From home shelter to policy maker

Jill celebrating with her daughters, Juliana and Kaitlyn at her graduation.

Not so long ago, Jill Guljas was living in a homeless shelter in Brisbane. An apprentice hairdresser pregnant with her second child, life’s grim reality was that of welfare and wishful thinking.

How times have changed.

In 2013, Jill completed a Bachelor of Psychological Science at Griffith University and was also named the Attorney-General’s Indigenous Law Student of the Year. She was joined by daughters Juliana, 12, and Kaitlyn, 6, at the Brisbane Exhibition and Convention Centre when she received the first of her degrees.

It was fitting the children were there, for they represent so much of the reason for their mother’s inspirational journey.

“In 2007, Juliana and I had been living in the homeless shelter for three months,” said Jill.

“One morning I realised that someone else was feeding us and I felt I had hit rock bottom. I couldn’t provide for my daughter and I had another one on the way. I made a decision to save up and get my head in gear.”

Jill’s new focus led her to Griffith University where she started her psychology degree in 2010, aged 25.

“Coming to university was massive. Being a mum so young, there’s an inclination to say it’s the only thing. It’s not. There are options to do something prosperous,” she said.

“I started to realise I was capable of being a mum and a university student.”

Jill discovered she could do a double degree so she started a Bachelor of Laws in 2012. As a single mother at 16 who had completed her final year at Woodridge High School while pregnant, unsurprisingly the challenges faced by single mothers are very much the focus of Jill’s law studies.

She wants to become involved in writing, informing and implementing government policy around child protection, young women and mental health.

“I don’t want to be a politician or a lawyer. I want to write policy that’s implemented.”

With her story of raw life experience changed by determination and education, Jill exemplifies what can be achieved even when circumstances couldn’t appear worse.

“It wasn’t easy, but once the decision was made I refused to give up,” she says.

“And if my example can help others, then that’s all the more important, and rewarding.”