Lauren Kenney

Native Title
Summer 2012

During the summer holiday period I was fortunate to be selected to be a part of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program and spend five weeks as a legal intern at the Goldfields Land and Sea Council (GLSC) Perth office. The program had really appealed to me as I am extremely interested and passionate about Indigenous issues and was interested to see how I could best utilize my law degree to pursue a career in this area.

Aurora Program and Native Title
There is no doubt that an internship can be a bit daunting but the Aurora program provides you with a great deal of information and support in the lead up to and throughout your placement. You are obliged to send weekly updates through to Aurora to track your progress and what you’re working on. It is comforting to know that if you have any queries the Aurora team is only a phone call away.

Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) are recognised under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) with the purpose of assisting and facilitating Indigenous people in bringing forward native title claims. Incorporated in their day-to-day operation are also processing ‘future act’ applications, a future act being the creation of rights to use or in land such as the granting of amining lease that may affect the native title rights of traditional owners. NTRBs also facilitate the negotiation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs) which facilitate such future acts but provide benefits for Indigenous parties the ILUA. NTRBs also have dispute resolution functions, and other functions such as informing native title claimants of matters which may possibly affect their native title. Essentially the tasks NTRBs undertake are extremely varied multi-faceted meaning that a legal career with an NTRB would be equally as diverse and challenging.

The GLSC is the NTRB for the Western Australian Goldfields region and are the voice for traditional owners or holders of native title in the area. With the bulk of the lawyers located at the Perth office, this means a great deal of travel and on country work is involved for employees, making a legal position at the GLSC not just your run of the mill office job but a truly varied and unique career, which is something that I found really appealing about a career in native title as someone who thrives on change and new challenges. There were 13 people working in the Perth office including lawyers, a paralegal, an anthropologist, an historian, administrative personnel and mapping experts. It was a lovely environment to work in and everyone was extremely welcoming and happy to answer any query I had. It was also refreshing to intern with people truly passionate about what they do who work tirelessly on claims and the interests of the traditional owners.

The Work
During my time at the GLSC I worked on a range of tasks that gave me a great deal of insight into native title law. These initially included going through court transcripts and claimant testimonies in order to find information on specific apical ancestors or locations within a claim area of cultural significance so this information could be mapped and presented as visual evidence showing the connection of traditional owners to their land. This was an ongoing project and although mapping software can be truly tedious at times at the end I saw a finished body of work that was to be used in the claim.

I later worked on several research memos looking at what constitutes effective authorization of a claim and also how members of a native title claim group can use their land and what if any restrictions are faced. On some of what I was working on there had been little research done in the area, so unlike a Uni assignment where you will stumble across the right or preferred answer eventually, the reality of work in the ‘real world’ is that this is not often the case. At times this can be quite frustrating coming to dead ends but ultimately extremely rewarding when after the hours of searching you do find just what you’re looking for or at least end up with a body of work you can feel proud to have produced that was actually practical rather than something you will get a mark out of ten for; this was something I found very motivating and rewarding.

One of the highlights of my placement were the directions hearings at the Federal Court that I attended, where parties to a native title claim with their various interests be it mining companies or the State provided the Court (often via video link) with information about how a claim is progressing and voiced any concerns or issues. Here I was exposed to the politics of native title,where one of these hearings actually became quite heated at one stage.

Although I did not travel to any meetings on country or to the Kalgoorlie headquarters, Aurora interns often experience such a privilege, which is cited as the highlight of their placement. Such an opportunity would be hard to come by in any other internship in another field, something that again makes the Aurora program so unique.

I strongly urge each and every law student to apply for an Aurora placement, whether sure or unsure of what career path you wish to follow. The sort of practical experience you can gain from such an internship is invaluable, and I feel it is vital for anyone with prospects of practicing in Western Australia.