respect of various agreements; touching on issues of corporate governance and intellectual property licensing. The area of indigenous art is a fascinating and complex area of law, made challenging as it is exists at the interface of several esoteric areas of practice and the way the traditional indigenous law and culture interacts with statute including the following: intellectual property, native title, employment, charities and not-for-profits law, and corporations law (most of the organisations are ORIC corporations registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006).
A search for 'bush lawyer' on Wikipedia yields the following, unflattering results:
- any of the species of climbing blackberry plants in subgenus Rubus subg. Micranthobatus, found in New Zealand (which has 'hooked thorns that snag clothing');
- one who is not qualified in law yet attempts to expound on legal matters; or
- a poem by Banjo Paterson.
Based on my experience over my short stay in the APY Lands, none of these seemed appropriate. In the last, however, the poet's anthropomorphic protagonists, a turtle and rodent, go to court over the rights of a crawfish, of which they both stake their claim. At trial, the presiding judge, Baggy-beak the pelican, holds the contested goods in his beak in a sort-of escrow arrangement, and, no sooner than His feathery Honour opens it that the coveted crustacean is inadvertently swallowed whole. The litigants decry the unfavourable result:
So both the pair who went to law were feeling very small.
Said they, "We might have halved the fish and saved a nasty brawl;
For half a crawfish isn't much, but more than none at all."
So how does Banjo's story relate to my trip? At a stretch (and I admit it’s a stretch), it perhaps conveys how the law is often confounding and unhelpful to those without counsel to assist; especially so when it is drafted in a language different from our own. In this respect, Arts Law in partnership with DLA Piper through the Artists in the Black program, is doing the art centres and their artists a great service in providing legal advice and one in which I feel privilege to have participated.
Jack Quirk and Delwyn Everard. Photo: Iain Morton