Chris is now both a lawyer and mediator practising in Fremantle. In the late 1970s Chris Williams was a registered builder who developed an interest in low-cost affordable housing and community development through his involvement in Community Aid Abroad (CAA) and a Christian community. He had commenced studying for a law degree at UWA and left for broader studies related to social justice, completing his arts degree at the recently founded Murdoch University.
CAA’s state committee and its executive officers, Joan Carlin and Scott Christie, favoured a holistic approach to social justice, recalls Chris.
“They would run macro-analysis seminars and form links with other groups including environmental campaigns, such as the Campaign to Save Native Forests, and promote training in nonviolent direct action. CAA addressed both symptoms and causes of poverty, primarily internationally but also in remote WA. Being a member of CAA’s state committee encouraged me to look for ways to pursue direct involvement in community development.”
This led Chris to the doors of Shelter WA where the organisations activities were being led by coordinator Aileen O’Rourke at that time. Chris volunteered at Shelter WA and other organisations while considering a career change during a period of 6 months’ unemployment.
In 1977 Robert Bropho established the Swan Valley Noongar Community on a site adjacent to Lockridge. From the beginning several groups converged at the site and improvised with huts and tents before government agencies started to provide temporary shelter and support services.
Shelter WA visited the campsite in those early days.
“People of all ages were living in tents and enduring harsh conditions,” remembers Chris.
“The state government departments tended to see them as recalcitrant given the mainstream housing available at the time, which did not necessarily suit the community’s demand to be rehoused as a community.
“Seeing the conditions in which people were living did have quite an effect on me particularly when the rain was pouring down.”
In 1979 Chris began working at the Department for Community Welfare (later Department for Community Services) which was the government organisation formed out of the Native Welfare Department and Department of Child Welfare in Western Australia, having a loose mandate to work with Aboriginal communities.
“I was located to the wheatbelt region where I spent five years working in community development with a Noongar Community before returning to the city,” Chris said. At an individual level, advocacy for people facing eviction was another important part of his work.
Chris remains convinced that advocacy organisations promoting housing as a human right, and the provision of complimentary services, including long-term funding of community development, are essential to working for a socially just society in Australia.
This would be the catalyst for him to completing his law degree qualifying as a lawyer, and pursuing interests, including political interests, in the area of social justice.
“I worked at Legal Aid WA and the Sussex Street Community Legal Centre and now I have my own practice,” said Chris. He also volunteers at a Community Legal Centre and retains his commitment to promoting social justice through both his law firm and community involvement.