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The 2018 NAIDOC Week theme Because of Her, We Can! “celebrates the essential role that women have played - and continue to play - as active and significant role models at the community, local, state and national levels”. - 2018 NAIDOC Week Committee
Dr Virginia Marshall, ANU Inaugural Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellow, has been recognised in this theme as a ‘trailblazer’:
Dr Virginia Marshall: trailblazing the recognition of Aboriginal water rights
Dr Virginia Marshall is a Wiradjiri Nyemba woman from NSW, mother of four, educator, legal academic and a practicing lawyer who is passionate about Indigenous science and law. Virginia was the first Aboriginal woman to gain a PhD in law from Macquarie University. Her doctoral thesis – A web of Aboriginal water rights – won the prestigious Stanner Award in2015, presented every two years for the best academic thesis by an Indigenous researcher. AIATSIS Chairperson, Prof Mick Dodson AM described it as ‘a standout in terms of interest area and scholarship’ and said it would be ‘an extremely timely book’.
Both have proven to be the case. By early June this year over 2,000 people had downloaded Virginia’s thesis from the Macquarie University digital library and sales of her book ‘Overturning Aqua nullius: Securing Aboriginal water rights’ have been strong. In his foreword to ‘Overturning Aqua nullius’ former High Court judge, the Hon Michael Kirby AC CMG wrote ‘Dr Marshall can be proud of the contribution she has made to the rights of her people by writing this book. Its impact is now a challenge before all Australians. We can only be proud of ourselves if we accept the challenge and act upon it.’
Virginia describes Kirby as one the people who inspired her throughout her legal career. Other inspiring people she names include Prof Rosalind Croucher, who was President of the Australian Law Reform Commission when Virginia worked there as a Senior Legal Officer, and who is current President of the Australian Human Rights Commission. Virginia also lists family members as being her inspirations, in particular her grandmother, and also the senior Nyikina law women in the Kimberley – her ‘mums’ and ‘aunties’ – who have guided and mentored her.
In October 2017 Virginia accepted the Inaugural Indigenous Postdoctoral Fellowship at the Australian National University with Fenner School of Environment and Society and the School of Regulation and Global Governance and named 2018 Distinguished Woman Scholar by the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada. Virginia looks back at the strong woman who have inspired her and helped her along her path and says “it is because of them, I can!”
This article was originally published on the National NAIDOC Website.