David Hofierka

Native Title
Winter 2015

I arrived at NTSCORP as an Aurora intern at an exciting time, as it was during this time that 2 historic native title claims were being finalised. The first was a native title claim that had been over 10 years in the making for the Barkandji people at Broken Hill. It was only the sixth successful NSW native title case in the 22 years since the Native Title Act came into effect and received some good media coverage as the largest native title claim in NSW history. The second was the successful native tile claim for the Yaegl people situated in the NSW North Coast. I feel privileged I was able to work directly with the solicitors responsible for these cases, assisting with some research, legal analysis and final preparations for the upcoming consent determinations.

Other interesting work I undertook at NTSCORP included drafting submissions in response to a NSW government mining policy for the Strategic Developments team. It provided good insight in to development approval process for large mining projects in NSW, the competing interests, and its interaction with Aboriginal cultural heritage.

It feels like my 5 weeks at NTSCORP passed by in a flash. But I was fortunate enough to strike up many friendships and got to work with some amazing and dedicated people doing great work for an important cause. The open and friendly staff went out of their way to get me involved and educate me on the intricacies of the legal, environmental, cultural heritage and anthropological aspects of native title work. To top it off we even found time to hang out a few times and bond over the State of Origin at the local Redfern pub!

My second Aurora internship was with Chalk & Fitzgerald which is a leading firm that specialises in native title and Aboriginal land rights law, administrative law, environment and planning law, corporate structuring and governance, cultural heritage and protection agreements, land use and development, future act negotiations, and policy development to name a few.

During my time there, I was included in meetings with Aboriginal Land Councils and undertook work with solicitors on land rights claims, Indigenous land-use agreements in Northern NSW, and Indigenous Protected Areas in Northern Queensland. However, it was my work with the firms economic and community development arm, Gawad Kalinga Australia (GKA) that proved to be the most rewarding.

My main task involved working directly with Andrew Chalk on a community development scheme proposed for the Apollo Estate, a social housing community in Dubbo with a high Indigenous population. GK’s model of community building is credited for building over 2000 communities in the Philippines and other parts of Asia. GKA hopes to successfully adapt the model in Australia, to have an impact on some of the most disadvantaged communities here.

After being provided with Thomas Graham’s book entitled ‘The Genius of the Poor: A Journey with Gawad Kalinga’ to get me up to speed on what GK was all about, I was hooked. GK offers a fresh and innovative approach to addressing poverty and the many social problems that arise from a sense of hopelessness prevalent in many parts of the world including Australia. It’s a community development model that has caring, mass volunteerism and grassroots empowerment at its heart, and has transformed some of the world's most notorious and poverty stricken slums into thriving and colourful communities.

My work with GKA included preparing a number of high level submissions to consent authorities, preparing agreements addressing specific aspects of the community development scheme, creating a volunteer’s guidelines manual, and working on satisfying GKA’s legal requirements. I was invited to participate in meetings with interested parties and stakeholders comprising of lawyers, judges, doctors, engineers, authors, business people, community and NFP organisers, students and others who were passionate about making a difference and interested in collaborating to improve the lives of people in Australia’s most disadvantaged regions. I even got the chance to meet Tony Meloto, the founder of GK when he came to Australia to visit Dubbo in October which was cool considering he is said to be the 4th most trusted man in the Philippines – not bad in a country of 100 million people!