Having been a law student for the last four and half years, I have to say that I am much more cynical than I was when I first arrived at the ANU. However, I can honestly say there has been a renewed sense of optimism and passion for social issues that has definitely re-ignited as a result of my six-week Aurora internship at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).
When I first heard about the Aurora Project a couple of years ago, I first thought this sounds really interesting and it was certainly something I would like to do. But when I heard about some of the interns in the past, I thought, well I am no HD law student and this is way out of my league. Luckily for me I visited the Law Careers Fair earlier in the year and came across the Aurora stand. I spoke to a previous intern and had a chat to the placements manager. She informed me that although marks were an important consideration in the process, they are not the only factor and encouraged me to apply.
When compared to some of the other host cities offered in the program, Canberra is certainly not the most exotic location. But looking back I think there were a lot of benefits doing my internship locally. I didn’t have to worry about finding accommodation for six weeks or having to move elsewhere for a short period of time. Plus AIATSIS is just down the road from ANU, so I was still able to attend some classes in the first week of semester.
During my time at AIATSIS I worked in the Native Title Research Unit (NTRU). Working in this section was really beneficial for me given that I had no background in Anthropology or Social Sciences. My role was linked to the Agreements Precedents Project in the NTRU and interestingly my supervisor was a previous Aurora intern. The project was aimed at compiling best practice legal precedents for native title lawyers. Some of my tasks included formatting, redacting and uploading agreements onto the database. I also had to source any potential news articles or links that were relevant to the project. Other tasks included a couple of research memos and a few administrative tasks.
Some of the highlights included being apart of the AIATSIS touch football team that played in the NAIDOC week competition here in Canberra. Although it was an incredibly cold day, I had a lot of fun and our team ended up winning Division 3! I was also fortunate to hear Graeme Neate (President of the National Native Title Tribunal) speak about how the native title system works. It was an extremely useful presentation given that it was my first week and I was quite new to the native title process.
Other highlights included listening to visiting speakers from Madjulla Inc. They came from the Fitzroy River Catchment and provided a perspective on locals who were opposed to the Woodside development at James Price Point. It was refreshing to hear people speak so passionately about these issues and I really hope the government listens to their concerns.
I was also lucky to be working in the NTRU during a period where there was a lot in the news about native title. The Quandamooka native title ruling on North Stradbroke Island and the Four Corners episode on the dispute between Fortescue Metals Group and the Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation made me realise the work I was doing was highly relevant and worthwhile.
I really enjoyed being apart of the NTRU team and learning from all the staff in this section. There is an amazing mix of young people from different academic backgrounds coupled with some very experienced staff members who really know their stuff. It is a perfect environment for a university student or graduate wanting to learn more about issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. My experience at AIATSIS exceeded all my expectations and the people who I worked with in the NTRU have certainly inspired me to be more involved in native title work in the future.
I believe that anyone can be an Aurora intern if you display a genuine interest in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, as well as social justice, human rights and land rights, and bring a sense of passion and energy to the work you do. If you are applying for a legal placement, you either have to be enrolled in or have completed Property law. But there also other opportunities for students and graduates with backgrounds in Anthropology and some Social Sciences.
I have undertaken a number of vacation work programs in both the public and private sectors and the Aurora Native Title Internship was by far the most enjoyable and rewarding. There are both summer and winter internships available across a number of locations throughout Australia. I encourage anyone with an interest in the program to either speak to a previous Aurora intern or look up the website on www.auroraproject.com.au.