School of Indigenous Studies

Nicole Casley


UWA Law Graduate Nicole Casley 

I am a Nyoongar/Ngadju woman from Bunbury. Growing up, there weren’t many Aboriginal people in my town with university degrees, but my parents had always drummed into me that education was the key to changing things for our mob, so I always knew that I wanted to go to University.

Unfortunately, I lost my way a bit in high school, and my results in year 12 were pretty unspectacular. So when I learned about the Aboriginal Orientation Course run by the School of Indigenous Studies I was really excited to discover that there was an alternative pathway to University open to me. Moving away from my family and the comfortable familiarity of home was daunting, but the staff and students at the School of Indigenous Studies were so supportive, and it rapidly became my home away from home.

After I completed the Orientation course, I enrolled in a Bachelor of Arts where I studied Fine Arts and Anthropology. Although I enjoyed this time, I wasn’t completely satisfied and felt like I was missing something. My family had always been very involved in Aboriginal Affairs and the fight for social justice and like a lot of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, several of my family members had come into contact with the legal system in a very negative way. As a result of this, I felt that the most effective way I could help my community was as a Lawyer. So, I completed the Indigenous Pre-law program in 1998 and switched to a Law degree with the aim of working in the Aboriginal community on completion of my studies.

Halfway through my degree I took time off study to work for the Department of Housing, where I was involved in coordinating investigations and responses to enquiries from the Equal Opportunity Commission, the State Ombudsman, the State Appeal Tribunal, Members of Parliament, Homeswest tenants and members of the public. I also worked on a Statewide project investigating the Sustainability of Public and Community Housing, along with a review of the Department’s rental housing services. After two years, the Department offered me a cadetship to return to university and complete my studies. I completed my degree in 2005, and continued working at the Department in a variety of roles until my daughter was born.

After taking 18 months off to get to know the newest member of my family, I successfully applied for a position as an articled clerk at Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC), the native title representative body for the Murchison, Gascoyne and Pilbara regions. Working as a native title lawyer was a dream job for me. I got to spend long sunny days in the Pilbara, working with Aboriginal people to maximise the protection of their country and obtain legal recognition of their traditional rights and interest in land. I felt so honoured to be entrusted with the cultural information that I was privy to in this role, and I have made lifelong friendships, worked with brilliant colleagues and senior members of the profession and had amazing experiences that most other lawyers could only dream of.

I am currently working at Legal Aid WA where I am involved in the establishment of a new Social Inclusion program, which will assist the most vulnerable members of our society with legal advice, community education and early intervention. I am also a member of the Aboriginal Lawyers Committee of the Law Society of WA with several other UWA law graduates, which aims amongst other things to make submissions on law reform and public policy and support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Law students, graduates and lawyers in their work and study. My law degree has taken me to so many amazing places, and has provided me with an invaluable tool to work towards creating real change for the benefit of Aboriginal people. Studying for a law degree is not the easiest thing you will ever do in your life, but with hard work, a healthy dose of determination and the support of the staff and students at Shenton House it is entirely within your reach. I hope that you will consider coming to UWA to study, and join the growing number of UWA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander graduates who are making their mark across Australia and the world.