Kumu Samarakoon

Justice Agencies
Summer 2013

Over the summer of 2013 I spent 6 weeks undertaking an internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program in Katherine, working in the civil law section at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA). My experiences ranged from working in the office, hearings in court, billabongs and brolgas in Ngukurr to watching ‘My Kitchen Rules’ with my work mates after a busy, hot day running clinic in Yarralin.

My first day saw me holding back tears whilst reading through file notes prior to client interviews, particularly those involving Child In Need of Protection (CINOP). It is an extremely emotional and complex jurisdiction.  Due to the sheer volume of clients NAAJA receives, I had to learn the processes very quickly. It was good because I was put into the deep-end from day 1. My supervisor took me through everything in detail and explained the processes really well- so after a while it was smooth sailing! I completed a number of tasks which developed my practical and theoretical skills. They included drafting and serving court documents, attending court proceedings, client interviews, drafting grands of aid, attending a number of interesting training sessions, research and a number of administrative tasks.

I've found drafting letters at NAAJA to be great practice because our correspondence are so broad, ranging from writing a simple letter to a client or a formal letter to insurance companies (for compo matters- you deal with a lot of these!). NAAJA really reinforces using simple and plain English when writing to clients. We would have client files transferred from other community legal centres and the contrast in communication is astounding-even I had trouble getting my head around some of the obtuse and complicated sentences used by some lawyers. Clear, simple writing is very important because most of our clients have very poor English, if at all.

In line with this, NAAJA has a big focus on communication techniques and training with the Aboriginal Interpreter Service (AIS). There were three training sessions run in the space I was there, and this included interactive components such as role playing client-interpreter-lawyer scenarios.  My first experience with an interpreter was out bush in Barunga and they play a very important role in our services. The interpreter in this instance was very open about the difficulties she has faced in court because of the complex words and sentences. 

I was lucky enough to go on three bush trips. We covered a number of communities such as Ngukurr, Numbulwar, Urapunga, Yarralin, Timber Creek, Beswick, Barunga and a number of outstations. I found the skills I had learnt through my tasks at the office and sitting in on client interviews to be very helpful, particularly when I took initial instructions from clients. You’ll find a lot of responsibility placed on you as an intern, but don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to. 

Each community was very different; the reality and extent of the poverty was more apparent in some communities compared to others. The difficulty to live out in a rural community when the main source of income is Centrelink is hard to wrap your head around. The price of food is extremely high due to transport costs. In one community it was $11.30 for a red and green capsicum, and $12.80 for a magnum ice-cream- insane! The communities varied in landscape and environment as well- the drive to Timber Creek took us through the amazing Jasper Gorge. Numbulwar is by the sea and looked like a postcard.
There are a lot of things to do around Katherine. I got to see the amazing surroundings, such as the hot springs at Mataranka, Edith Falls and Katherine Gorge. You’ll meet a bunch or really interesting and super nice people up there. The dinner parties were definitely a highlight! 

My time at NAAJA was an amazing experience, not just because of the interesting work, but also the team I was a part of. The group dynamic in the civil law section was something I had never experienced before, as it was such a supportive environment.  From day one I was treated like a work colleague (not just an intern!) and everyone helped each other out. I could tell the lawyers at NAAJA care a lot about what they did and I found being exposed to their commitment and high standard of work very inspirational. It was a great environment to work in, and I felt really appreciated. 

My experience at NAAJA has definitely strengthened my interest in working with Aboriginal legal services and community legal work in general. I cannot say enough good things about my internship and fell very fortunate to have gone through the whole experience!

If you are interested in applying for an Aurora internship, all of the information can be found on their website at www.auroraproject.com.au. Applications for the summer 2013/14 round of internships will beo pen on-line from Monday 29th July  through Friday 23rd August 2013.