From Humble Beginnings to Community Empowerment: History of the Community Legal Centres in South Australia
In the early 1980s, amidst a landscape of political change and cultural shifts, a vision emerged for a community legal center in South Australia that would champion the rights of the vulnerable and disadvantaged. This vision came to fruition, marking the 40 years of Community Legal Centers across South Australia (CLCSA's).
The story begins in 1981 when a dedicated attorney, present at the inception of the Southern Community Legal Centre recalls the humble origins. At that time, he worked for the West Heidelberg Community Legal Service in Melbourne. Visiting Adelaide, he noticed the rapid growth of the suburbs and the prevalence of public housing around Huntfield Heights. Curious about legal aid services in the area, he sought guidance from the Goodluck family, who directed him to Marie Manning at the Noarlunga Information Centre.
Inspired by Manning's enthusiasm, a collaboration formed, involving public servant John Heath, local academic Dr. Jeff Fitzpatrick, and community services officer Ian Newberry. Together, they navigated the complexities of funding applications, negotiating with the Attorney-General and overcoming the challenges of limited resources. In late 1982, the Commonwealth granted a provisional sum of $20,000, contingent on state support. This marked the birth of the Southern Community Justice Centre.
Reflecting on the early days, the attorney highlighted the collaborative spirit among community legal centers, acknowledging the efforts of various centers in supporting each other and addressing systemic issues. The story unfolds with the SCJC's involvement in diverse projects, from creating comic books about legal rights to initiating mediation services and financial counseling. The attorney emphasized the crucial role of community legal work in contributing to democracy, advocating for the vulnerable, and addressing societal issues.
As the CLCSA's evolved, it faced challenges, including skepticism from other legal centers regarding funding distribution. However, through collective efforts and a commitment to shared goals, the centers secured more funding and expanded their reach. The attorney stressed the importance of community lawyers as voices for those who couldn't speak for themselves, contributing to the health of democracy and good governance.
The journey continued with the CLCSA' s involvement in crucial issues such as domestic violence, social security, and the Maralinga inquiry. The attorney emphasised the slow but essential progress toward a democratic society, asserting that community legal centers belong in the heart of this ongoing struggle.
What started as a vague idea became a beacon of hope, empowering the community and advocating for justice for four decades and counting.