Sarah Lea

Native Title
Winter 2018

Central Desert Native Title Services:  Not Your Average Legal Service

It was a privilege to have been given an Aurora legal placement at Central Desert Native Title Services (CDNTS) in East Perth.  I spent four weeks at CDNTS in July 2018.  It was an excellent time. 

CDNTS does important and outstanding work in close consultation with Aboriginal communities to achieve levels of social justice for Aboriginal people.  

CDNTS’ office is unlike your standard legal workplace.  Desert-dusty swags are stacked in a distant corner.  Lawyers and anthropologists travel to very remote regions to work with Aboriginal claimants for many days at a time. They have to doss down where they can. A whiteboard plots funerals: claimants are not available for business at those times of great cultural significance.  Office walls hold large maps that show native title areas and unclaimed areas.  Three long gnarly sticks rest together on a window-ledge.  The sticks represent the bundle of land rights: rights are recognised and extinguished/impaired.

The offices are located opposite a large parkland, a short walk to the beautiful river and pretty public gardens and good eateries.  In addition to enjoying working on a number of tasks, I enjoyed lunchtime walks in the parks, spotting a quokka (yes, on the mainland) and sea eagle, and eating excellent take away Indian curries from the nearby IGA store. 

I was fortunate to work with the very skilled and committed legal team. They were both kind and generous with their time setting me interesting tasks, explaining what was required, and answering my questions.  Members of the legal team explained the background to the tasks so that I understood their relevance and could follow developments.  My tasks included drafting and populating a spreadsheet (database) about historic land use by numerous stakeholders in an area where native title had been recognised.  The spreadsheet is relevant to an upcoming legal matter.  I also researched for an inquiry into agreements (binding and non-binding) that are not strictly contracts or deeds and wrote a memorandum on my findings: CDNTS writes a variety of agreements for its clients. I attended a case management conference at the Federal Court.  The judge spoke by phone hook-up with claimants who expressed different views and interests about their likely claim.  I also researched for an inquiry into Parliament’s reasons for adding a particular section to the Native Title Act and wrote a memorandum on my findings.  The task was relevant to a legal matter being handled by one of the lawyers.

I commenced my time at CDNTS with a sound induction and watched some DVDs about Western Desert people. I also read the induction handbook and noted the importance placed on correctly naming documents according to established protocols.  The correct filing of documents is also important. 

I am grateful to have spent some time at CDNTS.