Alastar McMahon

Justice Agencies
Winter 2016

For my Aurora Internship, I was placed for 5 weeks at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) in Darwin. Before I arrived, I had never been to Darwin and knew very little about the work that NAAJA carried out. However I was buoyed by the excitement of some of my friends who had been there before.

The team I was assigned to was the Law & Justice Projects team. While not strictly involved with clients on criminal or civil matters, L&J is arguably the most vital cog in the entire organisation. The main focus is on the education of remote Indigenous communities on Australian, or 'mainstream', law. In this way, they are both a proactive and preventative mechanism. And, inherently, there is a wide range of activities that they undertake.

For the Community Legal Education team, for instance, I transcribed many reports from these trips to Indigenous communities. I also created fact sheets for the communities to simplify new laws that had come into effect, and summarized important cases where customary law had been incorporated into sentencing by the court.

Another important member of the L&J team is a solicitor who manages parole applications for NAAJA clients. Being able to attend correctional centres and meet clients, hear about their issues first hand, and observe the advice being given by the solicitor was one of the best experiences I had.

However, even if I had completed my work for the day with L&J, NAAJA's size meant that I always had something to do. During one week, alongside my L&J commitments, I drafted two police complaints for civil clients that were to be sent to the Ombudsman. In addition, I transcribed a youth client's police interview, as well as reviewing the accompanying CCTV footage of their alleged offences.

I think what will always be at the forefront of my memories of NAAJA is the quality of people working there. This trait extends beyond merely having everyone make me feel welcome on my first day (which they did). More profound perhaps, is the infectious sense of a common purpose and responsibility; everyone at NAAJA recognises and is empowered by the fact that they are in a position to affect some change on a much maligned minority. 

In terms of advice that I can give for future applicants and interns, I would say don't go in expecting to be able to change the world in the time spent there, but be open minded and be ready to learn and contribute as much as possible. I went in treating the internship less as an opportunity to apply my legal skills from my studies, and more as a way of being exposed to issues that are so out of sight-out of mind in Melbourne and also to really learn more about what I wanted to do with my life. What I found is that not only did I really come to grips with the latter, but I also naturally developed and expanded my skillset anyway.

Darwin is a weird and wonderful town and a great platform to explore those remote and special parts of Australia that you so often see on post cards. I was lucky to be able to spend a lot of my weekends hiking and camping with other interns up there, so if that sounds like something you're keen on then I would highly recommend it - and especially NAAJA - as an internship destination.

Applications for summer 2016/17 internships through the Aurora Internship Program will be open from August 1 through August 26 2016. For more information, please visit: