Experiencing the Outback and Learning through Experience
Scary spiders, poisonous snakes… these are some of the fears that I choose to face in
accepting my placement with Goldfields Land and Sea Council in the Australian Outback;
but I made the right choice, and I am truly thankful that I was given such an amazing
opportunity. I have never been so far away from home, but I will never again experience
such an adventure.
As a Canadian law student in my final semester, I applied and was accepted into the 2008
Intensive Program in Aboriginal Lands, Resources and Governments.1 The Intensive
Program, offered through York University’s Osgoode Hall Law School, combines
rigorous academic experience with challenging placements in the field of Aboriginal
issues and had put me in touch with a similar organization in Australia, the Aurora
Project.2 The Aurora Project is the collective name for a number of programs that work
with Australia’s Indigenous communities and organizations. It focuses on professional
development in law, anthropology, management and other various disciplines. One of
the primary functions of the Project is to provide assistance to Native Title
Representative Body lawyers.
The Aurora Project placed me with Goldfields Land and Sea Council3 (GLSC), which is
a Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) and acts as the principal voice for Aboriginal
Peoples in the Goldfields region in relation to issues such as land, waters, governance,
heritage, and social and economic development. Native Title Representative Bodies were
created under the Federal Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to assist Native claimant groups
with bringing land claims to the National Native Title Tribunal and/or the Federal Court.
Managing an effective Native Title Representative Body is demanding at times. There
are many widespread social problems afflicting Aboriginal communities, particularly in
the outback, and progress is moving at a snail’s pace in most cases. Also, the role of the
GLSC is often frustrated by inadequate budgets, and facing adversaries who have
multiple resources (including not just the federal government, but also some of the
biggest mining corporations). With many of the current claims being lodged over a
decade ago, the passing of elder claimants within the Goldfields region presents a very
pressing concern for most Native Title claims.
NTRBs often consist of three distinct areas of discipline: anthropology, history and legal.
There is a high concentration of all three of these areas at GLSC. While at the office in
Kalgoorlie, I spent a lot of time with the in-house anthropologist and was able to
experience how closely that department is involved with the legal aspects of Native Title
claims. Most often this work is inseparable from the legal aspects of the GLSC.
In the position of a legal intern, I was provided with an opportunity to work on various
projects. The projects included preparing an inventory of documents required for a discovery
order, editing a draft manual, collecting a summary of collected evidence and developing a
summary of relevant Canadian law to act as a starting point and comparison for their current
claims. I was also given the chance to sit in a negotiation meeting, something that really
showed me the operational side of the GLSC. This challenging placement provided me with
unbelievable experience; experience that was not only relevant to my legal education, but to
my own personal growth as an individual and a professional. My work at Goldfields Land
and Sea Council was both rewarding and informative. It was a process of growth and
personal understanding. But there was more then just the work as a legal intern…
Because of the timing of my seven week placement, I was also given the opportunity to share
in the National Apology to Aboriginal Peoples, offered by Prime Minister Kevin Rudd on
behalf of the federal government on February 13th, 2008. Members of GLSC and the
community all gathered at seven o’clock in the morning to hear words that were long
overdue. It was an emotional and joyous occasion for all. The Apology was a historic
experience that has made an impact on several lives, including my own.
I was very lucky to be placed in both Perth and Kalgoorlie. From experience, I can say
that the outback is very different from the coastal cities in Australia, and not because of
the geographical location. The outback is a place of beauty and amazement, home to
some of the most deadly spiders and snakes in the world and yet none of the most
dangerous animals. Unfortunately, the outback still struggles with ideas of equality and
I had the unfortunate occasion to experience overt displays of racism while I was in the
Goldfields region. There was one particular incident that I experienced where GLSC
decided to take action. Letters were written to the local paper demonstrating our
disapproval and anger that such overt displays of racism would be tolerated within the
community. Apologies were given and accepted and a realization made that racism will
not be tolerated. It was a positive outcome and hence, a positive experience, one that
demonstrated the depth and importance of the GLSC. It is more then a mandated
organization, it is a support group within the Goldfields community, a voice against
social injustice and a community of people that are dedicated not only to their jobs, but
also to affecting change.
And, together with the fact that I braved the outback during more then one camping trip, I
can honestly say that the experience and growth that I have acquired from my placement is
something that will stay with me forever.
I would thoroughly recommend both the Osgoode Hall Intensive Program in Aboriginal
Lands, Resources and Governments and the Aurora Project. The partnership of these two
organizations has provided me with experience that will last a life time.
Special Thanks to;
Ambrose Cummins, Janet Osborne, Jeff Atkinson, Brian Wyatt, Leo Thomas, Russell
Trott, Trevor Donaldson, Charmaine Fitzpatrick, Wendy Gong, Craig Muller, Vanessa
Bray and all the lovely people that I had an opportunity to meet, work and learn from at
both the Perth and Kalgoorlie offices at Goldfields Land and Sea Council.