On Country learning: Shaping justice leaders of the future

11 Jun 2024

For many students, the concept of university brings to mind thoughts of textbooks, lecture halls and classrooms. However, there is one very special subject at The Australian National University (ANU) that is ditching educational norms and pioneering Indigenous led, on Country, justice education in a tertiary setting.  

The ANU College of Law in conjunction with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency and the Oonchiumpa Consultancy Services have developed a course based on the practice of deep listening as a powerful education tool with the potential to transform legal education and understandings of justice.  

It is an annual course where 16 selected students spend a weeklong intensive on Country in Central Australia partaking in a program designed and led by two Traditional Owners Kristy Bloomfield and Tanya Turner.  

Students travel across Alice Springs, Tempe Downs and Uluru visiting courtrooms, sleeping in swags underneath the stars and most importantly listening deeply to the voices and perspectives of Traditional Owners, Elders, Aboriginal lawyers, educators, interpreters and justice leaders. 

Course convener Associate Professor Anthony Hopkins says the location of the intensive is vital in driving learning outcomes for students.  

“It’s about the space that arises when you’re sitting down with people on their Country, invited to be there, and to experience with all your senses what that means.” 

One of the key design features of the course is that ANU positions itself as a listening institution and is not responsible for course content as this would risk inverting power. Rather the content is set by Kristy, Tanya and other Indigenous speakers based on their experience and perspectives on law and justice. The role of the University is to create a course framework to offer students the opportunity to develop their deep listening capacity – a skill that will mold them into effective justice leaders of the future.  

Following the transformative weeklong intensive, students must write a reflection of their experience.  

“Those reflections are just amazing. They often indicate deep changes in path for non-Indigenous students and deep strengthening for the Indigenous students as they become the voices of the future.” says Anthony.  

The course finishes with a self-directed research paper based on an issue of choice discussed in the intensive, such as conflict between worlds, relationships between police and Indigenous people, issues of self-determination and the Voice to Parliament. 

“We are trying to establish a model for other universities and the legal profession, demonstrating the potential of Indigenous led on Country education to transform the way we think about justice and what is required of us to realise justice,” says Anthony. 

“If you’re looking for a way to understand justice on this continent which is built upon the original and ongoing injustice of colonisation then this is a course that enables you to see your relationship to that history and to the present moment and to consider how you might be part of facing and responding to the unfinished business that’s here in all that we do,” says Anthony.  


Explore the course overview and watch a short documentary of the pilot intensive on Country course.