5 weeks in K-Town: Aurora Native Title Internship Program
Arriving in Katherine after an overnight flight to Darwin and a four-hour drive down the Stuart highway was a brilliant change of scene after a busy semester. One afternoon I was in chilly Melbourne doing a moot for Evidence Law, and the next I was in dry hot Katherine learning about the common law rules police must follow when cautioning Aboriginal people.
I went to Katherine as part of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program and was placed at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA). The Program places both legal and social science students at organisations all over Australia on 5-6 week internships.
NAAJA provides a tailored legal service to Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and has both a civil and a criminal section. I was placed in the criminal section and over the 5 weeks I was there, performed a variety of tasks and got a real insight into the legal issues facing Aboriginal people in the NT.
The work I did was diverse and interesting. I mostly completed legal research tasks to help the Criminal solicitors. I learnt a lot about the legislation that is used in the NT and how those pieces of legislation interact. The solicitors welcomed my insight not only in terms of the law but also my opinion on how to run their case.
The lawyers at NAAJA recognised that although I was there to contribute to the work of the organisation, this was also a learning experience for me. This meant that I could ask lots of questions and was taken along when something interesting was happening. This included the opportunity to travel to the Timber Creek Bush Court about 3 hours West of Katherine.
I gained a lot of practical experience from travelling to the Bush Court and spending time at the Magistrates Court in Katherine. At the beginning, this involved observing proceedings and shadowing the lawyers as they took instructions from clients in the cells and liaised with the prosecutors. After a few weeks, I also met with clients, took basic instructions and even appeared for two clients at the Bush Court. This was a fantastic experience that allowed me to put my observations of how the lawyers communicated with Aboriginal clients into practice, and then to stand up in Court and tell the Magistrate about mitigating circumstances. The Bush Court is slightly less formal than a regular Magistrates Court so although this was nerve-wracking, it was a good time experience appearing in court for the first time.
Other work I did included compiling witness summaries, watching electronic records of interview, writing file closure letters and the occasional administrative task such as comb binding.
NAAJA has a large capacity to take on volunteers and the staff there are used to working with them. This made it easy for me to adapt to the working environment and there were three other interns there at the same time as me.
Life in Katherine
Although Katherine is a small town there is plenty to do, and I really enjoyed my time there outside of work. The Katherine gorge has endless walks that end with beautiful views and swimming holes. I spent one weekend in Kununurra, WA, went to the fortnightly Katherine Film Society and enjoyed the rodeo at the Katherine show.
This internship really opened my eyes to career possibilities in the Top End. I believe that being a student is the best time to shop around for places to live and organisations to work at when you finally “grow up” and leave university.
I would recommend applying to the Aurora Project to any student, and you do not need to be in your penultimate year to apply. Applications for the summer 2012/13 round close on the 31 August 2012.