As I flew over the floodplains of the Kimberley region in a five-person plane which was the size of my linen cupboard, I knew I was in the midst of a formative and unique experience. We climbed higher into the sky, with the humid air rushing around us and the sun’s reflection sparkling on the ground below. I immediately felt immensely grateful for the opportunity to spend six weeks as a legal intern at the Kimberley Land Council in Broome as part of the Aurora Internship Program.
At the destination of our surprisingly gentle plane journey, the KLC held a meeting with an Aboriginal Corporation in which the members authorised an Indigenous Land Use Agreement. This meeting gave me the opportunity to witness the rigorous engagement of community members in negotiations with the State government and provided me with a brief snapshot of the various opportunities and challenges that native title provides Indigenous communities. Throughout the rest of my time working back at the office in Broome, this trip on country functioned as a crucial reminder of the intensely personal nature of Indigenous land rights.
The majority of my tasks while working at the KLC related to a native title claim which was being heard in the Federal Court. The claim included multiple parties and involved extensive lay and expert evidence, highlighting its legal complexity. Parts of the claim area had also been subject to interference from third parties such as resource companies and environmental protection groups, causing the case to take on a heightened political character. Working on this claim diversified my professional experience in Indigenous affairs and taught me about how native title law functions in practice. Throughout my internship, I improved my technical legal skillset by researching and summarising specific areas of native title case law; I grew a deeper understanding of civil litigation practices, such as concurrent expert evidence; I fostered an even stronger appreciation for the resilience and strength of Aboriginal culture; and I reflected on the capacity of the native title regime to achieve just outcomes for Indigenous claimants. Moreover, as a consequence of the collaborative nature of the KLC’s small legal team, rigorous debates often erupted from across the desk partitions about tricky areas of the case, helping me to further hone my skills in legal analysis and argument.
The KLC provided me with a unique opportunity to work in an environment where lawyers, park rangers, anthropologists and community members operate in close proximity. All these departments share an over-arching objective of ‘getting back country, looking after country and getting control of the future’ and it was refreshing to see legal work function as one aspect of this holistic approach. It was also heartening to see this ethos extend to the internal culture of the KLC. I was welcomed into the organisation with astounding levels of warmth and generosity despite the constant stream of interns who come through the KLC’s doors. Through discussions with the legal team, I was able to learn about the variety of pathways which can lead to work in the native title sector. Peoples’ stories ranged from extensive experience in the mining and corporate sector to years of expertise in the community legal sector. I felt this experience particularly highlighted the need to broaden the discourse about potential career pathways available to law graduates.
As the cherry on top, Broome was an incredible location to explore with an endless supply of awe-inspiring landscapes. Most afternoons after work I rode to the beach to watch the sky turn pink and have a swim at Cable Beach. On the weekend I would go on fishing trips or other outdoor adventures against the starkly contrasted backdrop of the deep blue ocean and the dark red cliff faces and sand banks; there was always some aspect of the surroundings that was pretty impeccable.
My Aurora internship was an amazing way to explore Australia’s diverse cultural and physical landscape and to learn about an engaging, alternative pathway in law.