Mandy Jin

Native Title
Summer 2011

Challenging assumptions and exceeding expectations: my summer working in a native title representative body

If you had asked me what native title was six weeks ago, before the commencement of my Aurora internship, I would have simply summarised the law for you. However, in reality working for a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) is so much more than just law.

For six weeks over the summer, I was placed at Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation’s (YMAC) Perth office through the Aurora Native Title Internship Program. YMAC is the NTRB for the traditional owners of the Pilbara, Murchison and Gascoyne regions – encompassing a huge area over Western Australia.

When I first stepped into the YMAC Perth office, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect – the Aurora placements team had told me to have low expectations, so I went in with the intention of simply assisting an under-resourced organisation with whatever work they may need completed, regardless of how menial. The work I received, however, was far from menial and I could never have anticipated how much I would learn from the experience and how much it would change my conceptions of native title.

It was interesting for me to observe so many different areas of expertise working together toward a single objective. When an area of law concentrates so greatly on the connection of indigenous people with their land and the continuity of that connection, anthropologists and the work they undertake are of central importance and form the basis of every legal claim. This became particularly apparent to me during my internship as I worked closely with anthropologists and referred extensively to anthropological reports in almost all the tasks I undertook. However, what especially surprised me was the important role of the finance department within a NTRB. Finance is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of native title, but I soon realised that without the work of the finance team, many proceedings would simply not be possible.

The beauty of working for an organisation consisting of so many interdependent areas, is that I was given a large variety of tasks – spanning across areas such as contract law, intellectual property, finance, public policy, burial law, as well as general property and native title law. The internship was very practical and really challenged me to work efficiently and independently. I can honestly say there was no time during my six weeks with YMAC where I had nothing to do – on the contrary, I often worked on two or three projects at once!

If you’re looking to become more open-minded with your career decision or have an interest in social justice generally, or native title and Indigenous affairs more specifically, there is really nothing quite as rewarding as interning for an organisation that truly needs your assistance. At no time during my internship did I feel I was just doing ‘busy work’ – my work always had significance and I always felt I was working toward something bigger. Working in native title is much more than just law, it is working in conjunction with a variety of different people in different fields, and serving indigenous communities who need our support. It is hard work, but most things worth fighting for generally are.

Aurora places law, anthropology and some social science (archaeology, cultural heritage, environmental management, human geography, history and sociology) students and graduates at the 15 NTRBs around Australia as well as over 50 other Indigenous organisations working in land rights, policy development, human rights and social justice.