Samantha Varghese

Aboriginal Legal Services
Summer 2020

When I stepped off the plane in Darwin, I was immediately met by a dewy mask of sweat that I soon grew to accept as my natural state amidst the Wet season. As much as you’ll hear people complain of the heat and sporadic thunderstorms that catch you off-guard whilst on your lunch break so that you return to the office a human puddle, there’s a beautiful charm to the bustling markets, poolside hangs, and beachfront sunsets of the most vivid oranges and pinks that will win you over.


I’d been itching to work at NAAJA for some time and my experience there far exceeded any and all of my expectations. I was working in the Civil Section, which dealt with matters by the likes of housing and security, child protection, consumer law and government complaints. The broad range of cases offered a bird’s eye view of the systemic injustice Indigenous people face in the Territory. Indigenous disadvantage is highly visible in Darwin and it meant the work was all the more raw and confronting. However, I can advocate for how incredibly important the work was and that it was offered in a community-led, culturally appropriate and supportive environment that is unique to NAAJA.


My day to day work at NAAJA was usually a mix of field trips, casework, research and local dumpling splurges. There was a system to operating regional circuits, court days and community rounds that meant that the interns shifted and clung onto whatever lawyer was willing to take us on a field trip that day. During my time there, I had the chance to sit in on several hearings at the NTCAT, spend a day at the Children’s Court, visit local communities with the outreach officer and attend client interviews at Darwin Correctional Centre. Client interviewing became a frequent part of my work and it was such a privilege to be trusted to listen and learn about people’s lived experiences. NAAJA’s commitment to community was immediately apparent and showed through the types of work I was given and the experiences I was exposed to. It was clear that they had carved out a space as a respected part of the local community.


The office environment at NAAJA was so warm and welcoming, which I grew to feel so comfortable in. Upon arriving in a head to toe corporate get up on my first day, I soon adapted to the wet season linen and sandals protocol. There was a strong sense of community in the office, not just from the sandal-wearing solidarity, but from most lawyers moving from interstate to set up a life in Darwin. They were all so fiercely passionate and knowledgeable about the work they were doing and so much of my learning came from information conversations with lawyers around the office. It made for an extremely social and vibrant workplace environment that made the experience that much more magic!


Living in Darwin truly delivered on all fronts. The community vibes weren’t just felt in the office but shared throughout the city. In 30+ degree heat, I soon slipped into a routine of grabbing an afternoon drink and having a swim in non-croc infested pools. I also had the chance to get to know the other Aurora interns that made for some great road tripping and I can now claim to have stayed in the one and only Kakadu Crocodile Hotel. Darwin was essentially a giant tropical escape, with such a rich culture and community to offer.


All in all, I had an amazing time in Darwin and it was a tough place to leave. I’d previously done an Aurora internship in my hometown (which I loved), but can’t stress enough how incredible it was to work so closely with community and in a completely foreign environment. Indigenous justice is so critical to rewriting the experiences of future generations and I cannot recommend an Aurora internship as a way of meaningfully contributing to this movement enough!