Earlier this year, I was privileged to take part in the Arts Law Centre of Australia’s ‘wills trip’. Working with the local Arts Centre, we set out to draft wills for almost 30 Indigenous artists in the Warakurna and Papulankutja Communities. We started our journey in Yulara near Uluru, driving more than 300km to reach the communities. We met with local artists and spoke to them about the importance of having a will, drafting wills for those who requested them.

Why is having a will important for an Aboriginal artist? An artist’s estate can earn copyright and re-sale royalties for 70 years after the artist’s death. If someone dies without a will, each Australian state has laws (called ‘intestacy’ laws) which set a strict order in which that person’s assets are distributed. Assets are distributed first to the person’s spouse or de facto partner, followed by their children, parents, siblings, etc.

Relationships which are recognised by Aboriginal customary law, like kinship relationships and traditional adoptions, are not acknowledged in intestacy laws. This means that the law isn’t always in accordance with Aboriginal views as to who should be entitled to their assets. When a will exists, Aboriginal people can make provision for the people who they want to benefit from their estate, even if those people would not normally be entitled to a share under Australian law. Aboriginal artists can make sure that any copyright and resale royalties also go to these people.

I have some amazing memories from my time with the communities. For me, the best part of the week was spending time with the artists, learning their family histories and hearing the stories that inspire their work. These stories are handed down through generations to teach about country and culture. I also loved seeing the artworks and learning about how the art centres support the local artists and their communities.

I feel very lucky to have been chosen to go on this trip. I would like to thank the Arts Law Centre of Australia for organising the visit. I would also like to thank the Warakurna and Papulankutja Arts Centres and Communities, the Pro Bono Committee and my team at Telstra for making it possible.

About the program

These ‘wills trips’ take place annually, supported by Telstra Legal’s Pro Bono Program under which our lawyers contribute to unmet legal need in a number of ways. We’re the first major corporate in Australia to run our own in-house Pro Bono Program, and the ‘wills trips’ are a great fit with Telstra’s focus on supporting and enabling remote Indigenous communities.

Alicia Moody – former Telstra Legal Counsel