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Caldwell law student tops the class with excellence award

By Ivy Jensen

THE law is a tough enough subject to study without the challenges of isolation, unreliable internet connection, work, children and COVID-19.

Yet, Caldwell’s Tracey McDonald is overcoming all of that and more.

Last month the mother-of-two was recognised as one of La Trobe University Bendigo’s best law students — winning the prestigious Robertson Hyetts Prize.

‘‘I was pretty shocked when I got the email,’’ she said.

‘‘I then thought it must be a hoax and let it go for five days before ringing the uni.

‘‘They told me I was the standout candidate, which took me by surprise.

‘‘I guess being in a remote area, I didn’t have a good idea of where I sit in the class.’’

Bendigo-based law firm Robertson Hyetts sponsors the award with a $1500 prize for the student who performs with excellence in rural and regional law and legal practice.

Studying part-time, Mrs McDonald is three-quarters of the way through her degree, with her goal to work as a lawyer helping the rural, regional and often remote communities in her district.

And she’s not letting her home life, isolation or age stand in her way.

Mrs McDonald, who is aged in her 50s, lives on a broadacre dryland cropping farm, and with the NSW border closed and remote studying in place, she travels 25 km from home to the tiny Bunnaloo hall and oval, just to get internet connection.

“That’s a 50 km-round trip for each Zoom session,” she said.

‘‘Our internet service has been very challenging. When I first started my law degree, I was dropping out so much in that first week, I was in tears all the time,’’ she said.

If that wasn’t enough, she has a farm to run with husband Tim, and two teenage boys to raise.

‘‘I spend a lot of time in the car. With two teenagers heavily into sport, I drive 2000 km a week; 500 of those is just to the school bus stop and back, which is 25 km away,’’ she said.

Mrs McDonald spends the time at her teens’ sports training catching up on her uni reading.

‘‘I spend every spare second studying,’’ she said.

‘‘I’m lucky Tim has been a really big help.’’

Before settling into farm life and having her family, Mrs McDonald did an Honours Degree in Women’s Studies, always intending to return to university.

Following two major droughts, the changing demands of her farm commitments, and her two children settling into primary school, Mrs McDonald felt the time was right to continue her tertiary studies.

A year after attending a Bendigo Campus open day, she enrolled in law/psychology, eventually dedicating herself to law.

‘‘I love the challenge of solving a legal problem on an intellectual side and being able to help people in a practical important way,’’ she said.

Last year, Mrs McDonald interned with Loddon Campaspe Community Legal Centre in Bendigo.

‘‘I spent most of the time in court, and I loved it and learnt so much,’’ she said.

‘‘Most of the clients were domestic violence victims, so it really piqued my interest in helping women. I’m looking forward to finishing and getting involved.

‘‘Ultimately, I’m hoping it will lead to a career.’’

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