Rebecca Scott

Native Title
Summer 2017

The Aurora Internship Program

During the summer university break in early 2017 I was fortunate enough to be selected as a legal intern through the Aurora Internship Program and placed in a 5-week internship at the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) in Cairns, Far North Queensland.

As part of their mission to provide support to Indigenous organisations around the country, the Program places students and graduates in legal, anthropological, or some social Sciences roles at organisations working in the native title and broader Indigenous sector.

Cape York Land Council

The Cape York Land Council (CYLC) is a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) that represents Indigenous groups from the Tip of Australia down to around Cooktown. During my internship, the CYLC was in the middle of the “Cape York United #1 Claim” – one of the largest native title claims in the country and one which seeks a determination on all of the remaining undetermined land in the Cape.

As a legal intern at the CYLC, my role was to provide support to the Native Title Unit and the lawyers working on this historic claim.

Working at the CYLC

Much of the work I did for the CYLC was what you would expect of a legal internship: reading cases, drafting correspondence, and researching historical rights and interests over various land parcels in the claimed area. When the legal work was slow, I was also able to support the anthropology side of the Native Title Unit, which offered a fascinating opportunity for me to learn about the history, geography, and diverse cultures of Cape York.

All of the lawyers and staff at the CYLC were incredibly welcoming and made me feel right at home in the office. The lawyers were very approachable and willing to chat with me and answer my endless questions about native title, the court process for determinations, the current and future work of the CYLC, and the people of Cape York.

During my internship I witnessed the incredible complexity and massive amount of work that goes into native title claims. From working through a lengthy and demanding court process to liaising with Traditional Owners (and all of the cultural considerations and community politics that can be involved) the legal team at the CYLC really put so much time and energy into their work. As a law student, it was very encouraging to be interning in this type of environment where the lawyers are truly passionate about what they are working towards, not just logging billable hours!

The CYLC, like many NTRBs and similar bodies around Australia, is operating at an interesting time in the history of native title. With many lands already determined and few left to be claimed, the work of NTRBs now also includes many post-determination (or post-claim) considerations, such as assisting with set up and administration of Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBCs), negotiation of Indigenous Land Use Agreements, and monitoring and enforcement of native title rights over determined areas. I was fortunate during my time at the CYLC to witness and assist with many of these diverse projects which helped me to realise that there is so much more to native title than lodging a claim, and that the important work of Indigenous organisations must continue on post-determination.

Travelling for the Internship

The opportunity to live and work in a new city is a rare one and should be taken up at every possible chance – especially for students who are still in the process of figuring out where to live and work after university. The Aurora Internship Program offers a unique opportunity for students who are interested in social justice, human rights, or working in the Indigenous sector to immerse themselves in a new community and get a taste for what a career in this field might look like.

Coming from Brisbane, I didn’t need to travel too far and working with property law in the same jurisdiction where I learned it was a great way for me to put my academic studies into practice. My internship at the CYLC was an excellent chance for me to experience life outside of the capitol city and explore a new part of my state while developing my professional and legal skills.

On a personal level, spending a few weeks by yourself in a new place away from the demands of friends and family and the routine of your normal habits challenges you to push yourself out of your comfort zone and experience new and exciting things. The more you embrace the experience and immerse yourself in life in your new home, the more you learn about yourself and develop as an independent, adaptable person.

Outcomes of the Internship

Needless to say, participating in the Aurora Internship Program has been an amazing experience and has helped me grow as a person and a future legal professional. Work experience in a legal role is a great benefit to any law student, but work experience in such a dynamic, unique, and challenging environment is something that can teach way more than simple legal skills. Working in the native title sector at a busy and potentially under-resourced organisation teaches you to be proactive, flexible, and resourceful. 

My time at the CYLC has confirmed my career aspirations of working in the not-for-profit sector, and the valuable skills I learned there will undoubtedly help me meet the challenges of my future career.

If you are a law, anthropology, or social sciences student looking for an internship where you can really make a difference, I would absolutely recommend applying for an Aurora internship. You will be given the chance to jump head first into a fast-paced and challenging role where the work you do has a real impact on the organisation and the cause they are working for, and it is the perfect opportunity to develop your knowledge of Indigenous issues and test out a career in this dynamic, demanding, and rewarding field.

Applications for the Aurora Internship Program open each summer and winter and more information can be found at Applications for the winter 2017 round are now open through 31 March 2017.