Sophie Holt

Winter 2016

The National Native Title Tribunal is an agency established under the Native Title Act (NTA) of 1993. It performs a range of functions required by the Act. During my internship at the NNTT, I was able to further my knowledge of native title and the processes associated with it. Working under the supervision of Nicole Maher and Pamela McGrath as part of the Research and Business development sector, I involved myself in self-directed study examining the ‘post determination’ context surrounding native title claims. I broadened my knowledge of the organisations stipulated by the Act, including NTRB’s NTSPs, ORIC and PBC’s and developed an understanding of their respective challenges, expectations and required obligations. I was able to familiarise myself with many of the tensions surrounding Native Title, and went on to help edit an NNTT paper which endeavoured to assess the current state of PBC’s, as well as the level of support provided to them.

I was also involved in the construction of the Native Title Research Portal which aims to create an online self-service tool that will enable native title groups, researchers, other stakeholders and members of the general public to search for, and obtain copies of NNTT Research products, historical documents and other materials relevant to particular native title groups, regions or language groups.

Though this entailed a lot of data entry, I found that being a part of the research portal project has helped me to become familiar with the kinds of historical materials that are relevant to a native title claim, as well as the difficulties faced in collating continuity reports. I would take the time to read up on many interesting sources that came my way as I uploaded it onto the data base. Other tasks performed included editing previous research portal entries for errors in citations, spelling and ethnographic details relating to language groupings, checking NNTT/Federal Court file numbers and correcting bibliographic citations, as well as adding in AITSIS call numbers where relevant.  I also ensured that the accurate GPS coordinates had been entered pertaining to the area in which the source was based and examined whether the relevant research report documents or bibliographies had been uploaded into the portal.

My time at the tribunal also happened to coincide with the handing down of a land mark case, ‘The Griffith Decision.’ The decision ruled in favour of providing compensation to the Ngaliwurru and Nungali groups of Timber creek in the N.T for the extinguishment of native title. The case raised questions about measuring the value of native title - in terms of both economic loss afforded and that of solatium (emotional/psychological implications) – which the judge acknowledged as being an intuitive and subjective one. Until the Griffith decision there had been no judicial guidance as to how native title compensation following a ruling of extinguishment might be calculated. It was great to garner further insight into this land mark case.

Conclusively, my internship at the NNTT helped me to develop my knowledge of the geographic dispersion, breadth and positioning of native title claims and Indigenous groups across the country, as well as providing me with a more nuanced understanding of the Act itself.  Many thanks to Aurora and the NNTT for their support and enabling this experience, it is one I would recommend to any student or graduate looking to gain greater familiarity in the area of native title.