Phoebe McGory

Native Title
Alice Springs
Summer 2014

Are you interested in working in Native Title? Are you looking for an alternative to summer clerkships?

As part of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program, Aurora internships are offered to law students and graduates over the winter and summer uni breaks (with some flexibility) and provide the opportunity to work in a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) or for an organisation working in human rights, social justice or Indigenous affairs more generally.

Aurora interns are placed all over Australia, in capital cities as well as remote areas. I applied for an Aurora internship last summer and to my surprise I received an offer in Alice Springs. Just two weeks later I was camping in the middle of the Northern Territory with a lawyer and an anthropologist working on a native title claim.

I spent six weeks working in the legal section of the Central Land Council (CLC). I went expecting adventure and what I got was much more than that: my experience redefined for me what a lawyer can be. Sometimes living in Canberra it seems like your options in law are either in government or corporate law but this internship reassured me that the legal world is much more varied than that.

The CLC is set up by statute to represent traditional land owners in the lower half of the Northern Territory. One of the most unique aspects of the work is that rather than representing an individual, CLC lawyers need to take instructions from whole communities. CLC is based in Alice Springs but the lawyers make regular trips to remote Aboriginal communities to discuss any legal issues that have arisen relating to land. These issues can be to do with leases for government services, setting up art centres, proposals from mining companies, or claims for native title.

As part of my internship I travelled to the communities of Papunya, Yuendumu, Titjikala, and Apatula where I met some inspiring people and saw some beautiful country.

For me, the best part of my internship was the native title work. Along with a lawyer and an anthropologist I listened to people tell their stories about their connection with their land. I heard stories about how to find bush tucker in the desert, how to follow birds to water, and about the dreaming tracks that stretch across the country. Later I wrote these stories into affidavits for people to present to the court. It was an honour to hear these stories and help with these claims.

The hardest part of my internship was seeing how weak a native title right can be: watching lawyers explain to communities that even if your native title rights are recognised you still can't refuse mining exploration on your land.

During my internship I learnt about Aboriginal land but also about legal research and writing, taking instructions, and contract negotiation. I think this internship would be beneficial to any law student or recent graduate looking for practical experience.

Aurora Internships are voluntary but limited assistance may be available.