Mishelle Predika - office administrator/coordinator, 1995 - 2008
The photo of Mishelle Predika brimming from ear to ear in front of a NMLS sign sums up her time at the centre. She was immensely proud of the service and it defined who she was. This is her account of her 13 year-long employment.
"It was few weeks before Christmas in 1995 when I joined NMLS as their administrative assistant. It was my first job in an NGO and I had no idea how the experience was going to impact my own legal consciousness and my own idea of what equity and altruism meant.
"Walking up the creaky grey the stairs from a blustering Victoria Street I was very curious. On my first day I was warmly greeted by a team of hard working, compassionate and committed community lawyers Kate Lawrence and Jo Kerr, volunteers and the remarkable office manager Rhonda Gocher. I was immediately made at ease with a cup of tea to welcome me and an introduction to how the service operated.
"In the next two hours (on my first day), an important fax came through that would eventually see the establishment of a whole new specialist legal centre; the approval of the youth lawyer grant – a 3 year contract I recall. The team were ecstatic; it was the outcome of many months of work by the lawyers who set up and attended outreaches in key locations to assist young people and work to identify empirically a need for specialist lawyers for this particularly vulnerable demographic.
"Great first day I thought! Of course, it got better – as anyone would know if they have worked or volunteered in a community legal centre."
Coming to understand the value of the service
"It was a revelation, I had never been to a CLC and had no idea such a service existed and I thought to myself that this was an amazing resource for the community to utilise.
"As I got to know more and more about the service, what struck me most was that this busy and evidently important legal service had such humble beginnings, and the story of it starting “from a broom closet in the Melrose Street shops” still resonates. It was started by local lawyers and community development workers who saw a great disparity between community members who actually had access to justice and those who did not. Obviously, the latter was increasing and the problems becoming more complex, so this group gave their skills, time and energy to start what is now an important and far reaching service to countless people who live, work, study or visit the local area.
"Most importantly, my new workplace showed me, through real life stories and my own interaction with our community, just how easy it was to fall into the definition of being ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘marginalised’."
Remembering the camaraderie in the office
"The camaraderie that existed in the sector was instantaneous and infectious. The people who volunteered at the service will always have a firm and special place in my heart, coming together (from all walks of life) for a common passion which was to immerse themselves into the world of community law and make a difference and at the same time, learn about their theoretical studies, meet some great like-minded people who would become life-long friends or associates, and also watch some truly inspirational people apply their magnificent legal skills and knowledge in turning a person’s life around.
"The large table in the open office space was a great place to debrief, relax and share our stories about life, study, the law, family, our pets and our challenges. Lunch was always a time that staff and volunteers would come together to reflect. Food was always a common interest and the local fish and chip shop was, for one winter, a very popular place for procuring the goods for some memorable and large morning teas.
"Potato Cakes (or PCs as we called them), were becoming increasingly popular amongst staff and volunteers who were then unaware of the healthy eating cafes would soon emerge a couple of years later; starting with the first Sushi shop opening on Errol Street. No one was immune from the PCs; orders got so big that eventually two people were needed to collect them! Condiments were salt, sauce and white vinegar and the smell drew each and every staff member out of their tiny offices to marvel in the singular and intoxicating aroma of the PC. By springtime, maybe earlier, the obsession had stopped due mostly to our expanding waistlines and soon the sushi shop opened and we were all on the road to ‘recovery’. When I have my occasional PC these days, I always remember those mornings with some guilt and fondness."
13 years of connection to the local community
"The legal service was an amazing place to work – I stayed there almost 13 years and transcribed thousands of hours of letters, police interviews, briefs, minutes and reports. I watched over the intersection of Victoria and Errol Streets for many hours and as I did this (touch typist), observing a suburb that reminded me of a close knit country town.
"Everyone knew each other well, respected each other, supported each other and laughed and played together. Spring Flings and local fund raisers were always great events, guess the lollies-jars, BBQs, Dog Shows, Lawn Bowls, Dance Parties, Movie Nights and Trivia Nights with questionable hosts and my husbands’ three piece band Swamplands playing at any event, in any weather and at any location."
Becoming the office coordinator
"Eventually I got to step into the role of Coordinator and I found myself immersed in the management side of community legal sector, dealing with funders, local council, and a variety of stakeholders and undertaking financial management. The ideas were bold and exciting and working closely with my peers gave me an opportunity to be involved in some deeply rewarding activities such as community legal education, large scale community consultations, organising state and national conferences, sitting on steering committees, pro-bono secondments with the VGSO and working closely with our treasures; the volunteers.
"It will always continue to be a very special time in my professional life where I saw that with hard work, anything was possible – eventually."
A defining experience
"I could go on and on, but here I shall stop. Working at the Legal Service changed me for the best; it opened my eyes up to a whole world of a remarkable people providing an important public and personal service with the passion, commitment and altruism of a warrior fighting a war against the disease that is bleak disadvantage and marginalisation.
"I would like to congratulate everyone who worked to support the community, the service and the future direction of valued legal services, happy 40th birthday!"
You can find out more about IMCL's current staff here.
“... my new workplace showed me, through real life stories and my own interaction with our community, just how easy it was to fall into the definition of being ‘disadvantaged’ and ‘marginalised’.”