In winter 2014 I was placed via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program with native title Barrister, Mr Andrew Collett, for a seven week internship. Andrew has been at theindependent bar since 1999 and represents clients in a variety of matters including Aboriginal issues, anti-discrimination, administrative, personal injury and workers compensation law. His achievements include acting as counsel representing Aboriginal interests in a number of Royal Commissions and inquiries including theRoyal Commission into British Nuclear Tests in Australia (1984-5), the Hindmarsh Island Bridge Royal Commission (1994-5), the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1988-1989) and he acted as the Assistant Commissioner in the Children on APY Lands Inquiry (2007). As a recent law graduate, this was an invaluable opportunity to observe and experience the work of an experienced, successful and well respected barrister.
I enjoyed being fully immersed in the life of a barrister at chambers. I attended solicitor client meetings, mediation and conciliation conferences, was introduced to other members of the legal profession including judges, solicitors and barristers and attended a number of court hearings. I was able to observe the skills involved in conducting successful client interviews and improve my own legal research and drafting skills. Andrew would brief me on the contents of his current matters and I was exposed to a wide variety of cases involving indigenous clients. These included a native title claim, personal injury claims, stolen generation claims and a mediation under the APY Land Rights Acts. I was also exposed to other civil matters including claims for damages from motor vehicle accidents, false imprisonment, unlawful detention and industrial relations issues. The broad rangeof matters allowed me to gain an insight into just how varied the work of a barrister can be, and I was able to research areas of law that I previously had no exposure to.
The highlight of my placement was the opportunity to accompany Andrew and attenda series of Maralinga Tjarutja Council meetings in Oak Valley and Ilkurkla. During this week Andrew provided me with a brief snapshot of the history of Maralinga, including how the Maralinga people were removed from their lands in the 1950s so that the British Government could carry out nuclear tests. The land was handed back to the Maralinga traditional owners in 1985 after the passage of the Maralinga Tjarutja Land Rights Act 1984(SA) (“MT Land Rights Act”). Andrew has been retained as counsel by the traditional owners of the Maralinga Lands since 1986. He was involved in the negotiations between the Australian and British Governments for the cleanup and compensation arising from the residual radioactive contamination, and he established the Maralinga Piling Trust which administers the negotiated compensation sum of $13.5 million that was paid in 1994.
My role in accompanying Andrew was to take the minutes of each meeting that we attended.On our way up to Oak Valley Andrew and I flew to Ceduna where we were collected and driven out to Maralinga Village. We stayed at Maralinga Village for three nights, and travelled 130 km to Oak Valley and 130 km back to Maralinga Village each day to attend two full days of meetings. The Maralinga Lands border the Great Victorian Desert and the drive each day took us through stunning scenery. The brilliant red soil and the landscape of native eucalypts and Desert Oaks was breathtaking.
On the final day we travelled by charter plane from the Maralinga Airstrip to Ilkurkla via Tjuntjunjara to hold the final meeting,before returning to Adelaide via Forrest. This was an amazing opportunity to visit remote Indigenous communities in both South Australia and Western Australia. On return to Adelaide I was able to attend further meetings the following week with Andrew and Maralinga Tjarutja managementwhich were held to facilitate what was agreed upon in the council meetings. My attendance at the council meetings provided me with a much better understanding of the obligations that the Maralinga Tjarutja Council have under the MT Land Rights Act. The Council must manage their lands, comply with obligations in the Act in respect of restricting access to the lands and the nuclear test sites, and also make decisions about the use and management of the Trust Fund. From this experience I observed how the Maralinga traditional owners are now required to understand and comply with complex legislation and reporting requirements. This really demonstrated to me the crucial role that lawyers like Andrew, and other professionals play in assisting the Indigenous community to meet these requirements. Andrew is clearly trusted and well respected by the traditional owners, and I was able to observe how easily he maintains a strong and open relationship with all of the indigenous people that he interacts with.
The Aurora Native Title Internship has provided me with a huge amount of knowledge and life experience that will certainly enrich my practice of the law. My experience with Andrew has allowed me to further develop my own legal research and drafting skills and has encouraged me to pursue a career working with indigenous people.
I highly recommend the Aurora Native Title Internship Program to anyone who has aninterest inAboriginal Affairs, native title, policy development or social justice. Applications for the summer round are open in August each year, and applications for the winter round are open in March. More information can be found at www.auroraproject.com.au.