Kassie McAlear

Aboriginal Legal Services
Summer 2018

I am originally from Darwin, so I already planned on going back for the summer break. I thought that these holidays would be the perfect opportunity to gain some work experience as I had just finished my first year of postgraduate law. I also found out that I could count this internship towards my university studies. I have followed the work NAAJA has been doing for the past few years, so they were first on my preference list when applying for the Aurora Internship Program. I was very excited to start working with them when I found out that I got accepted into the program.

I completed 4 weeks as an intern with NAAJA in the law and justice section. However, I also had the opportunity to do a little bit of work in the civil section, and went along to some court proceedings with the criminal section. I was in awe of the work that NAAJA do to help the Northern Territories Indigenous population across all these sections, and was glad that I had the opportunity to experience this. Although NAAJA is very busy and everyone works on many important projects and cases, the office was a very welcoming and ‘laid-back’ environment (I think this part might just come with the Territory lifestyle). I felt really well looked after, and a part of the team.

Being a woman with Aboriginal heritage myself, it felt good to be able to do work that directly affected my community. Growing up in Darwin I was faced with the negative results of colonialism and the intergenerational trauma that continues to exist among the Indigenous population every day. This internship made me feel like I was putting all I have learnt through my life experiences, and through university in Melbourne, to practice.

The law and justice section is quite different from the civil and criminal sections in the sense that we do not so much work on individual cases (although a lot of the work that the Community Legal Education [CLE] team within the law and justice section do undertake are for individual clients), but on policy reform and the operation of programs that aim to benefit the wider Aboriginal community.

One of the projects I worked on in my internship was the modernisation of the Northern Territory’s Anti-Discrimination Act (the Act). While some amendments have been made since its enactment, the Act has not comprehensively been reviewed since. I was given responsibility of drafting some parts of the submission on behalf of NAAJA, and this involved quite a lot of in-depth research and analysis.

I also worked on a lot of promotional material for the programs that the law and justice section operate. I attended meetings, read through emails and documents, and mastered my infographic and website design skills in order to produce publishable content for each of the programs. This was an effective way of seeing the kinds of work the team do.

When I arrived, the CLE team were working on their half-yearly reports. These reports are very important as they provide detail as to the work of a funded service. As there was a lot of work to be done, I helped where I could – specifically assisting in gathering and producing content that they could include. The CLE team do a lot of travel, mainly out to very remote communities. They invited me to join a trip they were planning out to Lajamanu (around 890km from Darwin), but it was unfortunately the week after my internship ended and when I would be back in Melbourne. I have been out to communities before, but it would have been amazing to go as apparently there is some kind of Elder’s advisory committee that works with the judge on cases out there. I encourage anyone who comes up and interns in this section to express interest in going out to one of the communities with the CLE team as they go out bush quite often and it would be an absolutely invaluable experience.

One of the highlights of the internship was being able to go to the Darwin Correctional Centre with one of NAAJA’s civil lawyers to interview five different clients. The lawyer I went with had me look through some of the case work before we went so that I could familiarise myself with the individual cases, and I found this background very beneficial going in. The lawyer also gave me the opportunity to run through the paperwork required with the clients, which provided a new learning experience as I have never done anything like that before. It felt different going into the prison on a professional legal visit. I have been in prisons before, but it was interesting to feel the shift in energy. We had an interpreter for one of the interviews, and this, along with a workshop I had earlier in the week, inspired me to write a paper on the use of interpreters for my legal internship subject that, as aforementioned, I am lucky enough to credit this internship towards.

Whenever there was a quiet moment in the office I went off to the courts and watched some of the proceedings. The NAAJA lawyers were often down there so it was good to see them all in action. One of the bail hearings I went to was led by one of NAAJA’s criminal lawyers, and was addressing the case of a young boy that escaped from Don Dale. This was all over the news up here in the Territory so it was very interesting to be able to watch how it was legally unfolding.

When I was interning with NAAJA, there were many other interns here too. All of them were from down south, so I somehow fell into the role of tour guide, but this was great as I got to visit some of the sites around the Territory that I have not seen for quite a while.

With NAAJA, I felt like a valid member of the team. I was trusted with many different things and given a lot of responsibility. I aimed to perform at a high standard, and was proud of the work I produced. I made many great connections and friends that I know I will stay in contact with, and I look forward to hopefully returning one day!

I would strongly recommend applying for an internship through Aurora – with NAAJA as your first preference. Out of all the places I have worked, this has been the most rewarding experience and I cannot wait to hopefully come back one day.