Gabriela Freeman

Winter 2019


My Aurora internship experience at Aboriginal Victoria (AV) added invaluably to my professional knowledge and skills, as well as my personal development. During the internship, I completed a report on the review of the Aboriginal Lands Act 1970 (Vic) that is currently underway, in particular regarding issues around the share registers and assets of the Aboriginal Trusts created under the Act. The issues were complicated, due to the community's history of being removed from Country and culture and living under government-imposed mission management. This history understandably made for a difficult environment in which to build relationships of trust between government and the communities, creating layers of legal and practical complexity. Before the internship, I had no previous experience working in-depth with legislation, or Aboriginal communities and organisations. My main report, along with other projects and events I was able to engage with during my internship, allowed me to gain a deep insight into some of these issues. Not only did I learn a great deal of substantive content about the Act and other Aboriginal history, I also learned about the processes surrounding effective learning and work within the space. Importantly, I learned how to understand complicated concepts, and simplify them for anyone to read, without compromising on complexity. Following the internship, I feel better equipped to work in another position that may require analysis of the effects of legislative instruments, particularly on Aboriginal communities.

Another important benefit was an improvement in my legal research skills. In researching for the report, I located and analysed many property-related documents, and identified the sections which were relevant to my asset valuations. I also read legal advice dating back approximately ten years, in order to summarise key issues for the report, or otherwise identify such issues myself and develop advice on that subject with input from counsel. This also allowed me to gain an understanding of how government works with internal and external counsel, and how counsel develops and delivers that advice. Another section of the report related to land valuations, as part of a potential share buyback under the Act review. Based on research I had done into the principles established in Griffiths case, also known as the Timber Creek compensation case, I argued that non-economic aspects such as cultural and spiritual factors should be considered in valuations of Trust assets.

The internship also showed me how good leadership and mutual support within a team can make a significant difference in team output. Our team consisted of eight people and was managed by my professional supervisor. Although she was acting in two additional roles and was stretched very thin, she always made time to meet with team members, and effectively assist them and manage their expectations. Within the team itself, much of the community engagement work is often draining, and all team members consistently supported each other emotionally and directly on projects. This was critical to maintaining effective performance through an exhausting time such as during NAIDOC week.

Other important experiences were meetings I attended with Aboriginal community members at Lake Tyers, Lakes Entrance, and Morwell. Some of these were volatile interactions, and I was able to observe how colleagues defused these situations to progress with the meeting. I also observed my supervisor’s effective identification of the legal issues at hand, and summarising possible solutions with which we could assist, for the benefit of the other parties. The internship overall gave me a greater understanding of Indigenous issues, of what it means to work in the Indigenous sector, and of the operation of a government department where law and policy intersect.

The whole internship was critical in terms of my personal development. The opportunity to live and work in Melbourne was very significant, as though I am already moved out of home and have lived overseas, working in an office job in a big city was new to me. Another key advantage was the chance to work with inspiring women working at a high level in the field. My supervisor and I had the chance to discuss some of the aspects of being a woman in a leadership position, as I raised an observation that while a majority of the staff at the department were women, women were underrepresented in leadership positions. Her experiences of resisting conforming to masculine ideas of leadership and authority showed me some effective ways of navigating such issues. The internship was therefore a very positive experience for me, from which I gained significant personal and professional development.