Elizabeth Beaumont

Justice Agencies
Winter 2013

If it is anything like my experience, the Aurora Internship will be a defining moment in your law degree, challenging you to test the limits of your legal knowledge and teaching you what it is really like to work as a lawyer.

The Aurora Project began in recognition that there was (and still is) a shortage of experienced native title lawyers and people working in Indigenous affairs more generally. The internship places law students (as well as social science and anthropology students) in a range of really interesting organisations that are involved with native title and Indigenous law and policy.  The hardest part of the application process is deciding which organisations to preference, as each organisation offers a very different experience (and often, geographic location).

I settled on the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA)  because I had already heard that they were the biggest exclusively Indigenous Australian legal aid organisation in the territory, and worked in both criminal and civil law. I chose Katherine in particular because I wanted to be out of the city and closer to the Indigenous communities which surround this unique little town. I was placed in the criminal section, and was confronted for the first time with working with real people and real crimes. I was also exposed to a very raw view of how the inequities of Indigenous people are amplified in the legal system.

Interns at NAAJA are generally extremely lucky. Not only are you surrounded with friendly, quirky and intelligent people, you are usually given really interesting and challenging work. I spent my five weeks doing legal research, preparing briefs for hearings and going to bush court – where the Magistrate’s Court sits in a small room in the remote communities, and the lawyer’s office is a deck chair and fold up table outside in the dust. Often, I was researching on live issues, and there were some very rewarding moments when my morning research task was argued at the bench that very afternoon. I found myself drawing upon nearly every course I had taken at law school, and also needing to learn fast about the criminal system in the Northern Territory – a system which is like no other in the country.

This learning of the law, of the court process and the criminal justice system as it bears upon Indigenous Australians, was constant throughout my placement. I learnt from the lawyers at NAAJA, from my research, from watching bail application after bail application, (or sentencing after sentencing), and from just reading the weekly Katherine Times.  At the same time, I also learnt a lot about life in the NT. I had come at the best time of year – the dry season – when grey nomads and backpackers flood the only Woolworths for hundreds of kilometres, and every weekend brings an opportunity to go camping, swimming and hiking in one of the many incredible parks that surround Katherine. I spent my weekends fishing for barramundi and suspiciously eyeing crocs from a small dingy on the Katherine River, looking at rock art and swimming in waterholes at Kakadu, hiking through Nitmuluk Gorge and camping at Litchfield National Park by a waterfall. I did all this with friends and colleagues from NAAJA, who, despite working long hours, never stopped appreciating the natural beauty around them.

I went into my placement with big expectations – not so much of the placement, but of myself. I needed my placement to be a test-run, to confirm that I would enjoy being a lawyer in the community legal sector or to show me why not. I was relieved that I could graduate confident about the career options that lie ahead of me, and happily had one of the best experiences of my life.

Applications for the summer 2013/14 round will open 29 July through to 23 August 2013. Apply online at http://www.auroraproject.com.au/about_applying_internship