Dannielle McKinnon

Native Title
Summer 2020

Inspired by my friends who had previously interned with the Aurora Project in Western Australia, this summer I travelled to Perth to complete a four week internship with the Yamtaji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (‘YMAC’). YMAC is the native title representative body for the Traditional Owners of the Yamatji and Pilbara regions of Western Australia. Run by an Aboriginal Board of Directors, the not-for-profit organisation is devised of legal, archaeological and anthropological teams which all seek to protect Yamatji and Marlpa Country through a range of professional services. Initially these services focused on the determination of native title claims, but as the claims have been resolved the organisation has expanded to provide assistance to native title groups with development projects, the future acts negotiation process, the completion of heritage protection surveys and the operation of Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs).


As a legal intern at YMAC, I had the opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of these services through a range of administrative and legal tasks. These tasks included researching and drafting case notes, briefs to the Board of Directors, legal memorandums, correspondence and objection letters in future acts matters. I also had the opportunity to witness proceedings in the Federal Court of Australia, learn about cartography and anthropology, and collate spatial data. Yet the highlight of my internship was the opportunity to travel to Geraldton to take minutes at a Working Group Meeting. Through observing the native title group discuss and negotiate future acts on their Country, I was able to witness the incredible wisdom held by our First Nations peoples alongside the complexities caused by intergenerational trauma and the balancing of mutually exclusive interests. The experience truly enabled me to contextualise everything I had learnt in my internship and see that native title can be used to empower Indigenous Australians albeit its deficiencies.


While I am yet to grasp the totality of the impact the Aurora Internship Program has had on me and my career, I am deeply inspired by the work native title lawyers do. The timeline of native titles claims can span across decades, involving long and difficult periods of negotiations. The work is also a lot more diverse than I anticipated, involving a deep understanding of corporations, contracts, property law and mining, and a mastery of community collaboration and consultation. Following the landmark Yamatji Nation native title settlement and the application of Mabo in the recent High Court decision of Love v the Commonwealth [2020] HCA 3, it is clear that native title will remain a profound development in Australian legal history. I am excited to watch the sector continue to adapt, evolve and provide a platform for Indigenous Australians and their infinite wisdom.


I would recommend the Aurora Internship Program to anyone wishing to gain a deeper understanding of native title. I would particularly recommend an internship at YMAC to those wishing to combine a career in social justice and corporate law. I am extremely grateful for my experience at YMAC and the welcoming team who made me feel at home. I leave the experience with a profound respect for the organisation, a deeper understanding of native title and its challenges, confirmation that I wish to pursue a career in social justice and a passion for policy development and community collaboration and consultation. To find out more information about the Aurora Internship Program, please visit www.auroraproject.com.au.