Written by Julia Day
Professor Donna Craig is no stranger to the UNE Law School. In fact for many years she has maintained a strong relationship with both the Australasian Centre for Agriculture and Law (Ag Law Centre) and Professor Paul Martin in particular. Donna’s friendship with Paul (the current Director of the Ag Law Centre) started when they attended law school at the University of New South Wales together. They graduated at the same time and have been friends ever since.
In terms of her professional work, Donna is passionate about sustainability, environmental management and both indigenous and human rights. She publishes extensively in this area.
Like most people, Donna’s social conscience developed in her childhood. Her great grandparents emigrated from China to Tingha NSW and then to North West Queensland in the early 1900s. The family stood out as they were the only Chinese family in their remote community of Richmond (300 miles from Townsville).
Donna’s grandmother (Grace) was a ‘deserted wife’ (as it was then known) with four daughters. Life was tough for Grace. She was a single mother, with 4 part Chinese girls. During the Great Depression she did not have an income. Grace and her daughters often did not have enough to eat. The family eventually gained financial security when they established a family business- O’Sullivans Drapery. The drapery is still in existence and is now run by one of Donna’s cousins. Even though Grace was left to fend for herself, she always spoke about her husband with respect. She hoped he would return to the family. He did not return, but asked Grace to sit with him at the end of his life. She did until he passed away.
Donna grew up in the 1960s as part of the marginalised group- Australian Born Chinese (ABCs). In the 1960s the ABCs were never fully accepted in Australian society. They were provided with no support and did not have a cultural identity. Instead they were isolated and cut off from their language. Put simply they were expected to adapt and conform. Many Chinese immigrants changed their name to help facilitate this move away from their heritage. Donna spent her childhood feeling Chinese because of her deep identification with her grandmother, mother and aunties. However from a young age she did identify the overt, subtle and complex discrimination that had always been part of every level of Australian society.
As a young girl Donna started to develop an affinity with other marginalised groups. She spent much of her childhood in Mount Isa and Camooweal where there was a larger Aboriginal community on Rocklands Station run by Ada and Robby Miller. Donna used to play with the Indigenous kids and gather bush foods with them. She was always impressed by how functional these groups were. They fished, grew their own food and had good access to land and water. They were not dispossessed and Donna did not sense violence in the community.
Growing up in this environment motivated Donna to seek out higher education opportunities. Both Donna and her brother knew it was important for them to find a voice where they could advocate for the community. Donna decided to become a lawyer whilst her brother pursued medicine.
Donna now uses her extensive legal expertise to work with and advocate for vulnerable groups. For example, she works with Indigenous communities where she puts her academic knowledge to work. She has personal knowledge of how important it is to maintain your cultural identity. She notes ‘against all odds my grandmother maintained her cultural identity and I was lucky enough to be able to soak this up!’
Just like Grace, Donna is an advocate, survivor and an inspiration to us all!