Balance, Passion, and Diversity
In Conversation with Evelyn Tadros (BCA/LLB 2007)
What strikes me most whilst talking to Evelyn Tadros is the breadth and diversity of her passions, and the way she manages to find a place for each of them in her life. While she has worked on some of the most high-profile human rights cases in Australia, Evelyn somehow finds time to honour her other passions, including family-time, music, art, dance and even more human rights. It is an awareness of the balance she needs to strike between each of these areas of fulfilment that seems, to me, to have led to both her personal and professional success.
As the founder of the Human Rights Arts and Film Festival (‘HRAFF’), it is unsurprising to learn that Evelyn was drawn to the law through the arts, crediting Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom for showing her the way in which lawyers could create change. Defying the expectations of her ‘typical immigrant’ parents to study medicine, Evelyn cheekily ensured that she would not have completed the required subjects for medicine, and enrolled in Creative Arts/ Law at the Melbourne Law School (‘MLS’) instead.
During her time at MLS, Evelyn was heavily involved in the student societies, placing her creative spin on the MLS ‘corporate culture’. While she was organising events such as ‘Beyond Collins Street’ and non-corporate seminars and conferences, in her final year at MLS, Evelyn founded HRAFF. After realising that Australia was one of the only countries in the world without a Human Rights Festival, Evelyn decided to fill that gap in the market. In 2007 HRAFF was launched, with Evelyn acting as co-director, and subsequently as chairperson.
Speaking about HRAFF, Evelyn says that it was created to try to talk about human rights with people who wouldn’t ordinarily engage with those issues, rather than trying to “preach to the converted”. Through the medium of art and film, people are able to engage with human rights issues without needing to have a law degree or background in human rights. Through storytelling, people are able to connect with each other as human beings, and it is this connection that enables a real understanding of what it means to be human, and what human rights really are.
Despite encouraging students to go Beyond Collins St and follow non-corporate career pathways, Evelyn began working at Clayton Utz right on Collins St. This was where she felt she needed to start her own career and challenge her own preconceptions. Feeling like a “fraud”, Evelyn initially kept her passion for human rights under wraps, quietly and secretly running HRAFF while working on corporate matters with surprising enjoyment. However, upon discovering HRAFF, Evelyn’s supervising partner at the firm actively encouraged her to pursue this work and to promote it to rest of the staff at Clayton Utz. Given the liberty to feel more herself at the firm, she thrived there and to her delight, Clayton Utz held regular HRAFF screenings, and many colleagues attended HRAFF galas and events. One of the biggest takeaways from her time at Clayton Utz was the importance of being open-minded but also true to one’s self, and also not assuming that the corporate world and human rights are diametrically opposed, but actually learning that they intersect and can be mutually complementary. Evelyn attributes this experience to allowing her to develop a “more nuanced” and open approach to talking about human rights which has enabled her to connect with a broader range of people about human rights issues.
Jumping forward to 2022, and after serving as Senior Associate to Justice Almond in the Supreme Court of Victoria, Evelyn has been at the Victorian Bar for about eight years, taking on a variety of commercial and human rights matters. During her time at the bar, Evelyn has appeared in a number of significant cases in both the commercial and public law spheres. During our conversation she discusses two of the more recent cases; the recently withdrawn High Court case, Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs v Montgomery (Montgomery appeal), and the recent settlement involving the former Associates to former High Court judge, Dyson Heydon and the Commonwealth.
The Montgomery appeal was significant in its potential to overturn the case of Love; Thoms v Commonwealth  HCA 3, which established that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders cannot be considered an alien for the purposes of the aliens power under the Australian Constitution. Evelyn notes that the attempt by the Morrison government to overturn this precedent was significant not just for the roughly 100 non-citizen First Nations people who would be affected, but also for the symbolism and message that an overturning would signify: the “absurd” notion that First Nations people may be considered aliens in their own land, and that the government can and will use that interpretation to send First Nations people “home” to a different country.
It is interesting to learn that a key component to the success of this case (i.e., the Commonwealth withdrawing its application) was the lobbying and communicating that took place by a number of different people and organisations behind the scenes when it became clear that the Albanese government would form government. Continuing such a case would, they argued, be in conflict with Labor’s policies on the Uluru Statement from the Heart to which it had fully committed. Consequently, about three months into the Albanese government’s term, the Commonwealth withdrew the case — right before a judgment was expected from the High Court.
When I ask about the availability of human rights work in Australia, Evelyn notes that Australia remains the only Western democratic country without a national human rights charter or bill, meaning that explicit human rights cases are not common. In fact, coming from a commercial litigation background, Evelyn was finding that initially she was getting primarily commercial matters as a Barrister. That said, Evelyn found that taking defamation and migration matters allowed her to move into a more human rights-centred space. In fact, working on the Montgomery case allowed her to develop specialised skills in the area of migration, particularly concerning First Nations people, and be seen as a “go-to” for such matters.
In terms of advice for students with a passion for a specific area or human rights issue, Evelyn says to “pursue it 100%”. However, for Evelyn, the difficulty (and arguably her strength) has been her interest in a range of things, meaning she doesn’t feel tied to one area of human rights. This has also allowed her to continue to successfully practice in commercial litigation, which keeps her practice diverse and interesting, but also helps her fund her pro bono work. While Evelyn claims that she doesn’t have “all the answers” concerning balance and mental wellbeing in the legal profession, for her, the commercial work gives her some reprieve from the emotional involvement and burnout which comes with human rights litigation and is a way of maintaining some balance. I respect how honest and open Evelyn is concerning the susceptibility to those in the legal field to compromise their mental health, and the need to be gentle with ourselves.
She is also deeply connected to music and dance, regularly performing with The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra alongside her musician husband who is one of the founders of the band. The band is outspoken about political issues, particularly concerning First Nations rights and refugee rights. Evelyn really values this creative outlet, finding reprieve in sharing the “heavy issues” that she deals with daily through artistic expression.
When I ask Evelyn what she is most proud of, she immediately exclaims that she was really proud of managing to take her two kids to London on her own following the conclusion of the Montgomery hearings. I think this reveals one of the more admirable qualities that I have seen in our short time together— her genuine passion for others, and the ability to see life as more than just work and the law.
However, Evelyn does have a case of which she is the proudest— working for the former associates of Dyson Heydon in reaching settlement for his acts of sexual harassment during their time working for him at the High Court. While this was an excellent outcome for these brave women, Evelyn says that it was “really humbling” to work for women who are at the “top of the grade” as High Court associates, in contrast with a typical barrister/client dynamic in which the barrister would typically have “all the knowledge”. Evelyn found the privilege of working for these women very satisfying, empathising with their trauma, and reflecting that she likely wouldn’t be doing what she is now had she had the misfortune to be in a similar position. She laments the unfairness that as a consequence of their experiences, the legal profession has been deprived of these “exceptionally bright, determined, amazing women”.
Even more broadly, their experiences of feeling let down by the highest legal institution in the nation is sadly not unique. It continues to be mirrored in the experiences of First Nations people. “Australia’s just got so much to do to right these wrongs”.
After gleaning all this inspiration from Evelyn, I’m curious — what are her dreams for the future? Where does she see herself going, both in relation to human rights and the law? Evelyn is philosophical. Rather than seeking certain positions, she would love to see a national human rights act implemented, and would love to be involved in that process. Regardless of what she achieves, she would seek to do so while maintaining a balance with family life, and continue doing all the “fun, creative” things that she loves.
Whatever Evelyn seeks to achieve, I have no doubt that she will do so with balance, and in a way that reflects the diversity of her passions.
Prepared by: Kaitlin Jempson
JD Student MLS