My interest in native title has been longstanding. I remember being intrigued when I learnt in High School Social Studies class that only since 1993 has Australian law formally recognised Indigenous peoples as being owners and custodians of the land. We were taught that Aboriginal societies have existed for 40 000 years. Why then had it taken so long to recognise this right?
Having studied a unit at university entitled Indigenous Peoples and the Law as part of my law degree it struck me how bleak the outlook for Indigenous Australians was in terms of incarceration rates, deaths in custody and the general inadequacy of ‘whitefella law’ to meet their needs. Surely there had to be something more positive out there.
I had heard about the Aurora Internship Program on several occasions and became interested. I was fortunate to be placed in a six week internship with Central Desert Native Title Services. My experience there taught me a great deal but also gave me some hope for the ability of the law to give, at least some, measure of justice to our Indigenous peoples.
While at Central Desert I was given a wide range of tasks to complete, both legal and administrative. I was certainly never bored! Some of the legal tasks that I was assigned were: legal research online and at the Supreme Court library on several topics, case summaries and obtaining copies of relevant documents from the Federal Court Registry. I was lucky to observe several case management conferences both judicial and non-judicial ones. I also watched the giving of expert anthropological evidence in the Federal Court and some of a five judge Federal Court Native Title appeal case. I also assisted with some administrative matters such as creating transcripts from audio recordings of interviews with witnesses, making a chronology of correspondence and preparing genealogies for filing. I also attended a staff conference.
While I did not get to travel on country I was fortunate to meet two clients who came to Perth. I also watched a short documentary about a client and their story of coming in from the desert as a child. These small experiences helped me to appreciate the significance of the work of the organisation and how it helped the clients.
The staff at Central Desert were most accommodating even those not in the legal team. I felt very welcome there and was able to ask questions about the work of anthropologists, lawyers, project officers and those who did mapping and genealogies. I learnt a lot, not only substantive matters but workplace skills such as drafting memorandums. I very much enjoyed my time and would highly recommend the internship to anyone interested in the social justice side of legal practice.