Sarah Pitney

Justice Agencies
Summer 2015

Looking for an alternative to summer clerkships?

As I’ve never really been attracted to the idea of working at a big corporate law firm, I decided to apply for the Aurora Internship Program instead and was placed in the criminal section of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) in Darwin.  

NAAJA provides criminal and civil law services to Aboriginal Australians in the Top End and also engages in advocacy and community legal education. While I came to NAAJA expecting that underfunding and huge caseloads would translate into a pretty mediocre legal service, I was amazed by the quality of representation that NAAJA provides and the genuine concern of staff for the wellbeing of clients (especially those in custody). Much of the work I was allocated involved in-depth legal research into sentencing principles and comparatives, principles relating to appeals and the availability of defences such as duress. Several of the matters that my research related to were heard in the Supreme Court of the Northern Territory towards the end of my placement, providing an exciting opportunity to attend court, watch the empanelling of juries, and get to know the style of the judges (as there are only 6 permanent judges in the Supreme Court, this doesn’t take long).

I was also lucky enough to attend bush court with two NAAJA solicitors in Gunbalanya (Oenpelli) and Jabiru. After a scenic flight over Kakadu, we were escorted by the Police to ‘court’ (an old council building with intermittent power outages and, on the morning we arrived, no running water). While I had not anticipated how significant the language barriers would be, the days ran fairly smoothly with the assistance of the Aboriginal Interpreter Service. I was really encouraged by how well-received the NAAJA staff were by the local communities (and how willing members of the community were to assist me in locating clients whose names I seemed unable to pronounce). 

In all honesty, my internship really felt like an extended holiday. While Aurora encouraged me to approach my time at NAAJA with low expectations, I didn’t find any of the tasks I received mundane (while other interns might disagree with respect to transcribing electronic records of police interviews, ‘EROIs’ are actually a great way to learn the Anunga rules and, through questioning about long joy rides, the geography of Darwin). There are also plenty of places to explore in Darwin at nights and on the weekend. While you’ll probably soon get sick of hearing about how Darwin was ‘flattened twice’ (a common refrain at all tourist attractions), there are plenty of local markets to explore, new foods to try (crocodile isn’t too bad), and close national parks where you can swim in the waterfalls (unless the crocodiles have the same idea).

Applications for the 2015 Winter round of Aurora internships are open from Monday 2nd March through to Friday 27th March – log on to for more information about where you can go and how to apply.   ​