Sarah Giggins

Aboriginal Land Councils
Summer 2018

During the 2018/2019 summer period, I had the pleasure of completing a five-week legal internship at the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) in Cairns. This internship was organised through the Aurora Internship Program, which provides legal, anthropology and social science students with opportunities to gain practical experience within the native title and Indigenous sectors.

Having had few opportunities to study or work within the Indigenous sector during my Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts degree, I was excited to immerse myself in a new area of law and to learn more about the typical work of a native title lawyer.

CYLC is a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) that represents Aboriginal groups in the Cape York region. My primary role as a legal intern was to provide assistance and support to the Native Title Legal Unit. I thoroughly enjoyed the variety of the work and diversity of tasks I was involved in at the CYLC and found that no two days were the same.

My work involved legal research tasks, drafting correspondence and documentation, summarising cases and legislation, attending meetings, compiling and summarising documents and data and using mapping resources to identify various land parcels. As native title is a relatively modern concept, I enjoyed the fact that it allows lawyers a certain level of originality and creativity of legal argument. I found myself researching legal concepts with little or no jurisprudence and trying to gain access to documents, which were not readily available.

As part of my internship, I was fortunate to attend and observe two case management hearings at the Federal Court in Cairns, including a case management hearing for the Cape York United #1 Claim. This is one of the largest native title claims in Australia and seeks a determination of native title over all previously undetermined land within the Cape York region. This was an incredible learning opportunity, providing me with a much deeper understanding of the native title determination process and relevant legal concepts.  

I was surprised at the similarities between native title law and corporate law. As native title determinations continue to be finalised across Australia, the work of NTRBs is rapidly changing and developing. I completed numerous tasks with a post-determination focus, such work to assist Prescribed Bodies Corporates (PBCs), and research, drafting and document review for Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs).

Some of my most memorable experiences during my internship were the opportunities to attend two on country meetings with Traditional Owner groups in the communities of Kowanyama and Mossman. These experiences highlighted to me the immense difficulties in taking directions from and representing such a large class of clients and the challenges of explaining complex legal concepts in a way that aids comprehension and understanding. I became aware of the fundamental importance of using mapping technology to highlight particular areas of land.

The Aurora Internship has provided me with an invaluable opportunity to obtain practical legal experience within the native title sector. I am incredibly grateful to the staff at CYLC for being so approachable, welcoming and always happy to answer my many questions.  I found native title law to be a dynamic and interesting area of law, within which I would be incredibly interested to pursue a career in the future.