Sophie Clarke

Native Title
Summer 2015

During the summer of 2015 I was given the opportunity to participate in the Aurora Internship Program. The Program facilitates internships for legal, anthropology and some social science students and graduates at various Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRB), Prescribed Bodies Corporate (PBC) and other organisations working to support the Indigenous sector, around the country. I was fortunate enough to be placed as a legal intern with the Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation (YMAC) in the Perth office. With my experience of native title law being limited to the brief overview that was given in the real property law subject at my university, coupled with the fact I was travelling across the country to a city I’d never been to, I was initially a little daunted at what the next 6 weeks would hold as I boarded the plane from Brisbane over to the West. All of these concerns were alleviated after my first morning at YMAC and the experience proved to be both professionally and personally rewarding.

YMAC is the NTRB for native title claimants in the Pilbara and Murchison-Gascoyne region of Western Australia. Throughout my 6-week internship I was given a variety of tasks, which highlighted to me the complexity and multi-faceted nature of native title law. My tasks included completing research memorandums in the context of the future acts regime, drafting witness statements and affidavits, tenure analysis, transcribing a claim group connection video, genealogy comparison for an ongoing claim and comparative work in relation to claim group meeting resolutions. During the final week of my internship YMAC were involved in a Full Federal Court cross appeal regarding a native title determination and I was privileged to have the opportunity to follow the appeal from start to finish – a rare occurrence! This was a fantastic way to round off my whirlwind introduction to native title law in practice, and reiterated to me the complex nature of this area of law as well as other challenges that exist, including policy considerations and the overarching difficulty of defining an Indigenous connection to the land, through a legal system defined by Western conceptualisations of possession and property. The work was challenging, thought provoking and practical, and the lawyers and other staff at YMAC were very generous in sharing their expertise.

Living in a new city while undertaking my internship made the experience all the more rewarding. It gave me the chance to explore the West coast of Australia and it’s beautiful scenery, and during my time in Perth I made some great friends that I was sad to say goodbye. It was fantastic to meet like-minded interns, students and graduates who shared similar career goals. It also gives me a great excuse to visit Perth again soon!

My Aurora experience at YMAC deepened my knowledge of native title law and provided me with an insight into how an NTRB operates, while also giving me a greater understanding of Aboriginal culture and Indigenous affairs generally. Throughout my internship I discovered an area of law that I could see myself pursuing a career in, which is perhaps the most significant thing of all.  I would highly recommend applying for an internship through the Aurora Project to anyone who has an interest in this field.