Over the winter break, I completed a four-week legal internship at Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) in Geraldton, Western Australia as part of the Aurora Internship Program. From the first day, I felt so welcomed by all the staff at YMAC. The office environment was open and relaxed, and I always felt comfortable to ask questions or seek help.
One of the highlights during my time in Geraldton was being taken on dreaming trails, where elders or members of the claim groups guided us through their country. The first one I went on was held on the land of one of the local Aboriginal Corporations. When we arrived, we drank lemon myrtle tea around the campfire and listened to one of the local boys play the didgeridoo. Then we were led around and shown several important sites, where elders and other members of the community shared stories about these special places. The event wrapped up with a big feast of snapper, kangaroo and damper.
Another afternoon, we were guided through a different area of country, taken to various sacred sites and told about the dreamings connected with them. We went looking for artefacts in a valley, where we found cutting stones and grinding stones used by Aboriginal people in the past. For me, hearing these stories made the different claim areas come alive, and has crystallised even more the importance of the work being done by native title representative bodies. On a personal level, it has been one of the most meaningful experiences in the Australian landscape that I have ever had.
Back at the office, the work was varied and rewarding. The major project I worked on throughout my internship was various stages of land tenure analysis. It was a big task, but I was proud to receive feedback that the work we produced collectively had fundamentally improved YMAC’s position and will probably have residual positive effects years into the future. For me, this made my internship feel even more worthwhile.
One aspect that I found really interesting was the overlap between law and anthropology in native title. I worked on several tasks from the anthropologists, which I found helped to familiarise me with various families and places within the area. I also gained real insight into the mechanics of native title from sitting in on various meetings. For example, a meeting between trustees of an aboriginal corporation; various large-scale employers in the region seeking to increase Indigenous employment; and a meeting between two claimant groups to discuss the overlapping boundaries of their claim.
It was a stroke of luck that my second week in Geraldton was NAIDOC week. Along with other members of staff, I attended breakfasts, morning teas, and after-work events put on by various organisations around the town. I found the events a really great opportunity to meet members of the community and hear their stories.
On the first weekend, some YMAC staff took us interns out on a camping trip to the Murchison River. We went swimming in the river, tried our luck at hunting, and toasted marshmallows on the campfire. On the drive back, we went through Kalbarri National Park where we spotted some whales, and stopped in at Hutt River. Having never been to Western Australia before, I really enjoyed getting to see more of the beautiful, vast landscape, and it was a great way to kick off the internship.
Over the next few weekends, I continued to explore the surrounding area of Geraldton with fellow interns and people from work. We explored the beaches at Dongara, Ellendale Pool, the Pink Lake and rock paintings. One Sunday, the other intern and I organised a trip to the Abrolhos Islands, which lie just off the Geraldton coastline. A tiny plane flew us over shipwrecks and the fishing shacks of rock lobster fishermen to a small, uninhabited island. We saw tiny wallabies, sea eagles, ospreys and lizards and snorkelled with colourful fish and bright blue coral. It really is a unique part of Australia.
I am so grateful for this opportunity, and very thankful to all the staff at YMAC for the time they gave us – both at the office and outside of work – teaching us about all facets of native title, and showing us around this region of Western Australia. It has been a fantastic experience and I would highly recommend an Aurora internship to anyone interested!