Special feature: International Women's Day
The career path of Bundaberg Regional Council's chief legal officer Amanda Sapolu has been anything but straightforward.
A thirst for knowledge and a love of learning has left Amanda with a bevy of degrees and a wealth of experience in wide-ranging industries.
Unlike most lawyers, Amanda said she didn’t come from an affluent background.
“My father was an immigrant house painter and my mother a stay at home mum,” Amanda said.
“I lived in housing commission houses, attended public schools and, before my first legal job, had never set foot inside a law firm nor met a lawyer.
“In my very extended family, my brother and I were the only ones to go to university.”
The 35-year-old said being surrounded by women that were forced into their circumstance due to a lack of education and financial independence drove her to become the best version of herself she could be.
From humble beginnings, big things grow
A 15-year-old Amanda secured her first job as a checkout chick, a position which supported her through university studies.
“My first professional job was a junior commercial lawyer working in a private firm in Toowoomba.
“I worked in a number of private firms undertaking various roles including wills and estates, matrimonial settlements and personal injuries.”
Unsure if law was indeed the career for her, Amanda went back to school to work as a veterinary nurse – however as it turned out that definitely wasn’t for her.
“That lasted a year after I realised I much preferred patting dogs than inserting cannulas!”
In 2009 she had her first foray in to local government as a parking officer for Toowoomba Regional Council.
By mid-2010 Amanda had moved in to the position of in-house solicitor.
In 2013, Amanda welcomed her second daughter in to the world. While this meant a break from work it was also an opportunity for her to complete a Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching in 2014, becoming a qualified secondary school teacher.
She said the decision to teach was totally random.
“I had two kids, I thought how am I going to handle this? I’ll go in to teaching and have a more family friendly career.”
Despite having no prior interaction with teenagers Amanda said it’s a decision she does not regret.
“I just completely fell in love with them. Some of the biggest joys of my life were teaching those kids.”
For two years she taught students at Pittsworth State High School before landing the position of Senior Legal Advisor at Whitsunday Regional Council in 2016.
She said local government law kept drawing her back as a “natural habitat”.
In 2018 Amanda secured her current position with Bundaberg Regional Council.
“There’s thousands of lawyers across Australia but when you get the opportunity to work in a Council in-house you can develop relationships.
“You can provide so much more than legal advice. You become the sound board or the governance check or the someone to talk to before a decision is made.”
Sharing knowledge and passion for local government law
It seems Amanda may have finally found her calling in local government law.
She is currently a sessional academic with the University of Southern Queensland teaching a course she wrote in local government law to Bachelor of Law students.
This foray in to academia came about over a simple cup of coffee.
“I applied for a job as a lecturer when I was teaching and it was neck and neck but in the end they chose someone else because I wasn’t in a position to start my PhD immediately.
“The Head of School called me to discuss a path in to academia and I ended up speaking to him about my passion for local government and how it’s not addressed in academia.
“He said he had approval for a course in local government but no one to write it yet and he asked if I’d like to do it.”
Amanda works on PhD
Following the many twists and turns in her career path has left Amanda with a number of educational and academic achievements, including:
- Bachelor of Laws
- Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice
- Graduate Certificate of Business
- Diploma of Management
- Graduate Diploma of Learning and Teaching
- Masters of Learning and Development
But she’s not finished yet! Amanda is currently working on her PhD looking at the role of the authorised person in local government.
Words of advice
For someone with so many achievements we thought it fitting to leave you with Amanda’s best piece of advice:
“You have to do what is right for you at this moment – you can’t impose the magic of a crystal ball or the benefit of hindsight.”