Shanti Fatchen

Native Title
Winter 2013

Prior to applying for an Aurora internship via the Aurora  Native Title Internship Program,  my exposure to native title law was limited to spending five minutes in a Property law class on the Mabo case. So it was fair to say that I was dreading the question which I faced upon entering the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) in Broome, Western Australia: “So how much do you know about native title?” I needn’t have worried though as the KLC was well prepared for my answer.

The first two weeks of my internship I spent in the KLC office assisting both the native title claims lawyers and the future act lawyer. Whilst doing my fair share of scouring paper-based files, scanning documents and other administrative duties, I was never made to feel like I was chained to the photocopier – as some intern horror stories go. Instead, I was instantly treated like an equal and, whilst at the KLC, an enormous amount of trust was placed in me.

One of the main tasks I completed was to familiarise myself with a particularly contentious native title claim, research the avenues for applying for the claim to be struck out (as there was a properly-researched claim ready to replace it) and draft a brief to counsel on the details of the case and avenues for a strike out application. This was a fantastic learning experience for me in that I had to identify the relevant documents for the barrister and summarise the claim in simple and succinct language.

For the next two weeks I was out on country taking minutes of a directors’ meeting and AGM of a Prescribed Body Corporate (PBC) – a corporation of traditional owners set up to manage their native title once a determination has been made. One of the PBCs had been newly formed, following a determination in June this year, whilst the other had been in operation for several years. At the AGM, several long-standing issues boiled up to the surface and it became clear that achieving a native title determination is not the end of the story. There were embedded conflicts and issues that could not be addressed in the PBC’s inaugural AGM. The PBC has committed to working through these issues with the assistance of KLC.

Probably the best experience of my internship was during my second week on country when I was lucky enough to be taken out on the land by a traditional owner. He shared some of the history and dreaming stories of the land which included some of the darker chapters of Australia’s past. This left a lasting impact on me because it made me realise the importance of what I was a part of at that moment but also how much I still wanted to learn about native title law and Indigenous affairs.

Aside from the actual internship, I’ve had a fabulous time in Broome checking out the weekend markets, stunning Cable Beach, the outdoor cinema, the local eateries and the Willie Creek Pearl Farm. The KLC lawyers are always up for socialising so I was never lonely despite knowing no-one in Broome. Also, coming from Melbourne, I feel I must comment on the absolutely perfect weather of Broome.

 What has amazed me about native title law overall is how it interacts with so many other areas of law which makes it incredibly intellectually stimulating. Further, its focus on land which forms such a significant part of Indigenous identity makes it a really humbling area of law to work in or study. I would highly recommend the Aurora internship program as a way to get exposure to this meaningful area of law.