Liam Hanlon

Native Title
Summer 2014

During the summer in 2014 I spent six weeks interning for Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) as a legal intern. This was arranged through the Aurora Native Title Internship Program which places law, anthropology and some social science students and graduates with organisations that works within native title and Indigenous affairs more generally. Prior to my time interning all I really knew about native title was the brief amounts that I had studied in property law and from some reading I had done on the history of the Indigenous land rights movement in Australia. I have a friend who completed an anthropology internship through Aurora a few years prior who gave me a basic rundown of what it was all about but I still came into the internship not knowing a great deal!

 YMAC represents native title claim groups from the Pilbara, Murchison and Gascoyne regions of Western Australia. I was based in YMAC’s Perth office. YMAC deals with native title claims, heritage protection and future acts for the groups in these diverse regions.

The work

I came to YMAC with the expectations that I was just going to need to do whatever I could to help the lawyers due to the very high workloads in the field of native title. The first task was to do with the ‘connection’ requirements under the Native Title Act. This required going to the Western Australian State Archives office for a few days and looking through police reports from the late 1800s with a list of names and seeing if we could find references made about them.

In my second week I got to work on a research task for a High Court case that was coming up with one of the claimant groups that YMAC represents. This task required looking through all the submissions from the various parties to the case and compiling a document of case extracts, law and international treaties so that counsel could have an idea of what was going to be raised during proceedings. This task consumed all of my first week as there was quite a few parties to the case. I noticed a marked improvement of my research skills using Austlii and other legal databases to find the relevant information which is obviously going to be very useful to take back to my assignments at uni!

Week 3 had me looking through agreements that had been made between resources companies and claim groups and auditing them to make sure everything could be put into an easy to read spreadsheet detailing costs and specific clauses that related to certain agreements. I also did some brief research on indigenous land succession and how this has been viewed by the courts.

In my fourth week I got to do some very interesting research on how the courts view anthropological evidence. This required me to go through the numerous cases from Australia and find references to anthropological evidence in native title. The work produced from this research is going to be used in a presentation to anthropologists to assist them in submitting evidence that courts will accept therefore greatly assisting claimant groups with the requirements of proving their traditional customs and laws and showing that these have existed since the time of sovereignty.

Week 5 was my favourite week without a doubt. I got to draft contentions arguing that a resources company had not negotiated in good faith with one of the claimant groups in regards to a future activity they were applying to carry out on land that was under a native title claim under section 35 of the Native Title Act. This required going through previous submissions made to the National Native Title Tribunal and seeing what case law applied to the contentions we were going to make. There was a deadline to meet for lodging with the Tribunal and it came very close to the wire in making sure we had a strong submission ready but we did and hopefully the result will be that the minerals company needs to come back to the table and work with the Indigenous people to come to an agreeable outcome.

MY last week was spent doing research on previous determinations to compare with a consent determination the State of Western Australia had offered one of the claim groups. Again my research skills were put to good use and I no longer fear an assignment where I have not much to start with!

The YMAC people

YMAC was an incredible organisation to intern for and I cannot thank the staff there enough for providing such a welcoming and supportive work environment. The other staff made me feel included with YMAC by inviting me to lunches and to do things socially after work. I couldn’t have asked to have worked in a better environment. YMAC is definitely not the place where interns are made to feel like they are just there for a brief time before they leave.

The senior lawyers were always happy to set aside time to discuss what was being worked on and help answer any questions that I had for understanding what needed to be done. Aside from the lawyers working at YMAC there is a great team of anthropologists and archaeologists along with the finance, communications and HR teams that are all vital to ensuring an organisation like YMAC can give everything it possibly can in representing its Indigenous claim groups and working towards getting them the best possible outcome.

Not only did I get the opportunity to meet all the wonderful staff employed at YMAC, there were also the other Aurora interns. I was lucky enough to be interning with some other extremely intelligent and dedicated interns who completed the experience. Especially being from Brisbane and getting a chance to meet other university students from Perth and Melbourne who have an interest in native title was great. Not to mention that meeting other interns who actually lived in Perth meant my social life on weekends was much more than just doing touristy things in my spare time!

The Aurora Project

I cannot recommend the Aurora Project enough! It was definitely one of the most valuable experiences I have had whilst at university. Kim and Mahi in the Aurora Placements team in Sydney were great and were always there to make sure everything went smoothly. If you have an interest in native title, mining law or even just a broad interest in social justice and Indigenous affairs, you should apply to Aurora.