Meagan Bertolatti

Native Title
Summer 2013

The Aurora Native Title Internship Program is a fantastic opportunity for law students (and graduates) interested in working the areas of Native Title, policy development, social justice and Indigenous affairs. An Aurora placement allows interns to experience the practical realities of working with claimant groups to pursue fair and just access and/or benefits to Native Title lands.
I undertook my legal internship this summer (4th Feb-8th March 2013) at the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC).  SWALSC is the native title representative body of the Noongar people, who are the traditional owners of the South West of Western Australia. SWALSC works with members to progress resolution of the Noongar native title claims, while also advancing and strengthening Noongar culture, language, heritage and society. Interning at SWALSC provided me with a wealth of information and understanding about what native title is and how the future act process works.

SWALSC is currently working on resolving the six Noongar native title claims over Perth and the south-west region of WA by negotiation with the State Government alongside a court action, which has been running in the Federal Court for 15 years.
From a legal perspective, the law is both complex and challenging – yet the difficulty does not stop there. From an organisational point of view, NTRBs work around the clock to represent the interests (legal, social and cultural) of their claim groups. This involves the interaction and interdependence of various departments at SWALSC including anthropology, heritage, the lands unit and the communications team.
During my time as a legal intern, I was given tasks mostly of a legal nature. From legal research on legislative reforms, to attending Working Party Meetings and compiling case file summaries. I also assisted the legal officers in their dealings with future act claims and accompanied them to negotiations, which was a fantastic opportunity to be exposed to the negotiation process.  I was also given general administrative tasks such as filing documents and photocopying, but this was minimal.

I feel that my internship gave me the chance to be shown the realities of the native title process; namely, settlement negotiations between SWALSC and various government and non-government bodies, such as the State government, mining companies, local councils and development groups.
The negotiations involved are tremendous and represent a great deal of work for the negotiation team in SWALSC. As noted above, the opportunity to sit in on Working Party meetings and listen to the concerns and issues raised by the Aboriginal members was a privilege. Their connection to the land and knowledge of our country is truly powerful and awe-inspiring.

I encourage all students who are interested in native title, social justice and Indigenous affairs to consider applying for an Aurora Native Title Internship. The application process is relatively easy to do and my interview wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be! The Aurora team are lovely and incredibly helpful and accommodating to your particular circumstances. The organisation and commitment of those involved in the program really makes you feel like you are part of a promising and rewarding project.  Early on in my internship, I was also invited to after-work drinks with other Perth-based Aurora interns which I was unable to attend, but I appreciated that Aurora had made the effort to make us all feel welcome and at ‘home’.