Sandeep Dhillon

Native Title
Summer 2012

Applying for an Aurora internship was one of the best decisions I have made throughout my university degree. As part of The Aurora Native Title Internship Program, I was lucky enough to be placed at Central Desert Native Title Services (Central Desert), which is a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for native title claimants and holders in the Central Desert region of Western Australia. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when I stepped into the office on my first day, but I found I was quickly by surrounded by amazing people, given a number of interesting and diverse tasks to complete, and most importantly, I was provided with the chance to volunteer in area I am passionate about.

While I have a little bit of background with Indigenous culture and heritage, gained by volunteering with other Indigenous organisations in the past, I quickly discovered there was a vast amount to learn. Although I had theoretical knowledge of the native title system in Australia, prior to my internship, I had very little practical knowledge of how native title works in reality. Over the next six weeks, I learnt how native title works in reality, I learnt about indigenous law and culture, I was told about the communities in the Central Desert region - the list goes on.

I was exposed to various tasks, such as: research work on a number of areas, drafting submissions, conducting internal audits, attending mediations at the Federal Court and National Native Title Tribunals and taking the minutes, and generally helping out whenever I was needed. During my internship I was also lucky enough to be given the opportunity to go out on country. While going out on country is not common during summer, a few of the lawyers were going to visit a small community a few hours from Kalgoorlie, and I was graciously invited to join them. The purpose of the trip was to hold a meeting with the community with regards to an agreement in force with a mining company and how it could be improved. There were five of us travelling in total, and the trip provided a great opportunity for me to get to know the people I was working with a lot better. The community was lovely, and I quickly observed that everyone knew and respected Central Desert staff, and welcomed them wholeheartedly into the community. Going out on country was an incredible experience. It gave me a real insight into how Indigenous communities generally work, and it allowed me to contextualise the work I had been doing up until then. I returned from my on country experience with a whole new understanding of the work NTRBs do, and why it is so important.

During my placement, I was treated like a member of the regular staff at all times, and settled in quickly. The staff at Central Desert were always friendly, welcoming, and willing to lend a hand or their expertise whenever I required help. I was always encouraged to ask questions, and was invited along to staff meetings. It was refreshing to work in an environment where everyone believes in the work they are doing, and the sense of teamwork that emerges from this is uplifting. It is clear that the staff at Central Desert are all working towards a common goal: making Australia a better country for its Indigenous peoples. Seeing everyone’s dedication was truly inspiring.

Throughout my placement, I was challenged to work efficiently and independently. There was no time during my six weeks at Central Desert where I had nothing to do, on the contrary, my supervisor always made sure I had work to go on with. I never felt as though I was just “completing tasks”, rather I felt the work I was doing had significance, and I felt as though I was contributing towards something bigger. In short, the work was always rewarding. Upon finishing my placement I received a lot of positive feedback, appreciation for the work I had done, and invitations to come back in the future. I finished my placement with a desire to revisit native title.

Undertaking this internship was an eye opening experience. I realised that the native title system in Australia is lacking in certain areas, and it has motivated me to pursue this area in the future. Although this area of law is challenging, Indigenous communities need our support, and are definitely worth fighting for.