Abigail Hutchison

Native Title
Winter 2012

During the winter break I undertook a five-week internship at the South Australian Native Title Services (SANTS) as part of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program. SANTS was established in July of 2008 and is the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) for greater South Australia based in Adelaide. As a legal intern my role was to work as part of the legal team at SANTS and help out with any work that needed to be done. Work that I undertook on my placement included taking notes in meetings, amending consent determinations and drafting consent determinations, reviewing mining agreements and drafting pastoral Indigenous land use agreements. My role as an intern at SANTS has helped to develop and strengthen my legal skills. Not only was I required to draw on skills, such as statutory interpretation and general legal research skills, but I also learnt more practical legal skills such as drafting letters to claimants and corresponding with mining companies and State Government departments.

The highlight of my placement at SANTS was my time spent in Broken Hill. In the fourth week of my placement I was offered the opportunity to accompany a lawyer from SANTS to Broken Hill to help put with a two-day meeting with a Claim Group that SANTS represented. My role in accompanying the lawyer to Broken Hill was to take notes and help with general organisational tasks. On our way up to Broken Hill we drove through areas of the claim country and it was truly incredible to actually see the country that the claim area was covering. Seeing the place names and landmarks that the claimants had talked of put all my preparatory reading into context and furthered my understanding of the claim generally. During the meeting in Broken Hill I witnessed first-hand the beginning of negotiations between two mining companies and the Claim Group and saw how the lawyer from SANTS conducted the meeting and mediated between the mining companies and the claimants during the negotiations.

Over my internship I have gained insight into the role of lawyers in an NTRB. In particular, it has become clear of the challenging and complex tasks of the lawyers whose role it is to work between the demands of the State and the mining companies to try and provide the best outcome for claimants and native title holders. Having been lucky enough to work closely with two passionate and dedicated lawyers at SANTS I was able to gain an insight into both the positive and negative aspects of the native title process and as a consequence feel that I have a deeper understanding of the difficulties of reconciling the Western view of property rights with Aboriginal Peoples’ relationship to land.

An Aurora Native Title Internship is, I believe, an essential addition to a law degree, whether or not you want to practice law. Undertaking a placement through the Aurora Project offers an experience beyond the classroom and has enriched my education. I would encourage any student who is interested in native title, policy development, Indigenous affairs or social justice generally to apply for an Aurora Internship in the upcoming summer break. Applications for the summer 2012/13 round open from the 6th August to the 31st August 2012 on-line via the website.