Gemma Horstmann

Native Title
Winter 2016

This winter I had the wonderful opportunity to take part in the Aurora Internship Program. The Program facilitates internships for legal, anthropology and some social science students and graduates at various Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs), Prescribed Bodies Corporate and other organisations working to support the Indigenous sector, around the country. I interned for 6 weeks in the Perth offices at Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) and then at Goldfields Land and Sea Council (GLSC), both NTRBs. Prior to starting my internship I had a basic understanding of the native title process and the role of NTRBs in assisting Indigenous people in bringing native title claims. What I had not realised, however, was how complex and varied the work which NTRBs perform daily is. As such, you will find not just lawyers at NTRBs, but also anthropologists, archaeologists, archivists, community liaison staff and finance and business development staff. It is because of this variety and range of people that makes working at a NTRB such an interesting and rewarding opportunity.

YMAC represents Indigenous people of the Murchison, Gascoyne and Pilbara regions of Western Australia (WA). One of the main reasons why interning at YMAC was such a great experience is the people that work there. It was a friendly and supportive work environment with people from different backgrounds and experiences. Everyone was always very helpful and approachable if I ever had an issue with a task or needed further clarification.

I completed many varied tasks during my time at YMAC, including preparing a report on heritage and environmental protection for Aboriginal sites, sorting through confidential information before handing back claim material, researching case law regarding striking out native title applications in the federal court, summarising a claimant group's procedural history, and also more administrative tasks such as filing and preparing power point slides for a meeting. I also completed tasks related to Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs), including compiling tables of key provisions of ILUAs with mining companies and compiling an implementation summary of key employment and business development provisions in ILUAs. ILUAs are agreements made between Indigenous claim groups and (usually) mining companies which exchange use of the land for benefits to the local Indigenous community. The role of NTRBs in this work is critical especially in the mining-centric state of Western Australia. I also worked on compiling and drafting a claim affidavit for Registration Test, which gave me incredible insight into the culture and tradition of Indigenous people. As an intern, your help is also not confined to just the legal team as I also got to undertake research for one of the Anthropologists.  This task entailed going to the JS Battye Library of WA history and finding manuscripts written by Daisy Bates in the early 1900s, which I found very interesting, and fascinating that such historical work is still important and used in native title claims today.

During my internship at YMAC I was also fortunate to be able to visit the Geraldton office for a week. There I attended a native title claim group meeting which was an invaluable experience. I met with native title holders and learned firsthand the direct impact the native title process has on Indigenous people. All of the work was (for the most part) interesting, informative, and broadened my knowledge base of various aspects of native title law.

I gained valuable practical work experience and met some amazing people during my two internships. I learnt a lot not just about native title, but also important legal research and drafting skills. Such skills I know will be invaluable in any career path. That is why I would recommend the Aurora Internship Program to other students and graduates. It definitely is a wonderful opportunity.