Louise Almeida

Native Title
Summer 2015

I undertook a 5-week native title focused Aurora internship at the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) via the Aurora Internship Program in February 2015. I’m an Arts/ Law student entering my fourth year of study and have spent a year working in a litigation law firm. I have always had an interest in entering an area of law with a social justice component and have worked for many not-for-profits. Although I only had a little experience in Indigenous affairs, when I heard about the Aurora internships, I knew I had to apply because native title has always been an area that I’ve been passionate about.

The KLC is a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for the Kimberley Region. It works with Aboriginal people to secure native title recognition, conduct conservation and land management activities and develop cultural business enterprises. Its main office, where I was stationed, is in Broome, Western Australia.  It is a beautiful location- surrounded by white sandy beaches, frangipanis and palm trees.

Unlike other internships that I’ve undertaken, at the KLC I felt that I made a real difference. Like other Native Title Representative Bodies, the KLC is at times under-resourced and under-staffed. Through undertaking administrative tasks, I saved the organisation hundreds of hours, allowing the lawyers to complete urgent legal work rather than more basic tasks. The work I did was also invaluable in terms of experience. Although there was some photocopying here and there I also completed a multitude of legal work including:

  • Preparing affidavits
  • Gathering evidential documents pertaining to leasehold agreements
  • Taking legal meeting minutes both in the office and on country
  • Inspecting anthropological field notes for witness statements
  • Reading witness statements to establish the traditional owners’ connection to the land, particularly in regards to spirituality
  • Collecting information from fieldwork tapes in order to determine genealogies
  • Legal research
  • Interviewing traditional owners regarding occupation and property interests
  • Collating proofing documents and folders.

This diverse experience saw me take on the roles of legal intern, anthropology intern and administrative assistant. I learnt so much about Indigenous affairs and culture throughout my time at the KLC but was also exposed to many areas of law including:

  • Native title law
  • Property law
  • Corporations law
  • Mining law
  • Contract law
  • Environmental law.

The highlight of my internship was attending meetings on country. I travelled across the Kimberley to accompany lawyers on several occasions, visiting everything from coast side towns to desert communities. I witnessed the passion of the Traditional Owners and KLC staff alike. I also observed the many challenges that these groups faced. At these meetings my primary role was to take minutes, which was a fantastic way to immerse myself in the issues the groups faced.

The worst part of the internship was seeing claim groups face long and seemingly impossible uphill battles. Claims can take years and people get frustrated. Also, mining activity sees claim groups up against multi-million dollar companies and Government parties in negotiations. At times these circumstances led to conflicts within claim groups. However, groups would get back on track and persist. It was uplifting to see how determined the Traditional Owners were to get native title for the benefit of future generations.

The internship is suited to anyone with an interest in Indigenous affairs with a sense of adventure. You must be prepared to work in an at times, challenging but rewarding environment. The KLC has a very casual and social office environment and is a fabulous place to work- Where else could you do a prestigious legal internship, wear a t-shirt and zip-off shorts in the office and cycle to the beach straight after work?

My advice to anyone pursuing this internship is to simply take the opportunity and apply. I was initially hesitant to apply as I didn’t believe I had adequate experience but the internship has been invaluable, rewarding and so educational