Gina Lee

Native Title
Summer 2018

I decided to study law because I was interested in doing something useful. During my studies, I saw avenues to social justice through international human rights law, community legal centres and refugee law. However, I never thought of helping out in one of the most obvious areas of need in the country – indigenous Australia! I think I was always worried I knew far too little. I also heard about the Aurora Internship Program but assumed they were only for indigenous students.

So it was a stroke of luck that I noticed an Aurora internship listed on a friend’s CV. Once I looked into the program, I realised what a brilliant concept it is and I applied. At the same time, I chose access to justice for Indigenous Australians as an essay topic at uni. This gave me my first insight into how our legal system intersects with Indigenous people. It was a pretty shocking introduction.

My next foray into the area was a clerkship at the State Solicitor’s Office. I worked in the Native Title Unit for one week and was overwhelmed by the complexity of the law. My fragmented experiences were making me incredibly keen to get involved, but I was also increasingly apprehensive. Swallowing these nervous, excited butterflies, I walked into Central Desert Native Title Services.

Straight away, I felt at home. I was given a thorough induction and a bible of a staff manual, that has become dog-eared with use. Finally, I met my colleagues and I knew I was in the right place. I was given a little pile of DVDs to watch, including a stunning film called, ‘Putuparri and the Rainmakers’. This gave me an intuitive sense of what land means to Aboriginal people. Nothing I had read was able to do that.

I then started my work and noticed I had a model supervisor. My tasks at Central Desert were always well explained, deadlines were clear and everyone was willing to give more background information if I asked for it. What I also loved about the Central Desert lawyers was their commitment to our clients. Each time the law blocked a way forward, the lawyers came up with new ideas to solve our clients’ problems. This has been particularly inspiring for me. I also found that the lawyers keep up-to-date, by reading cases and being involved in law reform.

While interning at Central Desert, I wrote case notes; made a newsletter; drafted letters, including to the board of directors and Ministers; I researched; attended meetings and wrote minutes; mapped a filing system and made a timeline for a pertinent matter. I went to court and saw our lawyers in action, I filed court documents and was able to attend an annual staff workshop.

I was also lucky enough to participate in a cultural mapping survey with some Indigenous women. This was such a thrilling experience, from the moment I flew into a country that looked like an intricate Indigenous painting, until I reflected on the days’ events with my colleagues that evening. The women were the gutsiest people and they made me laugh with their cheeky stories and irreverent wit. I was amazed at how they saw tiny morsels clinging to desert trees and animals in the distance. They were so in tune with their land. It was a vivid way to remember my experience with Central Desert.

I loved my internship so much, I offered to volunteer once I finished. My supervisor kindly offered me 3 weeks of paid work after the internship, which has been fantastic. I am very keen to continue to work in this area of law, as it is fascinating, rewarding and endlessly challenging. I would highly recommend Aurora and Central Desert to anyone.