This summer I completed six weeks as an intern at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) through the Aurora Internship Program. The internship gave me the opportunity to gain experience in legal practice with a focus on social justice for Indigenous peoples. By completing extra work, I was also able to credit the internship towards my law degree at the University of New South Wales (UNSW). Throughout the internship, I was supported by several people, including Kim Barlin of Aurora, Matt Derrig of NAAJA and Frances Gibson of UNSW.
I completed the internship in civil law at NAAJA’s office in Darwin. I worked on a variety of matters from simple complaints to a coronial inquest. The inquest took up a lot of my time, and provided many opportunities to learn. My job was to assist the solicitor who was representing the family of the deceased person at the inquest. This involved meeting with the members of the family, and supporting them before, during and after the inquest. It also involved researching relevant law and policy, reading witnesses’ statements, and drawing up tables and a map to assist the solicitor in formulating arguments and questions to take to the inquest.
While undertaking the internship, I wondered whether I would like to work in a community legal centre or similar environment. I spoke with solicitors about their experiences of working at NAAJA, and I observed them practising their profession. They were busy, but seemed to be genuinely satisfied with their work. I found that even areas of the law that would ordinarily bore me to tears became relevant and interesting in a social justice context. For example, I enthusiastically studied the law of superannuation for a client who had allegedly not been paid super entitlements.
Part of my internship involved learning about community legal education. This involved attending lectures on community legal education and on communicating with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The community legal education professionals at NAAJA shared a floor with the civil law professionals, and I spoke with the solicitors and interns within community legal education quite a bit. The work that they do is very interesting. I learnt that about 75 percent of Indigenous people in the Northern Territory speak a language other than English at home. I also learnt that there are hundreds of Indigenous languages and dialects in NAAJA’s catchment area alone. This made me appreciate the importance of writing and talking in plain English, and using interpreters, when meeting with certain clients.
Another part of my internship involved developing and applying skills in communicating empathy and respect. These skills were necessary when interacting with traumatised clients. Often this was as simple as providing someone with a tissue. At other times, it meant applying the techniques of active listening to ensure that I had properly understood the emotional content of what clients were saying. These same skills were useful in engaging solicitors and fellow interns in informal debriefing sessions. I thought that such sessions were important so that anyone who was affected by a client’s story could care for their own mental health.
When I was not working at NAAJA, I had a great time exploring Darwin and surrounding areas. I particularly enjoyed swimming in the rock pools at Litchfield with my fellow interns, and watching the jumping crocs on the Adelaide River with my cousin. The Humpty Doo Hotel—being the former stomping ground of Norman the Beer-Drinking Bull, was also worth a visit. Although shirts have recently become mandatory, which has upset some of the regulars, footwear remains optional, and there is nothing in the rules about pants. Of course, there are more salubrious places to visit, such as the museum and the theatre, and there are any number of decent restaurants.
To conclude, I enjoyed the internship and felt like I was contributing something of worth to an ethical organisation. I feel that I would like to work in a similar area after graduation. I am grateful to Aurora, NAAJA and UNSW for supporting me through the internship. It was one of the most worthwhile experiences of my life.