After completing my first Aurora internship at the Kimberley Land Council in the summer 2013/14 round within the anthropology stream, I decided to apply for a second internship so I could build upon my legal skills in the area of native title. During January/February of 2016 I was placed at the National Native Title Tribunal (NNTT) in Perth and was part of the newly re-established Research Unit.
The NNTT is an independent agency established by the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), and is comprised of a President (based in Perth) and Members. The statutory functions of the President and Members include arbitral and administrative decision making, conducting inquiries, mediations and reviews and assisting parties with agreements to settle applications and negotiate indigenous land use agreements (ILUAs).
My internship experience:
After arriving on my first day, I was introduced to my fellow Aurora intern, Marco, and Nicole, the Research and Business Development Manager, who was to guide us through our first week and teach us the ins and outs of the research portal we were assisting to develop. We were given a comprehensive tour of the offices, which take up a whole floor of the Commonwealth Law Courts building (although I did find myself getting lost a couple of times after this). Once settled in, we immediately got down to business.
Marco and I were tasked with assisting in the development of a digital clearing house, organising a variety of materials produced by the NNTT and other publicly available information relevant to native title claims and future act matters. The purpose of the portal is to make such documents more accessible to claimants and the public at large. When we arrived, the portal was still in its infancy, and I was pleasantly surprised with the level of autonomy we were given as to how we wanted approach the task. After the first week, Nicole and Marco left to return to Sydney, so I carried the torch in Perth.
We began by assessing some of the Research Reports that had previously been produced by the Research Unit at the NNTT, and thus became familiar with the kinds of ethno-historical materials that are relevant to a native title claim. Other materials we were responsible for organising included issues reports regarding the claims process, booklets, information sheets, presentations and speeches. We were strongly encouraged to delve further into anything we came across that piqued our interest, and to undertake any further readings that related to native title. In making database entries, we became familiar with helpful resources including the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies’ Mura catalogue, and the NNTT Registers of native title applications and determinations and the NNTT online mapping resource, leading me to gain a spatial awareness of claims and the areas they covered.
After learning how to use the research portal data capture site, and helping the supervisors to tweak some aspects of the system that weren’t working or could be structured differently, I was responsible for developing a set of procedures that could be referred to by future users of the system, after the completion of my internship. This was a very satisfying process, as I was able to see how my contribution was going to have a lasting impact, even after my departure from the office. I then conducted a training session with other staff members who would be carrying on with the portal development, using my own procedures and suggestions for improving efficiency.
As part of the internship, we were assigned an interesting reading about the difficulties inherent in the native title process, including the codification of traditional law and attempting to recognise different kinds of connection to land and the rights that arise from them. We set up connections in Cairns, Sydney, Canberra and Perth, and were able to discuss our opinions on the piece and our experience as interns.
The staff at the Perth office were all very friendly and supportive of me during my time in their office. Although my initial desk was spacious and private (with a nice view of the Swan River), I moved desks in the third week of my placement so I was closer to where all the action was happening. There were a number of morning teas held over the course of my placement, and I even got to attend a Perth Fringe Festival show that one of the staff members had written and starred in. On my last morning, the office was kind enough to organise a morning tea as a send-off, a very fitting end to a very rewarding experience.
Benefits of the experience:
This internship was extremely beneficial in informing me about the practical application of the Native Title Act and the various roles performed by staff members of the NNTT. I thus feel as though I am much more informed in the area of native title generally, and specifically the materials that may be relevant or helpful to parties involved in native title mediation and negotiations. With this experience, I have greatly developed my interest in the field of native title, and intend to pursue a career in the field of Indigenous issues. I highly recommend an internship with the Aurora Internship Program for anybody who has a desire to learn more about native title, whether from a legal, anthropological or social science background.
Please visit http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aurorainternshipprogram for details on how to apply. Applications for the upcoming winter 2016 round of internships will be open from 9am AEDT Monday 7th March through to 5pm AEDT Friday 1st April 2016.