India Mason-Cox

Native Title
Summer 2013

My name is India Mason-Cox and I am a fifth year Arts-Law student at UTAS in Hobart, Tasmania. I have recently finished a six-week Aurora Internship on placement at the Kimberley Land Council (‘KLC’) in Broome, WA.

I applied to Aurora via the website at in August 2012. It was the internship I had most wanted to do since the start of my degree because I am passionate about social justice and aboriginal affairs. By mid-November just a few days after end of year exams, I found myself in Broome, at the opposite end of the continent in 40-degree heat and ready to start work.

The highlights of my internship include time spent “on country” attending meetings of traditional owners. I was fortunate enough to get to three meetings. The first meeting was held at a community about two hours north of Broome where the traditional owners discussed ways in which they aimed to work co-operatively for the improvement of their communities.

It was impressive to see the way in which Aboriginal people from the area are seeking to become financially independent, making the most of their communities via tourism ventures among other things. Cape Leveque is also such a beautiful place I couldn’t believe I was there to work – it felt more like a summer holiday in one of the best spots on the planet!

The second meeting was at Geikie Gorge just out of Fitzroy Crossing, four hours northeast of Broome. The meeting was held outdoors in the middle of a national park managed largely by Aboriginal rangers. We were there to help the Bunuba people run a pre-authorisation meeting prior to the determination of their 14-year old native title claim, which loomed imminently on the KLC calendar.

The meeting was hard work, especially getting through the registration of members. But it was also the most rewarding as achieving consent determination depended on a successful pre-incorporation meeting where the content of the proposed PBC Rulebook was authorised by TOs. It was also heaps of fun to stay at the Fitzroy River Lodge among the camaraderie of KLC employees, Bunuba and various others. Everyone was elated because of what the meeting meant – that after 13+ years the native title claim was finally going to succeed.

The final meeting was the consent determination, again at Geikie Gorge. Justice Gilmour of the Federal Court flew up from Perth and handed down the decision that Bunuba people were the native title holder for the claim area. In his judgment, Justice Gilmour said that his decision did not mean that Bunuba People were native title-holders as of that moment – but that the Court recognised they had always been the rightful owners. It was a moving and historic day and I couldn’t help thinking that this is what we were all working towards.
Another thing I quickly learned is that native title claims can take more than a decade to reach a point of resolution, in which time members of the claim group, including people who comprise the Applicant in native title proceedings, are constantly at risk of passing away. This fact gives the process a sense of urgency, exacerbated by the relentlessness of working for an under-resourced NTRB. However, what KLC lacked in resources, it made up for in the strength, dynamism and integrity of its hard-working staff.

It is easy to see why this was such an amazing experience for someone interested in native title law. Surprisingly, the work involved other areas of law such as corporations law, property law, mining tenement research, as well as office tasks such as lodging Court forms, and invoicing and auditing. Add to that the opportunity to meet some amazing people working towards social justice, making real progress to realise the rights of aboriginal people, and it is easy to see why the Aurora internship is a wonderful opportunity for anyone looking to expand their knowledge and experience.