Geeta Sidhu

Organisation: 
Stream: 
Legal
Sector: 
Barristers/Legal Firms
Location: 
Adelaide
Round: 
Summer 2014

The Aurora Project encompasses a broad range of Indigenous affairs initiatives.  At its forefront the Project offers an Internship Program hosted by various organisations including Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) for law and anthropology students and graduates interested in native title, as well as Indigenous related public policy and research.   My six-week placement shadowing the eminent Adelaide-based barrister Andrew Collett, was an awakening moment in my law degree.   

 

Andrew Collet’s longstanding commitment to working in native title as well as being a continuous supporter of Indigenous legal rights is evidenced by his recent accolade of an Order of Australia that he received in April this year. Throughout my internship, Andrew emanated both an extensive knowledge of the law and professionalism towards his Aboriginal clients. I felt extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with a practitioner of his caliber.  

 

Although a diverse range of placements are on offer, participants are carefully guided by the Aurora Placements team in accepting their appointments and given comprehensive material including a Handbook for Interns complete with references for information concerning native title issues.   Familiarizing yourself with this information, I believe, is essential.  Prior to my internship I also had the privilege to participate in a summer course in native title anthropology, which allowed me to maintain a realistic perspective as to the nature of the work that was awaiting me.   By the end of my first week, I found myself ensconced in a varied and highly eventful placement.

 

Initially my interest in native title law was triggered through volunteer work with the Blackwood Reconciliation Group, which I began in early 2013.   Through my participation with this organisation, I have gained an understanding of how this committee administers the care of “Colebrook Park” by way of promoting awareness to local schools and other community members concerning the significance of this site.

 

 

During my placement, Andrew and I visited the Yalata community for a Maralinga Tjarutja Council meeting.  My chance to be “on country” invoked a visceral reaction to the landscape, which I felt was so uniquely Australian and yet far removed from what we are accustomed to in our urban surroundings.  The basic conditions apparent in the remote community of Yalata were a stark reminder of the prosperity that I had left behind in Adelaide only some hours ago.  

 

The purpose of Andrew’s visit was to advise and consult with committee members on issues that were flagged on the council’s agenda.  Despite my observations of lively discussions during this time, I later learned that the meeting had been quite successful given that all the items on the agenda had been addressed without any disruptions.  On this trip it was important to observe cultural protocol and be mindful of my oral interaction with the council members.   It was evident throughout the council meeting and later through the remainder of my placement that the years of hard work and building of relationships with key members of the Indigenous community have afforded Andrew a type of trust and respect that is perhaps not so easily given to a non-Aboriginal person.  It is likely that Andrew’s status as legal practitioner is held akin to an Indigenous law-boss.  I witnessed on many occasions various Indigenous community members seeking and listening carefully to the advice that Andrew would provide on a range of legal issues.  

 

Along with native title related matters, I also had the opportunity to learn about and be involved in other areas such as criminal law, civil litigation and personal injury. I believe that I will be able to translate what I’ve learnt from my placement with Andrew into a more confident approach towards legal research and refined analysis. Although elements of my internship were challenging, such as the long work hours, I was invited to ask as many questions as possible, which I did on a frequent basis.  Notably Andrew’s management of a successful legal practice, whilst maintaining a close family life, travelling and other much loved past times impressed me greatly. Often whilst walking to court or a meeting, we would discuss the matter at hand or legal reforms and how to maintain longevity in the legal industry.   Our conversations also helped me understand Andrew’s lateral approach to analysing problems across a broad spectrum where I observed his navigation through the legal minefield of native title law where claims are highly complex, possibly nebulous and always culturally nuanced.

At times I was struck by the civility and informality between colleagues and their adversaries during meetings as well as in court. Despite many exciting moments in my internship, one particular matter concerning an injunction process over an Indigenous art exhibition is something that I am unlikely to forget.  Whilst at the Supreme Court I was fascinated by the swiftness at which solicitors and barristers were required to work.

My exposure to intensive research, observing client meetings and assisting in drafting legal opinions for a range of matters allowed me to gain new skills and reinforce those that I had previously.  The importance of this placement is long lasting and provides a dimension to your law degree that is invaluable.  Students are in a position to gain realistic and practical experience not only in an office environment but also in the court process. My time in the internship program was extremely rewarding and I strongly recommend law students to become involved and raise their awareness of Indigenous issues in relation to the law.  

The Aurora Internship Program has certainly deepened my interest in native title; anthropology and Indigenous related policy issues.  I hope to seek employment within the native title field and remain affiliated with the Aurora alumni network.  Summer and winter rounds of Aurora internships are available every year. Further information about the Program and the application process can be found at: http://www.auroraproject.com.au/.