My Aurora internship at North Queensland Land Council (NQLC) was an incredibly valuable and positive experience. I found out about the Aurora Internship Program through the Law School at my University and was very eager to undertake an internship in an area of law that interests me and in relation to a social justice issue that I am passionate about. It was also a perfect opportunity to gain placement hours required for my Practical Legal Training as part of my Diploma of Legal Practice.
I cannot recommend NQLC Cairns highly enough, as a host location for an Aurora internship. The office is filled with kind, energetic, passionate and supportive staff. I was made to feel welcome and appreciated and the work environment was very pleasant. I believe the culture of the office was very conducive to inciting the best work from staff and recognising the importance of balancing work-life commitments. To me, working at NQLC Cairns would be the dream job!
Coming into the internship, I had no prior experience in native title law. This was not an issue, as everyone at NQLC, including my supervisor, Greg Bell, were invested in my internship and provided me with opportunities to learn and to meaningfully participate. Native title is undeniably a complex, multifaceted area of law. In my four-week internship, whilst I learned so much, I definitely only learned a tiny fraction of this area of law.
Being placed in the legal unit, the focus of my internship was on current and prospective native title claims. Interning at NQLC was a particularly great experience for me, as I possess a Social Science degree, majoring in Human Geography and the Environment. Working in the legal unit in relation to claims, I observed how closely the anthropologists and lawyers work together to produce material to substantiate native title claims. I learned once a claim is lodged in the Federal Court, the National Native Title Tribunal will then apply the registration test, and if it passes, certain benefits are provided to the claim group whilst the claim remains on foot. Failing the registration test is not automatically a barrier to obtaining native title, however a registered claim may appear stronger. As there is a current preference to deal with native title claims by consent in the Court, the next step is to convince the State of connection. This step is important and can often involve a back-and-forth between the claimant and the State, to update the evidence required to convince the State to agree to a consent determination. A lot of work is required at this stage, and during my internship, a lot of the work I did related to this stage.
In the office, I read a range of native title materials, conducted legal and policy research and analysis, made summaries in relation to key cases and documents, prepared and edited affidavits and interlocutory applications, interpreted Indigenous Land Use Agreement clauses, researched Prescribed Body Corporates (PBCs – the Body required to manage Native Title once a Determination is made) and PBC rule books, rewrote documents and letters, edited interview transcriptions, drafted a brief to counsel, prepared for meetings and attended various meetings with relevant stakeholders and Traditional Owners.
Whilst I worked on a number of matters inside the office, NQLC provided me with many amazing opportunities to step outside the office. I visited a number of different locations, such as Kuranda, Mareeba, Yarrabah and Wujal Wujal. Each of these opportunities allowed me to meet wonderful and wise individuals and learn something new about their land and culture. They were refreshing experiences and it was fantastic to enjoy their beautiful country.
The expenses associated with travelling to another State and spending four weeks living away from home on an unpaid internship can be quite stressful. I cannot thank the Lisa Wright Scholarship administered by the NNTT enough, for providing me with funding for my internship. The generous funding took away all monetary related stresses and allowed me to relax and enjoy Far North Queensland. I am extremely grateful for the funding, which covered my flights, accommodation, all my living expenses and further enabled me to partake in a range of activities, and explore Cairns. North Queensland is beautiful and full of vibrant landscapes, culture and community.
Overall, the combination of being in sunny Cairns, in an incredibly supportive office, with the opportunities to step outside the office and meet with Aboriginal people, and Traditional Owners, on their land, was an experience that far exceeded any expectations I could have had and most definitely contributed to my career trajectory and desire to work in the native title sector. Whilst energising, my experience was also quite sobering, to witness the need for the native title and also the shortcomings of the legal regime, which do not adequately address land rights belonging to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I absolutely encourage anyone and everyone to apply for an Aurora internship- you will not regret it! The applications for the summer 2018/19 round are currently open and will close at 5pm on Friday the 31st of August. For more information, visit http://auroraproject.com.au/about-applying-internship