Catherine McShane

Native Title
Winter 2015

Want to get some hands-on legal experience? Potentially interested in native title or Aboriginal affairs? Then read on for my experiences as an Aurora intern and see if you’d like to apply for the next intake. 

The Aurora Project is an initiative that was established in 2006 as a result of a report into the professional development needs of lawyers at Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs). An integral part of what the Aurora Project does today is co-ordinate the Aurora Internship Program which facilitates internship placements of law, anthropology and other social science students and graduates at Native Title Representative Bodies, Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs) and other organisations working in the Indigenous sector. These bodies are often underfunded and under resourced. I had seen the Aurora Internship Program advertised through university and I heard it recommended by people who had been involved previously. Being in my penultimate year of law school, I thought an Aurora internship would be a great opportunity to get some practical legal experience and I also wanted to deepen my interest in native title. I eventually applied for an internship position for Winter 2015 and this ended up being a great decision.

​I was lucky enough to be accepted for an internship at Central Desert Native Title Services (Central Desert) for 5 weeks. Central Desert is a Native Title Service Providers (NTSP), similar to a NTRB. They represent native title holders and claimants from the central desert area in native title related proceedings such as native title claims and ‘future act’ applications for mining on native title sites, as well as helping to set up and run PBCs after native title is recognised.When I started I was warmly received into a welcoming office, given my own desk with the legal team, shown around and introduced to the central desert area on a map. I was pleased to find that tasks for me to complete were given both orally and in the form of easy to understand memos, so I was able to quickly overcome my fears that I would be overwhelmed; the task difficultly slowly increased as my understanding grew. I found the working environment great. The legal staff were friendly yet very passionate about their work and everyone in the office was collegial and collaborative. There were many opportunities to interact with staff socially, with office organised soup lunch days once a week and frequent delicious afternoon teas to partake in.

I was privileged to be at Central Desert in the very busy last weeks leading up to a native title claim trial and this influenced the tasks I had to complete. Some of the tasks I undertook for the trial included editing witness statements of members of the claimant group, creating aide memoires for the court in the form of an Indigenous word list with translations and references for a map of the claim area, as well as administrative tasks like photocopying and compiling files. I was even able to attend the Federal Court to hear a case management conference. Other tasks included research into the interactions between Aboriginal reserves and roads and the impact of that on native title, and creating case summaries drawing out indicia from recent Tribunal decisions. This is just a taste of the tasks I was given; my supervising lawyer was excellent in endeavouring to give me a balanced and wide ranging variety of tasks.

I also got an incredible insight into the culture and tradition of Indigenous people from the central desert through reading an anthropological report and watching a connection DVD, each depicting different native title groups. These were fascinating and cultivated within me a deep respect for the people and their traditions and practices which are unified by their spirituality and an intrinsic connection to the country.

I would encourage any law student who has an interest in native title, Indigenous affairs or social justice to apply for an Aurora Internship. You will at the very least gain invaluable experience in the way that native title law operates and if you’re very lucky you may have a job opportunity arise from the placement. During my placement I developed many transferrable legal skills in research, writing and knowledge of court procedures which have been useful in subsequent legal work I have undertaken. Central Desert’s culture and supervision were outstanding and I would highly recommend them in particular for a placement.