Miet Engelhardt

Aboriginal Legal Services
Alice Springs
Autumn 2021

After completing my Arts/Law Degree in Melbourne, I took a road trip from Darwin to Alice Springs and found myself in Central Australia about to undertake an internship with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) for six weeks through the Aurora Internship Program. The internship was organised in the space of a week, something I am very grateful to the Aurora Internship’s team for facilitating on such short notice. This was because I had not anticipated being in the NT at the time I was to do an Aurora internship, and I had also not anticipated how much I liked the NT and wanted to extend my time there. My time at NAAJA was very rewarding and my time in Central Australia will not soon be forgotten.

My first day was a firm introduction into what I was going to be experiencing for the next six weeks. The lawyers were very busy and once introductions were done, I shadowed a lawyer for the day at the local court to see how things were done. Throughout the next six weeks I found myself in similar scenarios, tagging along and finding work along the way. It was a great way to slot into the goings on at NAAJA. My time at NAAJA was rewarding in many ways, one of the main ways being that I was pushed out of my comfort zone into new experiences. By day three, I was standing up in court seeking an adjournment for a client!

My work at NAAJA involved legal research on a number of criminal issues and familiarising myself with the Northern Territory Criminal Code, such as its mandatory sentencing measures. I was tasked one week with looking through statements in a murder trial and creating my own case theory in regards to what occurred. Other days I was tasked with more simple tasks, such as transcribing CCTV footage and 000 calls, but seeing how busy the NAAJA lawyers were, I was happy to provide any help I could. This internship expanded many of my skillsets. Most keenly, I am confident in my knowledge of how the court room and trials run, my legal research skills have improved, and I have shown myself to be very adaptive.

The most rewarding part of my internship was when I helped a lawyer run a week-long trial in the local court. This involved a week prior of research and helping her compile her evidence and cross-examinations for 17 witnesses. Once in the trial, I watched on as the five defence lawyers, four from Legal Aid and one from NAAJA, fought for their clients. Every day before trial, at lunch, and after the court ended, my lawyer and I were examining evidence-in-chiefs and cross examinations looking for inconsistencies and evidence to drill down upon. The whole experience was exhilarating and I got an invaluable insight into how a criminal trial runs. Indeed, it has inspired me to pursue court advocacy at some time in my career. Further, as the lawyer I was working with attested to, I felt invaluable as an intern and that I was doing real and useful work. Following this trial, which was left part heard due to time constraints, I helped the lawyer compile summaries and documents for when the trial resumes in a few months. I learnt so much from the court room, but also from the lawyer who I worked with for these few weeks.

NAAJA’s Alice Springs office services the largest physical area of the NT, interacting with many communities and bush courts. On my final day at NAAJA, I was lucky enough to take a day trip to the bush court in Papunya. Papunya 3 hours West of Alice Springs through the stunning West MacDonnell Ranges, with the last 100kms on a four-wheel drive track. Bush courts eliminate the need for clients to come all the way into Alice Springs and provides a more relaxed setting. In a portable building, Judge and defence sit on their plastic chairs with their plastic tables and bring the law to the bush. The inequities that were displayed to me in the local court were amplified in the bush court. NAAJA lawyers work here was the most phenomenal, with many new clients appearing and everything taking place in the heat. Talking to some of the lawyers later, they said that going on bush circuit (typically they are away for a week, each day driving to a different community) was the most rewarding, if not most challenging, aspect of working in the Alice Springs office with NAAJA. I was lucky to experience it.

In amongst all this was surrounded by incredibly generous and kind colleagues who gave me the time of day and shared their knowledge with me. Whilst the 40-degree days were becoming slightly unbearable towards the end of my internship in mid-December, the Alice Springs lifestyle is something I will never forget and one day hope to experience again. The West MacDonnell ranges provided weekend camp spots in some of the most beautiful natural water holes in the NT.

My time at NAAJA was incredibly rewarding and has affirmed my career aspirations for the future. I can’t thank Aurora enough for organising my internship at such short notice.

If you are interested in community legal centres and working with the Indigenous community, I highly recommend NAAJA. I also recommend Alice Springs as the place to do the internship!