Lauren Abrahams

Native Title
Winter 2019


This winter, I was fortunate to undertake a 4-week Aurora Internship at the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation’s (YMAC) Perth office. The Aurora Internship Program seeks to provide law, anthropology, social science and health science students and graduates with internship placements at Indigenous and Indigenous-sector organisations.

Despite having a very limited understanding of native title law itself, I had previously interned with the Kimberley Community Legal Service-ANU Hotdesk and had a developing interest in learning more about the law as it applies to Indigenous Australians. Based on this, I applied for an Aurora Internship with the hope of having something productive to do during my winter break. However, my experience was much more than this. I have come away from my time at YMAC with a heightened awareness of the complexities of native title claims, an understanding of the essential interrelationship between law, anthropology and social sciences in this process, and a deep respect for people who work in this sector.

From my first day at YMAC, I was warmly welcomed by all the staff; not only the legal team, but the anthropologists and social scientists as well. Everyone was keen to introduce themselves, ask me about my studies and interests and help me out wherever they could. Many lawyers were also quick to share advice and anecdotes about their careers, which was always very insightful and encouraging. Throughout my internship, I was assigned a variety of tasks by the legal team; these ranged from case summaries and research memoranda to assist solicitors in their claim work, to more administrative jobs like running documents down to the nearby Federal Court, filing and data-entry.

One of the tasks I really enjoyed was summarising recent future act determinations of the National Native Title Tribunal. I analysed how the different factors in s39 Native Title Act have been considered to lead to a determination that a future act, such as the grant of a mining lease, may or may not be done, or may be done with conditions. Through this task, I not only learned about future acts and the associated processes, but also gained a greater understanding of the different ways in which native title groups’ enjoyment of their rights and interests can manifest, as well as about their different cultures and traditions.

I also helped to begin a long-term project of consolidating YMAC’s precedent and templates to create a comprehensive resource setting out a ‘checklist’ of the steps that need to be taken in a claims process. Reading about YMAC’s past and ongoing native title claims processes and the effects of these processes on claim group members made the Native Title Act so much more real than simply another piece of legislation to learn sections of for an exam. It was this element of being able to learn about native title law in context that made my internship such a rewarding and informative experience.

My internship provided me with a unique insight into native title law as it operates on the ground, as well as an opportunity to build on my practical legal skills, develop my confidence and make connections. It has given me a clearer understanding of what working in the native title sector might look like, particularly as a non-Indigenous person seeking to be a good Indigenous ally. I will definitely be considering avenues to pursue further work in the Indigenous sector in the future, and I highly recommend the Aurora Internship Program to students or graduates looking for a challenging and rewarding experience.