• Chief Justice Tom Bathurst, Taylah Gray and Professor Tania Sourdin (University of Newcastle.)Source: University of Newcastle.
A Wiradjuri woman is putting a chequered academic past behind her after being accepted to write a PhD in law.
Douglas Smith

2 Mar 2021 - 4:33 PM  UPDATED 2 Mar 2021 - 4:33 PM

After failing every legal studies assessment and exam in her high school years, 24-year-old Wiradjuri woman and lawyer Taylah Gray is defying the odds of her past, and about to undertake a PhD in law.

Her doctorate will be focused on Native Title and sovereignty. 

Last week, in a Facebook post that went viral, Ms Gray spoke out about structural inequalities towards First Nations People in Australian education systems, and encouraged young people to take heart from her example. 

"If there are any First Nations kids reading this, I want you to know that the education system ain’t built for us," read her post. 

"But don’t let the system make you believe that you are not gifted or talented enough.

"I failed every legal studies assessment and exam all throughout year 11 and 12. Believe me, EVERY ASSESSMENT AND EXAM I failed." 

On Monday, Ms Gray told NITV News that she wanted to inspire others to overcome disadvantage, recounting the struggles she herself faced growing up in Dubbo, in central New South Wales. 

"It was a bit difficult at home... when I was living with my father, we didn't have Wi-Fi, so it was a struggle [and] doing my HSC was difficult," she said. 

“There were a lot of kids who could lean on their parents for that educational support, but I couldn’t do that because my parents didn’t go to university. 

“My dad is a Stolen Generation survivor - he was discouraged from engaging with the education system and he had to sit at the back of the class for every lesson."

After failing to attain the required grades for admission into university, Ms Gray instead completed an Indigenous foundation course at the University of Newcastle, which facilitated her entry into law school. 

Reflecting on her father's experience as a child, Ms Gray made it a rule that she would sit at the front of every law class she attended. 

“I topped the class in law school, and I ended up just getting accepted the other week to write a PHD and it's going to be about Native Title - it’s going to look at economic theories," she said. 

Her efforts campaigning for Indigenous rights have already made headlines across Australia.

In July last year, she won a Supreme Court case overturning a decision by NSW Police to ban a Black Lives Matter protest in Newcastle’s CBD.

Ms Gray said her focus is now on Native Title, and that her PhD will explore economic theories which help Indigenous people generate income from positive determinations. 

“It’s gonna... look at ways Black and white people can use the land together, and [how] Black people can also become economically independent and sustainable as well in the process," she said. 

“[We can have] legal recognition of land... we’re able to use the land to generate income for Blackfullas, and not just Blackfullas but how white people can give back as well.”

Ms Gray says after she finishes her PhD, she wants to look at criminal law and possibly become a defence attorney. But for now, she will keep her options open.

“I’m open-minded, I’m keeping an open mind but I know what area. It’s either criminal law or land rights, that's where I want to end up.”

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