Over January and February 2014, I completed a six-week Aurora placement with the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) in Broome. The KLC is the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for the Kimberley region, but it has a long history of advocacy that predates the recognition of native title.
Prior to beginning my internship, my feeling was overwhelmingly one of excitement. However, having never studied native title previously, I knew I would be coming to the KLC a little green behind the ears. I had always shown a keen interest in Aboriginal affairs and had previously visited a number of communities. Yet, I was lacking any real practical experience. For this reason, my excitement was accompanied by some minor trepidation that I would not be of any real assistance to the KLC. More selfishly, there was also concern that I might not comprehend or understand what I was involved in and, therefore, not get too much personally out of the experience.
With regard to my own personal experience, I found that having no background in native title was not necessarily a bad position to come from. This was largely because everyone at the KLC was extremely friendly and went out of their way to make me feel welcome. Yet, on another level, it was also because seeing things for the first time allowed me to have a fresh outlook and observe more acutely all the events happening around me. Over the six weeks I was at the KLC I was exposed to so much that was interesting. From writing research memos on uncertain points of law, to taking affidavits from traditional owners on country and sitting in on a number of PBC meetings, I was able to gain an insight into many facets of the native title system. Seeing the system from many different angles gave me an appreciation, albeit limited, for how native title works in practice. What I learnt, amongst many other things, is that working in native title can be at times exhilarating and at other times undeniably very frustrating. But while it may be an imperfect system, I came to appreciate that it nevertheless still has many positive aspects that are delivering tangible benefits to Aboriginal people in the Kimberley. As the NTRB for the whole of the Kimberley region, the KLC has a significant role to play in this process. Thus, more than anything, I left Broome with a tremendous admiration for the Aboriginal people of the Kimberley, as well as those at the KLC – be they lawyers, anthropologists, rangers, field officers or project officers – who are representing their interests.
I was particularly fortunate during my placement to have the opportunity to travel out on country a number of times. Much of my time on these trips was spent admiring the scenery of the Kimberley, which is definitely some of the most beautiful I have ever seen. When not admiring the landscape, I regularly assisted lawyers in collecting affidavits from traditional owners. The ability to produce a coherent affidavit is an important skill native title lawyers must have and I am grateful that on a number of occasions I was able to see first-hand this process. I also attended and took minutes at a number of PBC meetings. This was at times exhausting, but I would recommend volunteering for this task to any intern. Taking minutes provides a clear way in which interns can contribute, while at the same time offering an unparalleled insight into the operation of PBCs.
Like most other interns, I found my Aurora placement to be an amazing personal experience. I learnt an enormous amount, met many great people and spent much of my time travelling to remote corners of the Kimberley. The difficultly sometimes can be to remember that ultimately the role of an Aurora intern is to assist the host organization in whatever way possible. To this end, I found that if you are genuinely enthusiastic and committed to working in your host organization, even if that merely be only photocopying, it will appreciate your efforts and include you in the meaningful work that it does. Thus, if you have a passion for Aboriginal affairs I highly recommend applying for an Aurora internship.