During the winter of 2018, I completed a 4 week Aurora internship in the legal branch at the Northern Land Council (NLC) in Darwin, Northern Territory. I was fortunate to be funded by Gilbert and Tobin during my internship.
The Northern Land Council is an independent statutory authority of the Commonwealth which was set up in the 1970’s. It is responsible for assisting Aboriginal peoples in the Top End of the Northern Territory to acquire and manage their traditional lands and seas. Most of the communities that the NLC works with are in remote locations with approximately 30,000 Aboriginal people living within the NLC region.
When finding out that I was going to be placed at the Northern Land Council, I had assumed I would be working mostly on tasks related to native title and Aboriginal land claims. The native title related tasks that I was involved in included research into native title rights in the sea and consolidating evidence from a past transcript and ongoing claim. I was surprised however, to find majority of the tasks which were assigned to me were related to legal work which is subsequent to a successful land claim. For example, one task that I was assigned involved reviewing pastoral leases under s 19 of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act. I found myself being mostly engaged in the role of the NLC in assisting traditional owners and native title holders in exercising their rights over their lands and seas. This was particularly exciting to see how both native title and land rights have led to Aboriginal communities having various levels of self-determination, economic development and rights in their lands. It also showed me that there is still a lot of work to be done in claims, however, the next stage which we are heading towards is post native title and land claims.
A highlight of my placement was being able to attend a consultation meeting with Traditional Owners in a rural Aboriginal community. Whilst I had previously done research around the topic area of free, prior and informed consent under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act at university, I was able to experience it firsthand. It was both inspiring and challenging to be present and experience this meeting, as I witnessed both the frustrations and successes of the community and its interaction with the Aboriginal land rights scheme.
If you are questioning whether you should undergo a placement at the NLC, you can be certain to expect a caring and welcoming workplace culture. The work life balance was great, with work hours beginning around 8 am and finishing at 4:30 – 5 pm with a 1 hour lunch break (I spent my lunches soaking up the sun and amazing water view down at the Esplanade). Winter is also the best time of the year to be in Darwin. The weather is great and there are many events happening including NAIDOC week celebrations, markets during the week and weekends, as well as the fringe and Darwin festivals. It is tourist season, which means Darwin city is buzzing and it is a great time to visit the many breathtaking national parks and sites of the Territory. You also have plenty of time to meet and network with other Aurora interns who are undertaking their placement.
My experience at the NLC exposed me to what a small, yet highly skilled legal team works like. I was able to refine my legal skills, but also my communication and interpersonal skills. The legal section at the NLC has many challenges, including that they cover a large land area and communities which are very rural. This involves extended travel time, resources and planning. There are also cultural aspects which need to be taken into consideration, such as sorry business, community relationships and language. The experience grew my client-relationship/communication skills to exercise better practice when working with clients who are diverse and have different needs from clients that you would possibly work with in a corporate law firm or even a community legal center in Sydney.
Overall, I had an invaluable experience. Most importantly, the experience turned my mind to to how ‘rights’ which Aboriginal people have gained in the western legal system can be used effectively and to their benefit into the future.
The NLC is a perfect fit If you are looking for a legal experience working with a highly skilled team who passionately work to assist Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory.