Passion for lifelong learning turns Pharmacist into Lawyer

AFTER 20 odd years of owning and managing a well-known Maroochydore pharmacy, Tony Hunkin was thirsty for a new challenge and an approach by some fellow pharmacists two years ago to join them in studying law sparked an unforeseen new career path.

With a supportive wife, their high-school aged son and daughter and a devoted German Shepherd (Gemma) by his side, Tony enrolled in legal studies at the University of the Sunshine Coast in 2014 and he is now in his final year of a Bachelor of Laws.

Mr Hunkin admitted that at the mature age of 44, this pursuit seemed a little scary at first and it was a long way from pharmacy but he was confident that even a few law subjects would assist him in whatever else he decided to pursue in life. 

“Despite my initial fears of taking such a big leap of faith, I’ve greatly enjoyed the steep learning curve and the student lifestyle,” Mr Hunkin said. “My wife and family have been extremely supportive and assisted me to make this big change in all of our lives.”

A firm believer in making the most of one’s life, in 2002, Mr Hunkin was working up to 84 hours a week in his pharmacy when his first daughter was born. “My daughter’s birth was the reality check I needed and she altered my perspective on life,” Mr Hunkin said.

“I decided to take 12 months off from the coalface and during this time, I relearned how to appreciate a non-stressful great day and not put so much emphasis on the almighty dollar,” Mr Hunkin said.

“During this time I took up rugby and broke my collar bone in two places. I then subsequently took up hockey which saw me with a broken tibia, bone graft and several knee operations. And then I reverted to cycling, which is a whole other story!”

As if Mr Hunkin hadn’t experienced enough sport-related injuries in his life. In October last year, fate would have him fall off his bicycle riding home from Uni.

“I broke my neck (C2, C3), back (T4) and finger,” Mr Hunkin said. “Luckily my bike survived (the chain fell off though) and I only received relatively minor spinal cord damage - although I won’t know the extent for some time,” Mr Hunkin said.

“This had a profound effect on myself and my family. I was in various neck braces for nearly four months, including a halo, and only managed a couple of hours sleep sitting up per night, for a lot of this time.

“I was also unable to drive. Fortunately, my lecturers at USC were most accommodating and permitted me deferred oral exams. I studied and sat my exams for Uni in a neck brace, with considerable discomfort.

“The accident provided me with an opportunity to reflect on my coping mechanisms and watch a considerable amount of late night TV….  and I also learnt a great deal amount about myself during this time and the comfort that food provided to me meant there was a lot more of me to learn about,” Mr Hunkin said with a smile.

As the saying goes, you can’t keep a good man down and any doubts he was on the right path were swept away recently when Tony was awarded the Garland Waddington Solicitors Property Law Prize at the USC annual Awards for Excellence ceremony for the highest achieving student in several law subjects.

“I was very proud of this achievement especially since my final exam in Law 206 was done in trying circumstances,” Mr Hunkin said.

“I am also appreciative of Garland Waddington for their sponsorship of the award. The prize provided great recognition for a considerable amount of work, and hopefully a good example for my children as they pursue their academic careers.”

Partner at Garland Waddington, Ken Waddington, said he was delighted to be able to present the inaugural excellence award to Tony, who he coincidentally knows quite well because Tony did part-time work experience with the firm last year.

“We were fortunate enough to have Tony undertake some work experience with GW last year and he was the ideal role model of an outstanding law student,” Mr Waddington said.

“Tony has a real enthusiasm for the profession, a passion for assisting people, ability to quickly adapt to a new work environment, and outstanding communication skills – all key qualities for a successful lawyer and team member.”

“Once Tony completes his degree, he is required to complete PLT (practical legal training) to gain a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice and we are already having the conversation with Tony about doing that with our firm.”

Looking to the future, Mr Hunkin says he’s extremely excited about a new career in law. 

“This new career path allows me to continue to learn, assist people, apply myself to a variety of circumstances to mentally challenge myself and to improve my understanding of the way society functions,” Mr Hunkin said.

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