My name is Damien Parriman, I’m from Broome in the Kimberleys in Western Australia and I’m the CEO of Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation. I have a Bachelor of Laws degree from the University of Western Australia in Perth.
I was working at the Kimberley Land Council, which is a Native Title representative body. I worked with a lot of professionals there – lawyers, anthropologists, linguists, urban designers, all kinds of people. They were urging me to study something over the few years that I was there and I didn’t really take it too seriously until I was approach by the CEO and a couple of the board members who said ‘I think that you should go away and study and we’ll look at supporting you.’ At the time my manager had put in a submission for me to get a pay rise and it was delayed because the increase was going to put me over a couple of people that had qualifications. So they just had to justify that and I just felt at the time if I wanted to go any further I needed to get a qualification. That’s when I put more thought into it and that’s when the board and the CEO approached me, so it seemed like the timing was right.
The process I took to enrol in university really was just finding out a bit more from friends who had done a little bit of university study in their time. I found out that UWA had a pre law program, which involved a five week intensive pre law program, which if successful, would give you an entry into the Bachelor of Laws.
The hardest part was UWA was two and half thousand kilometres away. I have a partner and at the time I had a twelve month old son, we’d just built a house. It meant packing everything up and moving to Perth – so that was the most difficult part.
The support I received throughout my degree was primarily from the Kimberley Land Council – so I was on a scholarship arrangement. They had some funds there so they could provide me a wage and in return I would work during the uni breaks and do some work in Perth for them if they needed. I also received a scholarship from Rio Tinto for a couple of years, that also helped top things up. My native title group provided some assistance with some uni fees, so I was pretty lucky in that regard – I got a lot of financial support.
The Centre for Indigenous Studies at UWA, they facilitate the pre law program. So first up I was involved with them. They assisted with enrolment, selecting units and all of that. The best support I got from them was the provision of a quiet study area where I had access to the internet, I had access to printers, and computers or whatever it was, because I spent a little bit of time in the law library… yeah Kimberley Aboriginal bloke – just didn’t fit in there and I was really uncomfortable. So just having that second option was just so much help when I needed it.
Although I had a fair bit of experience in this field before I studied, the degree helped me to make that extra step and move further up the chain. I was the youngest applicant for this job I’ve got now and the experience that I had probably would not have got me over the line. But when I coupled that with the degree, people were impressed, I just think I wouldn’t have been successful if I didn’t have the degree.
I think other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should study because it does provide all those options in life. I think a qualification is important – whether that’s a tertiary qualification or a trade, I think just having a qualification just gives you so much more options in your professional life. The other thing, I’d like people to think about is that is that it’s just university, it’s just a school. People used to tell me that what I was doing was so great but I’d look around the lecture theatre and I’d see three hundred other students that were there because that’s just what they were expected to do, and it wasn’t anything great. I was proud of myself for what I achieved but I don’t think we should put it out there that it’s such a great thing, that it’s out of reach of young people, because it’s not. I’m just a Kimberley boy that decided that I wanted to put the effort in one day and go down and get a degree, and I did. So I think anyone can do it and if that’s what they want to do, they should do it.
Damien is the CEO of the Walalakoo Aboriginal Corporation from Broome, WA. Before studying and completing a Bachelor of Laws, Damien worked for the Kimberly Land Council alongside lawyers, anthropologists, linguists and urban designers who all encouraged him to continue his professional development through higher education. With the help of the Indigenous Education Unit and financial assistance from his employer, Damien was able to complete his degree and in time secure the CEO role he now holds. He believes having a qualification helps you take that extra step to move further up the business chain.