If someone had told me that during my law degree that I would be given the opportunity to work at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and attend a ‘bush court’ in a remote Indigenous community I would have laughed. But as thing turned out, I was given the once in a lifetime opportunity to spend a month in Darwin working at NAAJA, as an Aurora Commonwealth funded intern, in the criminal law section.
Having worked in a commercial law firm as a paralegal for that last two and a half years, I was soon immersed in a world unlike nothing I had experienced before, and I loved it every minute of it! From my very first day at NAAJA I was greeted and became friends with some of the most dedicated and passionate people who have devoted their careers to helping improve the shameful amount of Indigenous people currently caught up in the Criminal Justice System.
The work I undertook at NAAJA was varied, including research, attending court, undertaking prison visits and of course some general administrative tasks as well. I also had the opportunity to undertake some extremely interesting work such as helping draft opening submissions for an upcoming matter that was being held in Northern Territory Supreme Court!
Another highlight was being able to attend Darwin Correctional Centre (DCC) for client interviews. When conducting these interviews, I learnt very quickly to explain things in ‘plain English’ and in the simplest way possible to ensure the clients are fully aware of how their matter is progressing and what a likely outcome maybe. I feel very privileged and honoured to have been trusted to be able to listen to people’s personal life stories and the challenges they have faced throughout their life’s and in their dealings with the Criminal Justice System.
The office environment at NAAJA was one of extreme passion and dedication knowing that the work they do is directly improving the lives of some of the most disadvantaged people in Australia. I have never seen an office have such a strong sense of purpose and altruistic approach to their work. Much of my learning came through conversations in the office with the lawyers on how they approach cases and deal with the, at times, never ending flow of matters.
During my third of week of working at NAAJA, I was given the incredible opportunity to attend a ‘bush court’ in a remote Indigenous community called Wadeye. Bush courts are regularly conducted in remote Indigenous communities as it is often too difficult to arrange for matters to be held in Darwin or Katherine. Due to the remoteness and being in the wet season we had to fly in as some of the major roads were beginning to flood due to increased rainfall. It is not unusual for more than 60 matters to be held in a day which range from traffic offences, bail breaches and domestic violence charges.
Due to the hecticness and large amounts of cases which need to be finalised lawyers only have a few minutes to speak with their clients and attempt to gain an understanding of what can be done to help them. Upon landing at Wadeye, the impacts colonisation has had and continues to have on remote Indigenous communities is evident. Unfortunately, the impacts colonisation has had on communities such as Wadeye has played a significant role in the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the Criminal Justice System that we see today.
Overall, I could not have asked for a more welcoming and supportive month at NAAJA. The month I spent at NAAJA was by far the most meaningful and interesting thing I have done during my law degree. As I approach my final year of study, I have been inspired by the extremely passionate lawyers at NAAJA to seriously consider a career in criminal law, something of which if I am honest, had not given much thought of before I headed to Darwin.
I would strongly encourage anyone with an interest in Indigenous issues to apply for an Aurora internship. More details on application openings and deadlines can be found at https://internships.aurorafoundation.com.au/about-internship-program and https://internships.aurorafoundation.com.au/indigenous-applicants. Applications for the winter 2021 round will be open from 8 March through 26 March.