Nick Hay

Native Title
Winter 2016

Over July, while many of my fellow students at Sydney Law School embarked on the perennial winter exodus to the fairer shores of Europe, I kept jumping on the 8 o’clock train to Redfern. Not as some masochistic exercise in getting ahead for second semester, but to complete an Aurora internship at NTSCORP, the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for NSW. Indeed, despite the notable lack of yacht parties in Redfern during the winter, I never for a moment regretted my choice.

The Aurora Internship Program has been running since 2004, and places students and graduates from law, anthropology and social science faculties from around Australia at over 120 organisations that share a focus on the broader Indigenous sector. Interns volunteer on a full- or part-time basis for a period of four to six weeks at various placement sites, gaining significant practical experience in areas such as native title, land rights, social justice, human rights and environmental policy, to name a few.

As it stands, NTSCORP is one of the less exotic destinations for an Aurora intern. Indeed many interns travel significant distances across the country to varyingly remote areas in which participating organisations are located – including, I should add, a tropical island in the Torres Strait. Nonetheless, for a New South Welshman interested in native title, I was particularly pleased to be placed at NTSCORP, which provides specialised legal, research, strategic development and community facilitation services to native title claim groups and traditional owners across NSW and the ACT.

I was especially fortunate to arrive when I did, as NTSCORP’s Legal Unit had begun preparations for an ‘authorisation meeting’ of a claim which had been the subject of a Full Federal Court decision the week before I arrived. As a result, the matter was at a head by the time I entered the fray and I effectively spent the next five weeks immersed in the legal and logistical challenges that organising a large claim group under the provisions of Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) (the “NTA”) gives rise to.

The tasks I undertook were therefore extremely diverse and not exclusively or strictly 'legal'. I answered countless telephone calls from claim group members interested in attending the meeting and helped draft various briefs, in addition to researching specific points of law relating to the procedural requirements for a successful and legitimate claim group meeting. From the outset, my supervising solicitors gave me real responsibility over these tasks and invested in my development over the course of the internship, despite the reality of my short tenure at the organisation. As a result, I felt that I was adding value to the matter in an overt and substantive manner – an opportunity I have not often been given in other roles I have had in the legal space.

Undeniably, however, the most rewarding, interesting and enlightening experience of my Aurora internship was the chance I had to travel in order to assist with and attend the claim group meeting. Not only did I get the chance to witness, first-hand, the practical operation of the NTA, but I was also able to see our work come to fruition in real time. Attending the meeting gave me a sense of the logistical difficulties inherent in organising large native title claims, as well as an understanding of the deep connection to the land Indigenous communities hold and the passion with which they pursue their rights for the benefit of future generations.

I left NTSCORP after five weeks with a deep admiration and respect for the lawyers (and non-lawyers) working in native title. The complex intermingling of legal and social issues that it brings to the fore is by no means solved by any easy fix. Yet the boundless empathy and optimism with which each member of NTSCORP approached their work will be something that will stick with me, regardless of whether I choose to pursue a similar trajectory in my own career. Beyond gaining experience in native title, I would recommend an Aurora internship to any Australian student or graduate who is passionate about social justice and keen to understand how that can be channeled in a rewarding and meaningful way in a professional context.

The Aurora Internship Program offers internships in both the winter and the summer university breaks for between 4-6 weeks (with some flexibility outside of those timeframes). If you would like to learn more about the Program, check out their website:  Applications for the summer 2016/17 round of internships are open now through 26 August.