Position: Director Rae & Partners, practicing principally in the area of Commercial Law and Conveyancing.
What do you think of TV’s “MasterChef” program? ‘I love food and wine. Tasmania has some of the best in the world, but I have an addictive personality so I don’t watch “MasterChef”. If I started, that would be it for me. I am obsessed with “Gossip Girl”, and American Reality TV’s “Keeping Up with the Kardashians”. I only have time to watch a few things so I have had to forgo MasterChef.’
‘Junk food’ TV is an intriguing obsession to admit to when you’re someone who counts among their many achievements being the youngest appointed partner at any law firm in Tasmania (she was 27 years old) and the Telstra Young Business Woman of the Year for Tasmania in 2006 at 29 years old.
Now 34, Melanie Kerrison is a mother, married to Tasmania’s State Director of the Liberal Party, and as committed as ever to her work the community and Tasmania. Until recently, she was on the board of professional arts group Tasdance. She is a director of the Tasmania Chamber of Commerce and Industry (TCCI), and by anyone’s standard, is a high achiever.
A quiet night at home?
Melanie is not the sort of person who goes to work, comes home and sits quietly flipping through an old copy of Vogue. (Not that the image is out of the question; she has been a subscriber to the fashion bible since grade 7)
The difference is, like her TV obsession, Melanie’s absolutely passionate about magazines, buying and devouring everything she can. A “voracious learner”, magazines are her way to unlock the world, opening up ideas, other communities, other ways of being and doing.
“People come to me for advice: legal and strategic. I think you need to know where that advice sits on a wider stage. Legally, it all has to be correct, of course, but it also has to challenge the norm and to do that you need as wide a view as possible of what is going on,” explains Melanie, who admits her passions and obsessions are also her way to escape.
Questions and answers
It all begs the question: from where did this drive to learn, lead, succeed, and be part of a much bigger Tasmanian picture come?
The evidence suggests it all began in childhood and is a direct effect of her parents’ outgoing natures and involvement in all aspects of Tasmanian life.
Firstly, as an only child living on a farm, there was a lot of “self-directed play” and the independence continued through school. Partnered with this was encouragement from her parents to take part in their life, including attending community and political meetings.
“I was involved from an early age and in high school I went to Launceston Church Grammar School, which my father always said was a privilege not a right. He strongly believes such privileges must be repaid, and the school itself encouraged community service. It was how I was raised,” explains Melanie about her high level of involvement and continuing community commitment.
Being in Launceston and a lawyer also afforded opportunities. It’s a small place where committees and boards, seeking the sorts of skills and training Melanie has as a lawyer, were quick to identify her interest.
“I’ve always worked hard. My father said: ‘Kerrisons need to go to work when they turn 14’, and true to his word I went to work in the local supermarket at 14 for 10 years during school holidays to help support myself. It was a fantastic experience because when you deal with people in a frontline retail environment, you’re dealing with them on a case-by-case basis quite apart from how you feel at the time. It teaches you a lot.”
Graduating in 1999 from the University of Tasmania with a science law degree, Melanie commenced work at Rae & Partners in 2000, becoming the firm’s first female partner in 2004. If you quiz her about her ambitions and take into consideration her apple farming family background, law seems a long way outside the square.
“All my life I wanted to be a podiatrist. There are not enough allied health professionals in Tasmania and to have the qualifications is literally a licence to print money.
“Then, when I finished school and found I liked science, I thought I’d go to Melbourne and do Anthropology and Archeology.
My next career
“At the last moment, being an only child I didn’t want to leave my mother, I swapped to Hobart. I hadn’t applied for anything, but I got into science to do geology and geography and needed another subject. A few friends were doing law and they were fun. I thought, I’ll do that, and discovered I absolutely loved it.
“My second career is going to be hairdressing,” Melanie continues without missing a beat. “I love my hairdresser. She’s inspiring for all sorts of reasons, including the fact she is able to compete on a world stage and work for some of the large international hairdressing corporations from a base in Tasmania. For now, I practice on my daughter, Harriet, who’s two.”
Since winning the Telstra Business award in 2006, Melanie has found herself somewhat of a fixture on the speaker circuit. She relishes the opportunity it gives her to address two of her favourite topics: why making a contribution to the local community is valuable, and why encouraging young people to consider regional Australia as a career destination is so important.
“People think of Tasmania as a great place to retire and we’ve gained a lot from that,” says Melanie. “But Tasmania is ageing. We lose so much of our youth to the mainland. It’s not unusual to find that more than half of a family no longer lives here. I am passionate about developing opportunities for young people in Tasmania. We need the dynamism of the way young people think and act. We need the diversity.”
Learn, Lead and Succeed
Melanie Kerrison was recent guest speaker at the Westpac Learn, Lead and Succeed workshops in Tasmania. She enjoyed the event and the chance to take one of her colleagues along.
“We do lots of academic and extended learning as lawyers, but you don’t get a lot of management style learning or personal development style learning. That’s what made this a fantastic opportunity. Lawyers tend to learn about the law, rarely taking into consideration what they need to successful in practice and as a person.”