Annette Douglass

Native Title
Winter 2013

Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) deal with current or potential native title claims under instruction from traditional owners. These claims range from making native title applications filed in  the Federal Court, future acts, Indigenous Land Use Agreements and rights of access under the Native Title Act (Cth) 1993.

My Expectations
Having graduated from James Cook University and been recently admitted to the Supreme Court of Queensland as a Lawyer, I undertook an Aurora Internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program with the primary purpose of exposing myself to native title work.
I was informed initially by my supervisor that the majority of interns in this area did not always see the results of the fruits of their labour. I reasoned this internship experience would be invaluable in gaining hands on training, having studied archaeology in a social science environment earlier at a university level. I was thrilled to be accessing information about an area I was passionate about.
The Aurora Internship potentially offers credit towards post graduate GDLP or LLM and provides legal students with an opportunity to gain accreditation for the admission requirement of working under the supervision of an Unrestricted Legal Practitioner.

Pre-Embarkation Interview
Reiteration to keep my expectations low and to jump in wherever I saw the need was a thought I attempted to keep in mind throughout my placement.

North Queensland Land Council 
I chose NQLC as a host organisation as it is located close to home in order to minimise costs, and being a mature aged student with family responsibilities, this placement whilst located in “remote” mode from head office in Cairns, was coordinated by efficient and friendly staff.

By having a competent supervisor who provided me with a clear concise overview of the workload, I was able to work independently during the office arrivals and departures to various meetings. Legal work ranged from administrative law (assessing standing or “authority” to engage in decision making through genealogical evidence); contract law (drafting) and property law (researching non-extinguishment principal and those exceptions where the surrender of native title to state authorities) provided a stimulating and diverse experience when contrasted with issues of public policy to reverse the “onus of proof”  required for native title holders to prove their connection to land.

My main role was to provide a Rights and Interests Analysis for a Consent Determination which involved the amendment a Native Title Determination Application (Form 1) with the Federal Court. This procedure provided a time efficient mode of delivery for the State and other parties to assess factual  evidence of connection to land as required by  the Native Title Act (Cth) 1993 with reference to  extensive Expert Anthropological Connection Reports cross referenced with applicant submissions and affidavits.
To vary this task I also given the opportunity to see contract and commercial negotiation in action by editing draft Indigenous Land Use Agreements and researching case histories in order to assess strategy for pending commercial negotiations.
I was also given the opportunity to attend a regional meeting between NQLC and Traditional Owners concerning contract negotiations between Local Government and pastoral interests, to ensure access to land and cultural heritage management issues were adequately represented in the terms of contracts for present and future acts.

I found it a sobering experience to use my legal skills in the commercial sphere realising the severity of mandatory language and its reverberation to future generations. The Internship provided me with an opportunity of being introduced to an environment where I was able to research areas at my own pace bringing together the two professions of anthropology and law: