Sione Murray

Native Title
Winter 2015

 I completed a five-week Aurora Internship at the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) shortly after graduating with a combined Bachelor of Laws and Bachelor of Arts (Communication Studies) from the University of Western Australia. 

Like most Aurora interns, I spent time both in and out of the office.  Twice I was provided the opportunity to accompany legal officers to meetings with traditional owners and directors of Aboriginal corporations.  These were great opportunities to observe the solicitor-client relationship within a native title context.  It was also very special to watch a Bunuba elder describe his country in relation only to natural landmarks and with such precision, while the rest of us pored over geospatial data assessments spread across the table.

The work I did within the KLC office provided me with a better understanding of the mechanisms of the Native Title Act and how these operate within both a claims and future acts context.  I completed numerous research tasks and case notes for the legal officers, which further deepened my understanding.  I was also fortunate in that my internship coincided with preparation for the Bindunbur native title claim, the KLC’s first native title trial in more than 10 years.  Whilst assisting the legal team with preparation for this trial, the magnitude of the task at hand was clear.  The sheer volume of witness evidence to be collected, mainly from claim group elders living across the Dampier Peninsula, was one thing.  Add to this the anthropological, historical and linguistic expert testimony, as well as information about different tenure parcels, public works and roads for the claim area, and the time consuming and resource intensive nature of the job was obvious.  It was immensely rewarding to know the tasks I completed over the course of my internship would be of material benefit to the KLC legal team.

During my internship, the KLC also celebrated the opening of its new office building.  I listened to one of the KLC founders, Mr John Watson, speak about the first Aboriginal land rights meeting in an improvised shelter at Nookanbah Station some 37 years ago, and it was impressive to think of all the Kimberley Aboriginal people have accomplished since then.  Today, the KLC is a permanent, professional authority for the Kimberley region and looks poised to continue its advocacy for Aboriginal land rights long into the future.

I would recommend an Aurora internship to anyone interested in gaining a better understanding of native title law in Australia but also to anyone interested in seeing where else your law degree can take you.  The opportunity to ask questions of professionals working within native title was invaluable to me.  Not only this, I came away from the experience with a deeper appreciation of the idea that “it takes all types”.  The notion that lawyers must make a choice between commercial and non-commercial, soft and hard law, native title or not, falls quickly away when I consider the range of different skillsets and backgrounds of the legal officers at the KLC.  Native title does not exist in a vacuum and nor should it.  It touches property and corporations law, as well as mining, contract and environmental law.  This relationship makes sense.  Native title involves not just a finding of pre-existing rights to land by Aboriginal peoples; it provides the framework for how that land is to be dealt with subsequently by all peoples, as well as corporate and State interests.

And finally, away from the office, my time in Broome was filled with beaches, markets, cliff jumping, live music, social sports, art auctions, horseraces and of course some stunningly beautiful landscapes.  You really could do worse with your winter/summer breaks!