C.A.S. Hawker Scholars

April 2023

Dr Robert Charles Kavanagh

Hawker Scholar: 1995 - 1997

Rob Kavanagh

As an adolescent, my aspirations were always to become a modernised version of Rumpole of the Bailey. Little did I know that my career would begin as a Federal Government Advisor on implementing our Goods and Services Tax in the late 1990s, then eventually move into corporate and international tax law practice spanning over a decade.

Having the honour of being a C.A.S. Hawker Scholar (1995 – 1997) and residing at St. Mark’s College, meant I was mentored and encouraged by some of the greatest minds in South Australia, including the late Master, Robin Ashwin, who helped propel me into my career. And I continue to have the support of alumni from all over the globe. This still sustains me personally and professionally.

During my career, I have enjoyed meaningful tenures at Finlaysons Lawyers and Piper Alderman Lawyers, as a corporate, commercial, and international tax law specialist in Adelaide. But working with the prestigious tax law team at one of Europe's finest law firms, Addleshaw Goddard LLP, marked the pinnacle of my legal career. Not only were they distinguished by their technical expertise and commerciality (and humility), but also by their keen sense of social justice, equality, and the mental well-being of their employees. This combination was quite rare in law firms at that time, and I felt that I had “hit the jackpot.”

After returning to Australia around 2010, I moved into academia and eventually became a senior executive manager (as well as a lecturer and presenter) at Melbourne's Leo Cussen Centre for Law. Thereafter, I was appointed as a lecturer and tutor in international, commercial, and taxation laws at the University of Adelaide.

During this time, I also began mentoring and counselling disadvantaged adolescents, and I gradually had an epiphany: "I am in the wrong line of work!" The type of difference I wanted to make in the world was not going to be via tax law practice or commercial law academia. In the end, some abrupt decisions were made on the back of a lot of adrenalin and a feeling that I had arrived at my true vocation.

I began immersing myself in the disadvantaged areas of Adelaide to see who I could help, one at a time. All trauma is odious and at the core of the most troubling issues that we face as a society. Whilst carrying out counselling and other support roles, I undertook various postgraduate degrees to come up to speed with the mental health crisis and, essentially, to become a qualified mental health clinician.

I was very grateful to receive some awards along the way, particularly as it involved new methods and material to which I sometimes felt like an imposter (psychotherapy, psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience – presenting many challenges to a brain full of technical tax law and corporate strategy). I had to cool my head by studying philosophy, spirituality, and multicultural theologies!

Then as the Coronavirus pandemic hit, I was working on a new project. In 2022 I founded the Newosis Mental Health Foundation, and along with a fantastic team of fellow mental health professionals, I am proud to be our inaugural CEO. We aim to carry out novel mental and neurological health research, education, and direct support according to a framework of compassion, empathy, and benevolence from the lived experience perspective. As a not-for-profit, deductible gift-recipient charity, we rely on the generosity of private donations and sponsorship to carry out our array of diverse programs.

I also work for the Raise Foundation Australia and St. Vincent de Paul. My private practice, Bright Lights Clinic, provides counselling, mentoring, and psychotherapy to those who cannot afford professional help. The clinic will expand next year to help organisations (such as sporting teams and workplaces) implement better practices for mental health and well-being, with an array of workshops to be offered (online and in-person).

For balance, I am researching corporate workplace toxicity and resulting post-traumatic stress through the Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences at the University of Adelaide. The findings will be published in 2024, and a roadshow of corporate workshops will follow.

I am also working on three books! The first one to be published next year is Optimal Performance, which presents the psychological tools for confidence in situations where optimal performance is required (e.g., for barristers, sportspeople, musicians, and more). My other two books relate to genetics and hereditary trauma, as well as the physiological affect of compassion, hoping to push the boundaries in finding new ways of understanding and helping our community.

For me, being a C.A.S. Hawker Scholar, graces me with the mission to serve others. It made the turnaround in my career path an obvious choice. And as Hawker Scholars, it makes me proud as we collectively seek to make the world a better place for all.