Larissa Yasmin Behrendt (born 1 April 1969) is a Eualeyai/Kamillaroi woman, Aboriginal Australian legal academic plus writer . She is currently a Professor of Indigenous Research and Director of Research at the Jumbunna Institute for Indigenous Education and Research at the University of Technology Sydney.
Larissa Yasmin Behrendt
Larissa Behrendt at work, 2012
Early life and educationEdit
Behrendt was raised in the Sutherland Shire in the South of Sydney. Her mother was an accountant; her father was an air traffic controller and later an Aboriginal Studies academic. He was appointed Director of the Aboriginal Research and Resource Centre at the University of New South Wales, Sydney in 1988, around the time when Behrendt commenced studying there.
She completed a Bachelor of Jurisprudence and Bachelor of Laws degree at the University of New South Wales in 1992. In the same year, she was admitted by the Supreme Court of New South Wales to practise as a solicitor. She then travelled on a scholarship to the United States, where she completed a Master of Laws at Harvard Law School in 1994, and a Doctor of Juridical Science from the same institution in 1998. Behrendt was the first indigenous Australian to graduate from Harvard Law School.
After graduating from Harvard Law School, Behrendt worked in Canada for a year with a range of First Nations organisations. In 1999, she worked with the Assembly of First Nations in developing a gender equality policy, and she represented the Assembly at the United Nations. The same year, she did a study for the Slavey people comparing native title developments in Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
Since 1998, Behrendt has been a member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, and was appointed to the Institute's Research Advisory Council in 2000. In 2000, she was admitted by the Supreme Court of the Australian Capital Territory to practise as a barrister. Behrendt is a republican, opposing the institution of monarchy in Australia.
She is also a Fellow of the Academy of the Social Sciences of Australia and a Foundation Fellow of the Australian Academy of Law.
In April 2011, Behrendt was appointed to chair the Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People for the federal government. The Review, tasked with providing a roadmap for indigenous university education, delivered its report in September 2012 and received a widely positive response for its emphasis on achievable parity targets and the re-allocation of existing resources to support meaningful outcomes such as "fostering a 'professional class' of indigenous graduates."
Behrendt has written extensively on legal and Indigenous social justice issues. Her books include Aboriginal Dispute Resolution (1995) and Achieving Social Justice (2003). In 2005 she co-authored the book Treaty.
Behrendt has also written two works of fiction, including a novel, Home, which won the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards, the David Unaipon Award in 2002, and the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Best First Novel in the south-east Asian/South Pacific region in 2005. Her second novel, Legacy, won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Prize for Indigenous Writing (2010).
In 2012, Behrendt published Indigenous Australia For Dummies.
Work in the artsEdit
Behrendt has played an active role in creating and supporting arts organisations and initiatives and is a consistent advocate of increased funding for the arts. In 2007, she was the inaugural chair of National Indigenous Television, the first broadcast television network in Australia dedicated to indigenous programming.
Behrendt has served on the board of The Sydney Writers Festival. She is currently on the board of the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia and chairs their Indigenous Advisory Panel. In 2008, she was appointed to the board of the Bangarra Dance Theatre and has been the chair since 2010. She was appointed to the board of Museums and Galleries NSW in 2012.
Work in educationEdit
Behrendt has been active in issues around Indigenous education including literacy. In 2002, she was the co-recipient of the inaugural Neville Bonner National Teaching Award. She has served on the board of Tranby Aboriginal College in Glebe, and is currently the ambassador for the Gawura Campus at St. Andrew's Cathedral School. She was a founder and is currently a director of The Sydney Story Factory which recently has established a literacy program in Redfern.
In April 2011, Behrendt was appointed to chair The Review of Higher Education Access and Outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People for the federal government. The Review,tasked with providing a roadmap for indigenous university education, delivered its report in September 2012 and received a widely positive response for its emphasis on achievable parity targets and the re-allocation of existing resources to support meaningful outcomes such as "fostering a 'professional class' of indigenous graduates." In releasing the report on 14 September 2012, Senator Chris Evans, Minister for Tertiary Education, accepted all of its recommendations.
Community and legal workEdit
Behrendt is the director of the St. George Women's Housing Inc. From 2009 to 2012, she co-chaired the City of Sydney's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Panel. She is an active member of the Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council.
Behrendt has been involved in several pro bono test cases involving adverse treatment of Aboriginal peoples in the criminal justice system, including appearing as junior counsel in the NSW Supreme Court case of Campbell v Director of Public Prosecutions . She worked inside the NSW prison system between 2003 and 2012 in her role as Alternative Chair of the Serious Offenders Review Council. She has also held judicial positions on the Administrative Decisions Tribunal (Equal Opportunity Division) and as a Land Commissioner on the Land and Environment Court.
Deadwood tweet and subsequent controversyEdit
Comments made by Behrendt on Twitter that appeared to disparage Northern Territory Member of the Legislative Assembly, Territory Minister, and Aboriginal elder Bess Price have been the subject of ongoing controversy despite Behrendt's continued insistence that the tweet was taken out of context. She maintains that she was referring not to Price personally, but to the acrimonious tenor of a debate on the television program Q&A. While watching TV series Deadwood, Behrendt replied to a comment on the social media site that had expressed outrage about Price's support for the Northern Territory intervention, writing "I watched a show where a guy had sex with a horse and I'm sure it was less offensive than Bess Price."
Behrendt apologised both publicly and privately to Mrs. Price, who has not formally accepted her apology but said the comment showed that Behrendt was out of touch with rural Aborigines. Behrendt has said that the throwaway comment has made her a target for a campaign of character assassination. Several journalists have gone on record supporting this assessment, most notably Robert Manne. This campaign has subsequently been characterised as a coordinated response to a court case in which Behrendt and eight others were simultaneously involved against News Corp.
Herald Sun columnist Andrew Bolt used Behrendt's name in two controversial articles about "political" Aborigines. Bolt asserted that Behrendt and other fair-skinned Aborigines claimed aboriginality to advance their careers. The Australian court system has since ruled that the articles were inflammatory, offensive and contravened the Racial Discrimination Act.
In 1993, Behrendt was the winner of the Lionel Murphy Foundation Scholarship. In 2002, she was the co-recipient of the inaugural Neville Bonner National Teaching Award. She was the 2004 Deadly Award winner for literature.
She had a long-term relationship with Geoff Scott, a senior Indigenous bureaucrat, former CEO of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, and current CEO of NSW Aboriginal Land Council.
- Home, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD, 2004, ISBN 0702234079
- Legacy, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD, 2009, ISBN 9780702237331
- Aboriginal Dispute Resolution: A step towards self-determination and community autonomy, Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW 1995, ISBN 1862871787 
- Achieving social justice: indigenous rights and Australia's future, Federation Press, Annandale, NSW, 2003, ISBN 1862874506
- Resolving Indigenous Disputes: Land conflict and beyond, co-authored with Loretta Kelly, Federation Press, Leichhardt, NSW, 2008, ISBN 9781862877078
- Indigenous Australia for Dummies, John Wiley & Sons, Milton, QLD, 2012, ISBN 9781742169637
- Rabbit-proof Fence, Currency Press, Sydney, NSW, 2012, ISBN 9780868199108
- Finding Eliza: Power and colonial storytelling, University of Queensland Press, St Lucia, QLD, 2016, ISBN 9780702253904
- John Huxley. "Long life of a throwaway tweet". The Sydney Morning Herald.
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- "It's so hip to be black" by Andrew Bolt, Herald Sun, 15 April 2009
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- Malcolm Knox (18 September 2010). "Lunch with Larissa Behrendt". The Sydney Morning Herald.
- Behrendt, Larissa in The Encyclopedia of Women and Leadership in Twentieth-Century Australia
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