Megan Healy

Native Title
Winter 2014

Are you interested in Aboriginal affairs and native title? And have you ever wondered how you could use your legal skills beyond a law firm? If you answered yes to either of these questions, I would strongly recommend applying for the Aurora Internship Program.

Aurora places law, anthropology and some social science (namely archaeology, cultural heritage and environmental management) students and graduates in organisations across Australia, from Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) to government departments and specialist legal centres as well as other organisations working in the Indigenous sector. Internships are generally five to six weeks in length, offered each winter and summer vacation period, with some flexibility outside of that timeframe. This is one of the reasons why the Aurora Program is so successful; unlike other shorter internships, it is long enough to really get to know your host organisation and make a valued contribution to its work.

I was placed as a legal intern with Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) during the winter of 2014. YMAC is the NTRB for the native title claimants of the Pilbara and Yamatji (Murchison-Gascoyne) regions in Western Australia. My circumstances were somewhat special, because I had previously been a two-week vacation clerk with YMAC, which meant I already knew how the office operated and many of the staff. I was excited to be back at the dynamic, friendly and fascinating workplace that YMAC is.

During my five-week internship, my tasks were hugely varied. As a not-for-profit with a long history of hosting interns, YMAC expects interns to take ownership of and carry out hands-on, advanced practical work. This seems to be typical of many of the Aurora host organisations. For example, I gained a lot of experience in drafting memorandums and internal documents for the legal staff, and even proof read letters before they were sent out to the State.

While I mainly did legal research for one of the Special Counsels (which was often quite challenging, may I add), I also filed documents with the Federal Court and Warden’s Court, carried out administrative tasks and attended a couple of meetings. These meetings were definitely the highlight, taking place between a claim group and a mining company who were in the process of updating an existing agreement between them. One meeting took place in Port Hedland, which meant that I was lucky enough to fly up to the Pilbara on this occasion.

Completing an Aurora internship is one of the best decisions that I have made. Not only did it allow me to deepen my knowledge of native title law, but it also gave me an insight into what working as a claim lawyer in native title is really like. Despite the fact that people often view native title as a narrow area of law, during my internship I came to realise how often there is overlap with areas such as administrative, constitutional, environmental law and corporations law, as well as the obvious mining law. I have been fortunate enough to keep working with YMAC on a part time basis, so for me, the journey in native title continues.As a national program that is becoming increasingly competitive, don’t be disheartened if you aren’t successful the first time you apply (it took me more than one go).