Cassandra Vanitamby

Winter 2016

The Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements (ATNS) project has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my Law degree. Interning within the Indigenous Studies Unit at The University of Melbourne as part of the Aurora Internship Program, the location is well situated in the heart of Melbourne, close to the beautiful Lincoln square, the strip of mouth-watering restaurants along Lygon Street and an easy 15 minute walk to Melbourne Central. My expectation was that of a 9am – 5pm job and working tirelessly on the computer, however, the culture of the Indigenous Studies Unit was one of dedication and friendliness and it was a privilege to work alongside some amazing intellectuals who were always willing to share their knowledge and expertise in the field. The work I conducted and the area of law I was involved in was completely foreign to me but the most intriguing part was learning about our First People in a unique and enriching way that I was unaware of prior to being a part of the Aurora Project.

I primarily worked on updating the ATNS database which was established in 2002 as an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Project. The online Database provides a wealth of published information on agreements made with Indigenous people and subsequent parties including both domestic and international. Furthermore, the structure of the Database is highly resourceful as it provides a range of features including: background information on each agreement; links to related agreements, organisations, signatories and events; a glossary of relevant terminology as well as direct access to published and on-line resources.

Most of my duties with regards to updating the ATNS database were to work on drafting the recent agreements uploaded on the National Native Title Tribunal website. It was interesting to read the agreements, scope extra information and related articles in local online newspapers and state government websites and to summarise the agreements in plain English. It was a great task as the more agreements I read, the more I was exposed to the technical legal language and the better my understanding became. It was also interesting to work on my research skills, an underestimated yet an essential skill for practice. There was also flexibility to complete other tasks which included researching the legislation behind the various alcohol management programs throughout the years, sitting in on a meeting with the Unit Chair to discuss the progress of the ATNS database for the year and working on the Health Agreements.

 I also was invited to an event at the Wheelers Centre which discussed the meaning of ‘Real Recognition’ for Indigenous Australians in the Australian Constitution. The discussion centred on the publication of “It’s Our Country” with its editors, Marcia Langton and Megan Davies, providing an insightful and an incredibly passionate discussion. My perception of Australia’s colonial beginnings was challenged, allowing a critical analysis of specific sections of the Constitution and what it really meant for Indigenous Australians which I had not previously been aware of whilst studying at University.

The ATNS project has been a very valuable experience in my Law journey and I am thankful to the Aurora Project for the opportunity and to my supervisors for their hospitality throughout my internship. I highly recommend supporting the Indigenous Studies Unit and the lawyers working within the native title system as my perception of the field is one of a valuable and fulfilling profession. More information about Aurora Internships can be found on their website at

Applications for the summer 2016/17 round will be open on-line from 1 August through 26 August.