I’m sitting in a linen-covered chair in the conference room of Timor’s fanciest hotel, listening to an American accent in a suit explain to me and 50 members of Dili’s agricultural industry the considerations required in shaping pesticide law, thinking, “how on earth did I get here?”
(Not literally: my boss picked me up from home this morning and invited me to join him at the consultation at Hotel Timor – as a respected agricultural NGO, my host organisation RAEBIA was invited to contribute to today’s sector consultation in the development of new pesticide law). But more figuratively: I was always meant to be involved in the formation and interpretation of law – in Australia, as a lawyer. How did I go from my 2014 law school graduation to comms and pesticides in Timor-Leste in 2017?
To answer that, I’ll go back nearly ten years, to my decision to put law as my first preference on my uni applications made at the end of 2008.
I was in my final year at my prestigious private girls’ school; I was bookish, smart and worked with a discipline I’ve not been able to match in the decade since; and all I knew about the next few years of my life was that I wanted to go to uni and that English was a pretty fun subject. My parents suggested the expansion of the arts degree I was contemplating to a law-arts double; I thought why not, and one summer later was in my very first lecture, a bone-dry sermon on Ethics and the Law.
(It’s funny to think that I’d find that kind of thing fascinating now – and I wonder what might have happened if I’d done the arts degree first and tacked a JD on when I had something closer to a semblance of a clue about my career path).
But wishes aren’t horses, and I’m here now – with a single year of magazine-writing experience and a year of fundraising comms under my belt since graduation, deployed by AVI to transfer as much as I can of that to an organisation requesting communications help. I’m nervous, and feeling as unsure as someone with DFAT’s de facto support behind them possibly could – but with full faith in the enormous learning curve I underwent last year and a determination not to fall into complacency, feeling steady enough.
I’m on shaky foal-like legs, stilting into my first adult career – Communications Mentor – and I’ve accidentally come full circle, peppering the lead pesticide lawyer over lunch on the challenges she faces designing legislation here. I’m at the induction briefing AVI set up for us at JSMP, the not-for-profit legal research body, interrupting the flow of a prepared presentation to question lawyers Simone and Nas on suspended sentences and debating laws in Portuguese and in their opinions, how is a civil law system like Timor’s really different from Australia’s common law system?
I never wanted this – halfway through my law degree I had the watershed realisation that practising law was my path of least resistance; my easiest option because I still just didn’t know what to do, and going with what uni pushed me towards just seemed fine – but not interesting, not what I cared about, not what I wanted to do. In the few years since, as I’ve prised myself off that track, I’ve bumped my head countless times against sinister thoughts that push me to return: when I was a writer, it was are you going to use your brain to write breakouts on bagels for the rest of your life?; when I was in fundraising communication it was if you really wanted to help people, you’d defend native title and set up VROs; and now I’m in a international role it’s you don’t know anything about this context, go home and do something actually useful, hey?.
For the most part I suspect it’s the work of the often-too-critical mind that pushed me through to the end of a tough degree; but sometimes, I wonder if there does lie within a genuine interest I’ve ignored in my dash to escape a pre-designed corporate life I never wanted for myself.
While I’m enjoying the air conditioning and the free lunch corporate law provides today, I know it’s not really where I want to work. But it’s funny to think that, if I return to law one day, I may be able to trace that change of direction back to an NGO consultation on pesticide legislation, where I was sitting as a new, nervous, 25-year-old Communications Mentor.