I applied for a Legal Internship with the Aurora Native Title Internship Program soon after completing my legal studies. I’d heard about the internship program whilst I was still studying, but had never seriously considered applying. I cannot say with any certainty what motivated me to apply for the winter 2011 internship round. In any case, I am certainly glad I did...
South Australian Native Title Services (‘SANTS’)
SANTS is South Australia’s Native Title Service Provider, and is responsible for representing the State’s traditional owners in the fight to have their native title rights and interests in land and waters recognised and protected. The use of the word ‘fight’ is a deliberate and conscious choice, illustrative of the fact that much of the work in which SANTS is currently engaged was initiated over a decade ago. With this in mind, it should not surprise the reader to learn that native title law is diverse, challenging and, unfortunately, the ‘wins’ can be few and far between. However, it is also a rewarding practice area where one has the opportunities to gain invaluable practical experience, to connect with people and to contribute to a very worthwhile cause.
I began my Aurora Native Title Internship at SANTS with lower expectations in regards to the work I would complete; the Aurora Handbook for interns had cautioned that this was the best mindset to have when entering the placement program. From day one, however, I formed the opinion that I could expect a lot from this experience. I was immediately assigned a number of interesting tasks, most of which related to an appeal from the Environment, Resources and Development Court (‘ERD Court’) which was soon to go before the Full Court of the Supreme Court of South Australia. These tasks ranged from research into procedural formalities, to reviewing the Notice of Appeal, Judgment and Transcript from Hearing in order to identify and cross-reference the key submissions which will be argued on appeal, to Constitutional Law research as to the applicability of the Kable doctrine to a provision of the Mining Act 1971 (SA) (‘Mining Act’).
This pattern continued; throughout my six week placement I was assigned a diverse and challenging array of work. For example, I independently completed case law research, research into the operation of complex legislation and its application to various native title conundrums, research into the recent activities of mining companies in order to determine whether they were complying with ‘the right to negotiate’ provisions of the Mining Act and tenure history research for the purposes of determining over which parcels of land native title had been extinguished and, consequently, whether the State Government was liable to pay SANTS clients compensation in respect thereof. I reviewed legal documents, including draft Indigenous Land Use Agreements which were presently being negotiated and drafted advice as to their likely impacts on native title claimants’ rights and interests. I also reviewed and amended the Constitution of a Native Title Incorporated Association. I filed a legal document in the Federal Court and served copies of this document on the other parties, compiled briefs for Counsel, drafted a corrigendum identifying errors within a judgment of the ERD Court and assisted in the drafting of a media release relating to mining activities which SANTS’ clients had authorised in a particular area of their registered native title land.
Additionally, I was given the opportunity to attend a Case Management Conference at the Federal Court and various meetings between native title claimant groups, the State, Mining Companies, Local Councils and other interested parties such as Fisheries.
Whilst I enjoyed my placement experience in its entirety, I have two highlights; attending ‘on country’ negotiations where I was able to speak directly with a number of native title claimants about their aspirations, concerns and culture. This was also quite a historic moment as SANTS’ hard work resulted in a ‘win’: the ratification of a Native Title Mining Agreement. The second highlight was attending a consultation with a Ngangkari (Aboriginal Healer). Understandably, not every Aurora legal intern will be afforded the same experiences as much depends on the schedule of each Native Title Representative Body. However, if SANTS is anything to go by, each intern will be provided the opportunity to undertake ‘hands-on’ work, and will be treated as a valued member of the team.
In reflecting upon my placement, I am somewhat surprised at the level of responsibility I was assigned. I was often briefed on the task I was to complete, and then left to my own devices. That is not to say, however, that my supervisor was unwilling to offer me further assistance, in any instance that I required it. Indeed, my supervisor and all the staff I worked alongside were beacons of knowledge and very accommodating in answering all my questions. As a result of my Aurora experience, I feel that I am better equipped and more confident in my ability to work independently, and in my ability to manage my time and priorities in a workplace environment.
I have, throughout my legal studies, completed a number of other internships and placements, but can confidently say that, whilst it presented a very steep learning curve, my experience at SANTS was one of the most rewarding both professionally and personally. I feel extremely grateful to have been afforded this opportunity and would highly recommend the Aurora Native Title Internship Program to other students and graduates who have an interest in rights-based law and/or social justice issues.