Mikaela French

Native Title
Summer 2017

Throughout my Bachelor of Law (Honours) degree, I had an interest in learning about native title law and the legal process and tests Traditional Owners must satisfy to have their native title rights recognised by the courts. In my third year of study, I applied for the 2017/18 summer Aurora Internship Program to gain practical legal experience in native title law. I was successfully offered a 5-week legal internship at Cape York Land Council (CYLC) in Cairns.

As a proud Torres Strait Islander student, I had the opportunity to be awarded the Lisa Wright Scholarship via Aurora. This scholarship was beneficial and assisted with travel, living and accommodation expenses I incurred throughout the internship.

CYLC is a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) that represents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander groups in the Cape York region. The lawyers and administration staff were welcoming and assisted me when I had questions or sought clarification on tasks. I appreciated the time that the lawyers set aside to inform me of the current native title claims, the native title processes and future act notices. I also valued the positive and constructive feedback I received to further enhance my legal skills. 

My role was to provide support to the Native Title Legal Unit and assist the lawyers and administration staff. The work I conducted involved legal research, finding legislation that related to mining, the environment, cultural heritage, state and local government, creating spreadsheets, attending meetings and identifying parcels and land barriers on maps. I had the opportunity to apply the skills I had attained from University into my internship and refer to my textbooks and resources.

During the internship, I was invited to travel to Bamaga to attend meetings with Traditional Owner groups. On the trip, I met the Traditional Owners of the Northern Cape York region, assisted the anthropologist and lawyers and took comprehensive file notes. I was not previously aware of the role of anthropologists in native title. I observed the extensive research and studies conducted by the anthropologist and gained an appreciation of the massive work they do for the native title claims. I also observed the lawyers negotiate with the Traditional Owners during the meetings.

The Aurora internship has been very beneficial to my studies and extended my legal knowledge. I have thoroughly enjoyed working in the non-for profit sector and working alongside passionate legal professionals. Working in native title has confirmed my interest in this legal area and I hope to work as a legal practitioner in a NTRB organisation upon graduation.

The Aurora Internship Program offers internships in both the winter and the summer university breaks for between 4-6 weeks. If you would like to learn more about the Program, check out their website: http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aurorainternshipprogram. Applications for the summer 2018/19 round will be open from 6 through 31 August online via the website.