Brent Renner-Hahn

Native Title
Winter 2014

While most of my law chums were completing clerkships and legal work experience during university breaks, I found this time to be the alibi needed to jump on a plane for some indulgent globetrotting. I hadn’t travelled everywhere, but it was on my list. Suddenly, whoops, I finished law school with minimal practical legal experience. I figured it was time to pull my finger out.

I heard about the Aurora Native Title Internship Program at a careers expo at university in 2013 and it certainly piqued my interest. I’ve always had a keen interest in social justice issues and pursued them overseas. My interest in this area of law was borne out of the injustice I felt at the marginalisation of political and humanitarian issues abroad. I know that we’re all geniuses in hindsight, but on reflection, I had been hypocritical in overlooking domestic social justice topics such as native title and Aboriginal affairs in general. The Program presented an opportunity for me to explore this area of law.

I’ve learnt to have low expectations as an intern. I prepare myself for the worst but hope for the best. If anything, I didn’t really have any expectations before I started. I found myself placed at Central Desert Native Title Services in East Perth for six weeks and I had a fantastic time. Central Desert is a Native Title Service Provider (NTSP) for claimants and holders of native title in the Western Desert Region of Western Australia. They work very hard to assist Indigenous people in protecting and advancing their native title rights and interests.

The work I did at Central Desert was surprisingly engaging and varied. I managed to go the whole six weeks without having to make a single coffee and be exposed for my lack of percolated expertise. I undertook various legal writing tasks including drafting witness statements, an affidavit template, a deed of variation and letters to other litigating parties. I also assisted in drafting a contract for consultancy services, and exploration and prospecting deed of agreements. Other tasks included researching precedents, compiling a dossier on a company, translating particular sections of a PBC Constitution into plain English, and transcribing client interviews.

I definitely got a lot out of my experience at Central Desert. I of course gained legal experience, but I think the most satisfying part was hearing the personal stories of native title claimants and holders. Learning intimate and intricate details of the culture of the Western Desert people (particularly men’s law) has fostered a strong appreciation of native title and its importance to Indigenous people. I was embarrassed by how much I didn’t know about the world’s oldest continuous culture — in my own country of all places! The passion that these families speak with when talking about their spirituality and connection with ‘country’ inspired and motivated me to do my best. I also really enjoyed the office culture where hard work was intermitted with laughs, soup Mondays and people regularly parading their baking skills. The whole office was really warm and welcoming when I first arrived, and everyone was really receptive when I had a seemingly obvious question to ask, despite their busy workloads. I’m really grateful for the opportunity to work with some quality lawyers.

I highly recommend law students and graduates with an interest in working in native title, Indigenous affairs and/or social justice apply for an internship with the Aurora Project. The worst thing that could come of it is that you walk out with refined practical legal experience armed with an increased awareness of Australian Indigenous culture.