Passionate about platforming diversity within First Nations communities, Trent is Co-Chair of the Legal Profession Reconciliation Network and is on the Executive Committee of Just Reinvest NSW. Trent is also a Director of Metro Arts QLD, Director of Independent Indigenous Tourism Operators of Queensland, Advisor to the Starlight Children’s Foundation and Advisor to the Board of ActionAid Australia.
Trent Wallace is a Wongaibon person who was raised on Darkinjung Country and has a background working in the community legal sector, government and education. Trent joined Ashurst in 2020 in his role as First Nations Lead, a first for a global law firm. In addition to this, Trent is a lawyer, law lecturer and author.
The Voice: A trust fall moment for First Nations peoples
I am a Wongaibon person and the great-grandchild of a Coota Girls survivor. I am also a lawyer, law lecturer and author. I occupy several social justice focused board roles. In almost all of the professional roles I’ve held, I’ve been the first Aboriginal person to do so. Despite conquering major barriers, I am still subjected to deep inequities that are embedded in Australia’s DNA. My identity is rooted in shameful statistics that underscore my existence. To society, I’m too Aboriginal to be ‘white’ and too ‘white’ to be Aboriginal. An enigma, the result of colonisation and ignorance. People often tokenise me or treat me differently when they learn I am Aboriginal. It’s hard to make friends because casual racism exists as the equilibrium. I am not a victim of my Aboriginality, but I often feel people would like me to be.
The Voice is not a quixotic concept. The Uluru Statement from the Heart is a generous offering. It is a hopeful call, one that is seeking to achieve peace. As First Nations peoples aren’t homogenous, I recognise various views. However, in my heart, I know this is the only opportunity we’ve had at creating meaningful change through self-determination. As a group, we’ve been spoken for, spoken about, researched, written about and ultimately told what is good for us…despite not speaking to us. Solutions developed without appropriate consultation. Parochial attitudes prevail when it comes to the “Aboriginal problem”. It is unfathomable that people would think we actively pursue disadvantage. I understand that education around our identity plays a significant role, but we are continually held up in that process. Numerous works of First Nations academics have been published – we cannot rely on the excuse of ‘not understanding’. Your role as an advocate is to platform such educational materials, and not just around National Reconciliation Week or NAIDOC Week. I dream of a time where the garrulous conversation and tokenism ends.
Too often, our representation is either negative or it is through artwork. Meetings start with an Acknowledgement of Country, but the conversation around First Nations peoples stops there. To ethically consume cultures, you must take all of us, not some of us. Don’t turn away from our pain or our pleas to be included. Our career aspirations. Our dreams of success.
If you want to actively contribute to reconciliation, vote “Yes” to the Voice. Accept the invitation set out in the Uluru Statement from the Heart. We are at your mercy as the most impacted peoples who have inherited generational failures. You have the chance to break this cycle. As pro bono practitioners and leaders, I am calling on you to educate yourselves, your workplaces, your family and your general sphere of influence. Utilise your privilege to educate people around the Voice.
This piece represents the author’s personal views and does not necessarily represent the views of the organisations with which they are associated.