Alex Romano

Native Title
Summer 2015

The wisdom of Google, defines an aurora as follows:


a natural electrical phenomenon characterized by the appearance of streamers of reddish or greenish light in the sky, especially near the northern or southern magnetic pole. The effect is caused by the interaction of charged particles from the sun with atoms in the upper atmosphere. In northern and southern regions it is respectively called aurora borealis or Northern Lights and aurora australis or Southern Lights.


the dawn….

Such a definition could not be more apt as a descriptor of the 5 weeks I spent in the Aurora Internship Program. Not only did the experience feel electrical, charged and very much deserving of the prescient title of Aurora, but it took place in the literal dawn of my life after university. To drag out the dawn metaphor further than even I thought possible, it was also the dawning of a much greater understanding of life as a party to the legal system of Indigenous land rights in Australia as I was thrown into the life of a Native Title Services Provider (NTSP). To top it all off, I even got my fix of reddish and greenish lights  courtesy of the streets of Redfern still bearing the hangover of a South Sydney Rabbitohs grand final win and a particularly fanatical Souths fan at NTSCORP (cheers George).

The Aurora Internship Program is a Program that recruits law, anthropology and social science students and graduates to intern at Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs), NTSPs, Indigenous corporations, community groups, policy organisations and not-for-profit organisations, all with an Indigenous focus throughout Australia. It addresses the fundamental needs that many of these organisations have for more man power, while also giving these interns an opportunity to learn about a system of law that is rarely part of more than a couple of weeks in the average law degree and rarely enters the national conversation when compared to the burst of interest surrounding the Mabo and Wik High Court decisions.

Although you can be placed anywhere in the country as part of the Aurora Program, placements are allocated on a needs basis and I was fortunate enough to be given an opportunity to intern at NTSCORP, an organization full of genuine and dedicated people, with a mountain of substantive legal tasks just waiting for my recently graduated student teeth to sink in to. NTSCORP is a NTSP that provides assistance to Indigenous peoples who wish to exercise their legal rights under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth). In particular, NTSCORP facilitates native title claims, notifies Indigenous peoples of Future Acts (mining or other developments within claim areas), helps to make Agreements (that sounds a lot less complex than it actually is…we are talking agreements 10+ years in the making in some instances), and aids in dispute resolution processes. In addition to this, the research team at NTSCORP also provides one of the only family tree research services for Indigenous Australians in the whole country.

I was almost immediately thrown in to preparing advice based on my own research for senior lawyers. I was given real experience, interpreting legislation and providing analysis on everything from the complicated system of tenure in NSW to Aboriginal cultural heritage legislation. I learnt rapidly about the absolute guts of these claims for land rights, who they are for, what they are for and how NTSPs and the people they represent work within the frameworks laid down in the legislation.  Even the more administrative tasks such as transcribing evidence affidavits were stimulating, providing a glimpse into the culture and motivations of claimants, expanding my awareness of what it takes to make a Native Title claim. Clearly this was far more enjoyable than photocopying for days on end at a clerkship. So even though it might be a bit more sexy to say you were a clerk at Minters, it’s far more personally gratifying to have completed tasks, every day, that a trained monkey could not have done.

To understate the situation dramatically, balancing the competing issues, problems, interests and arguments faced by an NTSP on a daily basis is…difficult…and…time consuming. Interning at NTSCORP has given me a never ending respect and understanding for the work that everyone at these organisations does as well as much greater understanding of the difficulties faced by the native title claimants across NSW as they fight (literally) for the right to enjoy the land as they’ve always known it should. For any university student or graduate looking for more out of their degree than a deep understanding of printer functions and binding documents, then apply for Aurora, it will definitely be worth it. Particularly so if you apply for the end of year placement period and are lucky enough to go to an amazing Christmas Party that ends in an office group performance of We Are the Champions and bottles of champagne being popped like you just won the grand final.