Montague Cole

Native Title
Summer 2019

Five weeks interning at Central Desert Native Title Services (Central Desert) provided a great insight into both the operation of native title law and the continuity of law and culture of Western Desert people. If you’re interested in native title, the broader Indigenous legal sector or simply want to learn more about First Nations culture, I cannot recommend the Aurora Internship Program enough.

I flew from Melbourne to Perth in late January and settled in to my accommodation for the five weeks. I was fortunate to have a place close to the beach and train station, which allowed me to swim regularly and commute via train to Central Desert’s office in East Perth with ease. February is a great time to be in Perth, with sunshine a daily occurrence and many festivals and other events.

The welcoming nature of everyone at Central Desert made it a really great place to intern. After an induction and meeting of colleagues across both Central Desert and their subsidiary organisation Desert Support Services, I felt comfortable almost straight away. Every task I was given had clear instructions and was contextualised to give broader understanding of the work. Any questions I asked were happily answered in detail by one of the lawyers or anthropologists. During the five weeks, I worked primarily on compensation related matters and a current ongoing native title claim. My tasks included detailed mining tenure analysis for the upcoming compensation claims, transcribing interviews to progress witness statements and affidavits, conducting legal research, drafting memoranda for senior legal team and background reading of important native title cases. With the very recent High Court judgment in Timber Creek regarding compensation for loss and impairment of native title rights, it was great to get some experience and insight into this development of native title law on the ground.

In my third week, I visited Kalgoorlie and Leonora for claim work. The claim lawyer who I was travelling with and I flew out Monday morning and returned Friday afternoon. It was a great opportunity to experience one of the lawyer’s day-to-day activities in the field and to see the operation of native title law in context. We met with elders from the claim group to progress witness statements via recorded interviews. It was a great learning experience. I was humbled by their welcoming nature and blown away by their vast knowledge of country. We discussed the tjukurrpa, which is the Western Desert word for the “law” which is also commonly called the “Dreamtime” by non-First Nations people, traditional hunting practices, language, history and the exercise of traditional laws and customs. I learnt a lot from the people we met and I am grateful to hear their stories of connection to land and how they were able to maintain their culture despite the impacts of colonialism. Their stories will stick with me for a very long time.  From a geographical perspective, it was my first time in the Central Desert/Goldfields region of Australia and it was exciting to see the setting sun illuminate the red dirt and Salmon gums. As a South-West Victorian, this was definitely a unique experience.

My last two days were spent at the annual all-staff workshop. Whilst as an intern my role was a fairly limited, I enjoyed hearing presentations from the State government, Museum of WA and in particular a cultural awareness presentation from one of the native title holders about country and sampling some bush foods that were brought in for the staff to try. My weekends were spent exploring the beautiful Margaret River region, Rottnest Island or around Perth.

Above all, I would like to thank the John Skipper Kelly Fund for bringing this opportunity to fruition. Without the generosity of the JSK, this experience certainly wouldn’t have been possible. I’m very grateful for this opportunity and it has motivated me to (hopefully!) work in the Indigenous legal sector in the future.

Don’t think twice about applying for Aurora! Every placement will be a unique, different and rewarding experience.