Alena Stirton

Aboriginal Land Councils
Winter 2016

I was fortunate enough to spend six weeks on placement via the Aurora Internship Program at Cape York Land Council (CYLC) in sunny Cairns. With no practical experience in the field of native title I was looking forward to the opportunity to work in this area and understand the operation of a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB).


Although I was familiar with the concept of native title from my property law course I soon came to realise that native title is something that extends far beyond the classic legal notion of land rights. As an important symbol of Aboriginal cultural heritage and identity, native title is fundamental for the social and economic development of Indigenous communities. This was evident in the varied work CYLC undertakes to advance Indigenous interests and establish opportunities for Aboriginal engagement across different sectors.


Throughout my six-week placement I was involved in a number of tasks that reflect CYLC’s wide-ranging work. I prepared research memos focusing on native title rights in water, the operation of regional airports and procedural rights associated with the cultural heritage listing of places of Aboriginal cultural significance. This research involved looking into complex areas of the law including the intricate layering of mining legislation and the future acts provisions of the native title act. I drafted correspondence to project proponents in response to future act notifications and reviewed the documents for the registration of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement. As CYLC prepares for the Cape York United Number Once Claim, one of the largest native title claims in Australia’s history, it was interesting to witness some of the preparations involved in this process. I assisted with organising material for a genealogical database, reviewing historical records of Indigenous communities in the Cape York region. Whilst witnessing the work of CYLC I was also able to appreciate the challenges faced by NTRBs from resourcing issues to the difficulty of ensuring native title holders are given the procedural rights afforded by legislation.


Coming from a background of environmental science and law I enjoyed being able to draw on both disciplines in my work. Representing the interests of Indigenous communities in such a biodiverse region ensures the ongoing presence of nature resource management issues. I assisted in the collaborative effort of CYLC and its partner organisations in responding to upcoming amendments to Queensland’s vegetation clearing legislation and discussions regarding the controversial carbon farming initiative. This provided one of many examples of the overlapping nature of native title, cultural heritage and environmental laws and the conflicts that can arise between Commonwealth and State legislation.


Although there were times when I was challenged in my work I was always able to ask questions and get clarification when issues arose. This placement was rewarding in both a personal and professional sense, providing experiences I will draw on for many years to come. I am so grateful to the Aurora Project and CYLC for this opportunity and I would encourage anyone interested to apply for the summer 2016/17 round. Applications are open through 26 August 2016.  For more information please visit