Native Title as a legal concept first caught my attention during Property Law, when I completed my major essay on the subject. Native Title attempts to reconcile two systems of law and their respective proprietary rights. What we know as Australian law gains its legitimacy from the Crown; however, prior to European arrival there already existed a complex and fascinating system of law that gained its legitimacy from thousands of years of life and habitation on the continent.
When I discovered the Aurora Native Title Internship Program it immediately struck me that this would be a fantastic way to learn more about the history and rights of Australia’s Traditional Owners.
When I received a phone call from the Aurora Placements Manager, asking how I felt about taking up an internship opportunity in Karratha, Western Australia, the first thing I thought was ‘yes’. Karratha is perhaps as distant from Adelaide as it’s possible to go within Australia’s borders. Somewhere, I was sure I had heard the name Karratha linked with mining, but that was as much as I knew about this far away place. However, I was about to be fully immersed in the complex cultural and legal complications that arise when the interests of mining companies and Australia’s Aboriginal population clash.
Life in Karratha was a fantastic experience. In addition to being a perfect and sunny twenty-seven degrees every day, while much of Adelaide suffered from frostbite, I was able to work alongside some really knowledgeable and passionate people, who were always willing to share their knowledge. The corporation I interned with (Kuruma Marthudunera Aboriginal Corporation/KMAC) managed royalties from the profits various mining companies made on the Kuruma Marthudunera people’s land, and all of the KM people I met were highly aware of the value of their culture and maintained a really vibrant connection to their land.
Whilst those were some of the positives of this experience, there was still a nasty reality check about the way Aboriginal rights are clearly subjugated to mining companies and their business. Far from being a protective mechanism for Australia’s Indigenous people, the relevant legislation seems to instead protect mining companies, making sure they tick the boxes so that when they do destroy Aboriginal sites for the sake of increasing profits, they haven’t actually broken the law.
I feel more than ever the importance of fighting for the rights of Australia’s Indigenous people. I am not confident in the Australian government’s proclamations of wanting to protect the rights of Indigenous people. It is the Traditional Owners and Corporation staff who work tirelessly for very little recognition that truly provide the only real protection.
There is no better way to learn about these systems and processes than being immerged into them; you will learn so much more than you ever could by reading from a textbook. I would recommend the Aurora Internship Program to any student or graduate with a curiosity about Indigenous life in Australia and a belief in Aboriginal rights.
Applications for the summer 2014/15 round of Aurora internships are open from the 4th through 29th of August via the website at http://www.auroraproject.com.au