It comes as no surprise that some of the most valuable lessons I have learnt during my nearly five years of studying law did not come from text books, but from the inspiring people I have met and skills I have picked up from practical experiences. Nearing the completion of my degree, the best advice I can give anyone is to intersperse the textbook experience with every practical opportunity you can get, to remind yourself of the varied, interesting and truly diverse different areas the profession can take you!
One such opportunity was offered to me this past summer in the form of an internship through the Aurora Native Title Internship Program, securing a five-week full-time placement at the Goldfields Land and Sea Council (GLSC) based in Perth. The Aurora Project is a fantastic national placement body that places law students, anthropology and some social science students and graduates in Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and other Indigenous affairs, social justice and policy organisations nation-wide. The Aurora Placements team offers great support throughout the entire process to guarantee interns gain as much as possible from the experience, while ensuring you are equipped to give as much support and assistance to the over-burdened non-profit Indigenous sector as possible.
Part of the selection process with Aurora allows you to provide five preferences for host organisations, which I took as a chance to explore a region of Australia I had never been before- placing most of my preferences in WA, far flung across the Nullarbor from little Canberra! I was lucky enough to be placed at the GLSC in Perth which is one of 15 NTRBs established under statute to assist with the lodging of native title claims and associated issues such as future acts negotiations and ensuring previously determined rights remain protected. I was thrilled at the prospect of exploring a new city, a new state and a getting a glimpse into a truly fascinating area of law often only skimmed over at university.
From the moment I arrived at the Perth office, I was welcomed by the friendly and open staff and offered an overview by my supervisor of the various claims currently handled by the GLSC and the processes involved depending on the stage they were up to. I was immediately struck by how varied the work in native title truly is, and during my internship I was exposed to not only native title law and property law more broadly, but also corporations law, evidence, procedural and administrative law, and negotiation and mediation.
Over the five weeks I was kept busy with a variety of work ranging from researching often new and developing questions of law, drafting agreements and submissions and even working on setting up a Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC), required to manage a claimant group’s assets and determined rights. I worked on a number of different claims in different stages- particularly one which was in the mediation stage (as opposed to being litigated) which was approaching determination, and one which was in the stage of contesting extinguishment, having established connection to the land. Working closely with the solicitors on these claims gave me great insight into just how technical native title can get as I worked through evaluating tenure validity and assessing affidavit evidence of some of thousands of different tenements that had been in dispute. I also often came upon areas within my research where there simply were no precedents for an avenue we were aiming to explore, revealing just how much native title is still developing 20 years on from Mabo.
Besides legal tasks, I also got the opportunity to undertake cultural awareness training with our Aboriginal Cultural Officer who came down from the head-office in Kalgoorlie. He was truly fascinating to listen to, with a million different interesting stories and offering valuable insight into customs, traditions, structures of language and kinship groups and even some language and body language tips. Working at the GLSC involved not only working with the fantastic and dedicated (largely) legal team in Perth, but also anthropologists, mapping experts, cultural officers and administrators, based both in Perth and in Kalgoorlie. Unfortunately an opportunity to travel to a country claimant meeting near Kalgoorlie with my supervisor fell through, however as I spoke to my colleagues it was obvious that a career in native title involves hands-on work in rural regions and an extremely varied, fascinating and rewarding workload.
My experience was truly worthwhile, as I gained and honed many practical drafting and researching skills and most importantly met so many inspiring people, all whom were keen to answer my many questions and provide me with honest opinions and insights into native title and legal practice more widely. Not only this- but I also got a sweet tan at the amazing beaches, had a whole lot of fun both in the office and socially, fostering a massive soft spot for Perth and surrounding areas in WA!
If you have an interest in social justice, indigenous affairs, or are simply looking to broaden your practical legal skill set, the Aurora Internship Program offers an amazing opportunity to work in a huge range of different host organisations across the country