Sophie Coffin

Native Title
Summer 2021

In January – February 2021, I was very grateful to be placed as an Aurora Commonwealth funded intern at Kimberley Land Council (KLC) in Broome. I was really excited for this, because I wanted to expand my understanding of native title as well as explore career options outside of commercial law. As a Traditional Owner/member of a PBC in the Pilbara, and having worked for a trustee of another PBC, I was interested to see what a large native title body does, and in particular, what a native title lawyer does day to day. During my first week, I was kept busy meeting the staff and reading up on future act matters, the expedited process in relation to this, and some recent cases affecting KLC’s clients.  


From the start, I saw how diverse native title work is. The staff were all extremely welcoming and friendly. I spoke to a lot of staff about their careers and they were all very happy to share their journey with me and how they got to KLC/native title. This was really helpful for me at this point in my life. Some of the KLC staff are Aurora internship alumni too and so they are extra approachable and understanding. What I most appreciated about the staff was their passion for client outcomes, and stronger legal protections. KLC prepare a range of submissions in response to government proposals, like proposed amendments to the Aboriginal Heritage Act, in order to effect stronger protection for First Nations people. While this adds to an existing enormous workload, it demonstrates the genuine drive for justice that staff have in this organisation.  


For the rest of my time, I worked on a range of diverse tasks. Each were interesting and included work I had not undertaken before. For example, I read through a 450-page judgement, as well as all of the evidence before the judge in that trial, in order to compile a document of evidence relating to one particular matter. This task gave me a different view of the court process and how limiting Western court processes can be in understanding and accommodating Aboriginal history, culture and relationships between groups and within groups in relation to land. This was just one instance of my awareness of the gaps in legislation and court processes in the native title/culture heritage area. It also opened my eyes to the extensive evidence that is required in bringing a land claim.  


Another valuable insight I gained from my experience was the way anthropologists and lawyers work together in native title, particularly in relation to a claim. At law school, I had only briefly learnt about the role of anthropologists in law as expert witnesses. However, at KLC, anthropologists and lawyers work together on a range of matters, and at all stages of claims. I have learnt how important this relationship is in native title. During my time, I attended some presentations from a judge and an experienced anthropologist about this role of anthropologists. Something particularly enjoyable about KLC was that the work I was given was meaningful and made a real difference. This is not often the case when interning in commercial firms.  


Although my internship was during the wet season, there was still plenty to do and see in Broome. I am lucky that my family live in Broome, so I am very familiar with the weather and town. The only down-side to the wet season was that there are typically less meetings held on country. In addition, COVID affected going out on country as communities are (rightfully) closed. In normal circumstances interns are able to go out on country to attend such meetings. Despite this, I still had an invaluable experience. I highly recommend undertaking an Aurora internship, and in particular one with KLC. It is an enriching experience both in terms of education and exploring other rewarding career options.


For more information, please see - applications for the winter 2021 round will be open from 8 through 26 March.