Laura McIlhenny

Native Title
Winter 2013

When I began my Bachelor of Arts/Bachelor of Law degree, five years felt like a very long time. This year I suddenly found myself in the final year of my degree, with a whole lot of subjects under my belt but no practical legal experience. Applying for an Aurora Internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship program was for me a way to gain some practical experience while at the same time remaining true to my passion for social justice. The chance to escape the Hobart winter for a month and to head to a sunnier Perth made the decision just that little bit easier.

Aurora internships are facilitated by the Sydney-based Aurora Project who place law, some social science and anthropology students and graduates at Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and other organisations working in policy development, social justice and Indigenous affairs more generally. I was lucky enough to be placed at the Central Desert Native Title Services (Central Desert)   in Perth. Central Desert is an Native Title Service Provider whose main role is to protect and advance the native title rights and interests of the native title claimants and holders of the Central Desert Region.

On my first day, after a quick tour of the office and introductions to most of the staff at Central Desert, I was shown to my desk and quickly put to work. Over the four weeks my tasks ranged from preparing memos on the operation of sections of the Native Title Act, compiling files of relevant evidence for current claims, attending case management conferences and directions hearings, preparing documents to be filed in court, interpreting contractual provisions, transcribing interviews and working my way around the legal filing system.

All of the staff members were really lovely, supportive and willing to help out or give me tasks. I was also relieved to see that it is possible to be a lawyer without having to sit in an office all day, every day (the staff were often heading off to conduct interviews or trials on country) and relished the welcoming environment the office provided. While I enjoyed my weekends looking around Perth, I always looked forward to “soup day” on Mondays and barely a day went past without a birthday cake or someone just offering around the brownies they had baked the night before.

I came away from the experience with a much greater knowledge of the native title system and court processes. At the same time I got to experience a new city, work in a welcoming office environment and make a contribution to this important area of the law – an experience I would highly recommend.