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Researchers sought for Koori Courts history

Researchers sought for Koori Courts history

By Karin Derkley

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Indigenous scholars are being sought to take part in a project to research the history and interview people involved in establishing and implementing Victoria’s Koori Courts.

Victoria University's Sir Zelman Cowen Centre has been commissioned by the Australia Research Council to carry out the three-year long history project.

The Koori Courts were established in Victoria in 2008 by then Attorney-General Rob Hulls as a way of reducing recidivism among Indigenous offenders. Offenders who have pleaded guilty attend a sentencing hearing that includes Aboriginal Elders, a Koori court officer and the magistrate.

There are now 12 Koori Courts in Magistrates' Courts around the state, as well as in the Children’s Courts at Melbourne and Mildura, and County Courts in Latrobe Valley, Melbourne, Mildura, Shepparton and Warrnambool.

Professor Kathy Laster says the project is the first to focus on the history of the Koori Courts and their role in improving Indigenous justice outcomes in the state.

The project is being overseen by a senior Advisory Board with Indigenous leaders including Andrew Jackomos PSM as chairwho was head of the Koori justice units when the Koori Courts were established, as well as Magistrate Rose Falla, the daughter of one of the first Koori Court elders Kevin Coombs.

Coordinating the project will be Professor Laster, Professor Anne Wallace and Emeritus Professor Richard Broome, an authority on Aboriginal history in Australia.

Professor Laster says the project will provide a capacity building opportunity for young Indigenous scholars. The Centre is offering one PhD and one Masters degree scholarship for students in law, justice, criminology, history, legal studies, cultural studies, curatorial management or related fields. Shorter internships or placements will also be available for Aboriginal undergraduate students.

As part of the oral history project, candidates will interview Indigenous Elders, judicial officers, politicians and policy makers who have been involved with the Koori Courts over the years.

Professor Laster says there is some urgency around the oral history project given the age of many of the Indigenous elders who were involved in the establishment of the Courts. "The project will provide an intergenerational learning opportunity for Indigenous Elders to pass on their knowledge and experience to future Indigenous leaders," she says.

Apart from creating an archival record of the development and early challenges of the Koori Courts in Victoria, the project will also explore some key research questions with the aim of improving the role of Indigenous justice in Australia.

These will include:

  • How can the criminal justice system be reformed to address Indigenous disadvantage and create culturally appropriate legal processes?
  • How do we involve Indigenous communities to help address historic disadvantage and discrimination against Indigenous people in the Australian criminal justice system?
  • What lessons can be learned from how to change conservative institutions to better meet the needs of Indigenous and diverse communities?

Find out more about the scholarships for the Intergenerational Oral History of the Koori Courts or contact Professor Kathy Laster, Director at Kathy.laster@vu.edu.au.

Applications can be made via the smartygrants portal. Applications close 28 February 2021.


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