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From Words to Justice: Shivaun’s Journey of Education & Advocacy

Shivaun Hughes, (Staddon, Class of  1989) shares her story and how she has navigated a diverse career encompassing literature, teaching, law, and human rights. From classrooms to courtrooms, her journey unfolds, revealing the subtle threads that connect her experiences and passions.

Tell us a little about your career and education path after Santa Maria College.

After Santa Maria, I majored in Literature and completed a Graduate Diploma in Secondary Education at Curtin University. I commenced my teaching career at Paraburdoo District High School before moving into the Catholic sector. I had the privilege of teaching at Kolbe Catholic College for a number of years, where I was appointed Head of English and then taught in London for three years. My husband and I returned to Perth in the weeks leading up to the birth of our first child in 2004. Our second daughter was born in 2006, by which time I had commenced a Law degree. I studied part-time while raising the girls, graduating with First Class honours. I taught at Notre Dame University for six months before commencing in the graduate program at Legal Aid WA. I worked there for ten years before taking up my current role as Acting Registrar at the Children’s Court in Perth.

What inspired you to make the transition from teaching English to pursuing a career in law? Was there a specific moment or realisation that prompted this change?

There was no specific moment; it was more a situation that the timing felt right. I had wanted to study law for a while, and my ‘stay-at-home-mum’ period provided the perfect opportunity. I really loved teaching; it is a wonderful vocation,  but I also wanted to pursue my life-long interest in human rights and social justice. A transition to law was an obvious move for me. 

In your role as a lawyer, have you been drawn to a particular area of law?

I have not so much been drawn to a particular area of law as I am guided by my strong commitment to working with vulnerable people and families. 

I have worked across a number of jurisdictions, including civil, criminal and family law, and I qualified as an Independent Children’s Lawyer in 2019. The bulk of my work has been in Family Court parenting matters, restraining orders, and protection and care. I have a soft spot for the protection and care jurisdiction.  

Having been recently seconded to the Children’s Court of WA as Acting Registrar, what does that position involve? 

I make procedural and administrative decisions in relation to summonses and document requests, and once a week, I preside over the ‘return of summons’ list. I also convene pre-hearing conferences between the Department of Communities and parents who have had their children taken into care. The conferences typically last for a couple of hours each, and I do two each day, so that is where I spend most of my time. It is really rewarding work.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Some days, I leap out of bed and hit the gym, but if I’m honest, that is the exception rather than the rule. Most days, I crawl out of bed, hit the couch with a coffee, and scroll on my phone! Whichever way I start the day, I always spend some moments practising mindfulness and gratitude. I also prepare my husband’s coffee every morning and hug my girls before they head out for the day. We are a close family, and we take time each day to nurture each other. 

When I was working at Legal Aid, I would head into the office to start at around 8.30 am. I appeared in court most days, with the appearances taking anywhere from a few minutes to several hours. When I was not in court, I would be writing letters or affidavits, drafting proofs, interviewing clients, negotiating, or keeping up with administrative tasks. I also provided training and supervision to junior lawyers as required. 

In the evenings, I usually walk the dog and enjoy a home-cooked meal (always more so when my husband does the cooking), and on weekends, I love to go with my family to our place in Wilyabrup. The block is in the bush, so there’s always lots of work to do, but we enjoy getting our hands dirty. We also enjoy hosting friends and family. It’s a perfect area to relax and connect. 

Have you found your background as an English teacher to be an asset in your legal career? Are there specific skills or perspectives that you’ve carried over from the classroom to the courtroom?

My background as an English teacher has definitely been an asset to me as a lawyer. The ability to communicate clearly is important as a teacher, as well as in law. I think the skill set that has helped me most, though, is in the area of interpersonal skills. My work with teenagers set me up well to work with the vulnerable clients I deal with today.

Reflecting on your time at Santa Maria, what was your favourite memory from your time here?

I have so many fond memories from my time at Santa Maria, it’s difficult to choose one, but one story that does come up from time to time is when I hid in a cupboard at the back of the classroom during silent reading and kept making noises to make my friends laugh. In the end, Ms Scully put her book down and demanded to know what was going on, so I cracked open the cupboard door and put my hand up! Fortunately, she laughed; I’m not sure I’d have had the same response if one of my own daughters came home and told me they’d hidden in a cupboard at school.

I often reflect on how lucky we were to eat lunch with our friends on the front lawn, looking out over the Swan River. I remember feeling grateful at the time, and I still feel grateful all these years later, both for the beautiful view and the wonderful friends. 

Were there any staff or programs that had an impact on you into adulthood?

Diane O’Flaherty had a huge influence on me. She inspired me to study Literature at uni and become an English/Lit teacher and also to continue my involvement with Amnesty International beyond my participation in the writing group at school. I ended up co-convening a local Amnesty group for a number of years as an adult, and I am grateful to Ms O’Flaherty for introducing me to human rights issues.

Debbie Lievense was the other person who had a profound influence on me. What an amazing and beautiful person she is! 

As far as programs go, I got a lot out of religious studies, even though I have not carried religious faith through my adulthood. I feel fortunate to have been supported to develop a strong sense of spirituality and what it means to contribute to community. I don’t think I enjoyed religion classes at the time, but I do consider what I learned in the lessons helped to shape me into the person I am today. 

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