Bonnie’s new partnership with the Women’s Legal Service comes after 5 years of wrangling to find the resources to make it happen. It means that we are now lucky enough to have weekly visits from one of their feisty and fabulous lawyers, Katrina Ironside. Katrina comes every Thursday to Bonnies to support our clients and staff.
‘I remember a very long time ago, I was a volunteer at a community legal centre and I saw a woman in the waiting room. She would have been in her 60’s and she was shaking. I said to her, ‘ Are you alright?’ and she said to me, ‘I’ve never seen a lawyer before.’ This woman was shaking all over – that’s how frightened she was about meeting someone who, in fact, was there to help her.
Many women have never had anything to do with the law or lawyers. Often the idea that you would see a lawyer is simply outside of their thinking. They presume lawyers are for people with money or people with different problems to theirs. After a meeting, they’ll often say to me, ‘Wow, I’ve never spoken to a lawyer before. It was actually really useful.’ They’re really surprised that it was!
I’ve been doing this sort of work for my whole career. I come from a family of really strong women who sort of forged my path ahead of me and I didn’t realise how important this was until I was a proper adult myself. My grandmother was the first female president of the Red Cross in Victoria and her sister was the woman who got the first Vietnamese asylum seekers into Australia. My mum was a landscape architect and was always off volunteering. I grew up surrounded by the stories of powerful women, and social justice and ethics so I guess I just assumed that ‘this is what you do.’
I went to Uni specifically to be of service in the world. We lived in WA and at that time there was old-growth logging of the beautiful Jarrah trees. I was outraged. I remember being at a protest demonstration about it and I looked around and thought, ‘To make a difference, you can’t stay on the outside, Katrina. You have to be on the inside.’ So that’s when I went and did a law degree. I was in my twenties by then and I already had a daughter about to start school. We started our learning together. She’d come to lectures and sit there beside me and draw through contract law.
I’ve had a great career. I’ve worked with lots of fabulous people: not just lawyers but social workers and caseworkers. And financial counsellors and psychologists and I’ve learned so much from our clients too. Like how differently people think about things, and what motivates them and what scares them. It’s been amazing and now I get to share all that with other upcoming lawyers too.
I have maintained the outrage at social injustice for decades and turned it into doing something useful in the world. The outreach work we do is really important because so much of our work is about domestic violence. So there’s always the question: how do the women get to us? Often they’re still in a violent relationship and all of the issues that go with it and so they can’t go to a lawyer’s office or even call one. We need to go to them and often that’s in a women’s health centre or hospital – a place where they can be seen to be for another purpose.
It’s not always smooth sailing in my work but on those days where I might question the difference I can make, there’s always a client who will say, ‘Thank you, now I understand what I need to do.’ Or ‘That was really helpful.’ Or even, ‘Thanks for your support. I know I can’t do anything about it but now I understand why.’
That’s something worth getting up in the morning for.
Thanks to Katrina and The Women’s Legal Service from all of us at Bonnies.
You can find out more about the Women’s Legal Service here
Written from a conversation with Katrina Ironside