I returned to Australia in 2018 for my final year in law after spending a month interning at a firm in Malaysia that specialised in native title. I really enjoyed my experience there, and was looking for more opportunities in that field that I could get into. Luckily for me, the Aurora Internship Program provided just that! I was placed at the South Australian Native Title Services (SANTS), in Adelaide, for a 6-week internship over the winter break.
SANTS is the Native Title Service Provider (NTSP) for areas (land and waters) within South Australia and waters bordering the State’s coastline. SANTS provides legal assistance and anthropological research to aboriginal groups in native title applications, negotiations and determinations. As such, SANTS strives to work with the State Government and Federal Court in a non-adversarial way, focusing on negotiations rather than litigation, to have native title rights and interests recognised and protected. Another key feature of SANTS that I found to be essential in the native title process is that they also provide assistance to Aboriginal groups after they successfully received native title determinations. This is done by way of community and corporate development in order to enhance the capacity of aboriginal groups to realise social, cultural, environmental and economic aspirations on their own terms.
My knowledge of native title in Australia was fairly basic (having learned about it in Property Law in my first year of law school, which admittedly, is considered awhile ago) when I started out at SANTS. My supervisor was very understanding and was keen in allowing me to gradually learn more about native title over the weeks at SANTS. I was given some pre-reading to learn about what native title is and the history of how it came about. Throughout my time at SANTS, I was involved in a variety of tasks over each week that eased me into the field of native title. This ranged from writing case summaries, perusing through of legal documents for ongoing applications, drafting up notices for upcoming community meetings, liaising with newspapers to have the notices published and drafting a consultation information package for a sale of aboriginal objects issue that came up.
One of the highlights of my time at SANTS was the opportunity to observe a direction’s hearing at the Federal Court concerning a matter involving an overlapping claim between three aboriginal groups. The first thing that struck me was the number of parties involved in the claim – the three Aboriginal groups, the state and three other companies that had an interest in the matter. This provided a glimpse as to why native title matters were so complex and took many years to resolve. This experience was also interesting because the judge eventually decided that the matter would proceed to trial to avoid further delay, which was not an expected outcome by the parties involved, neither was it a desired outcome by any of the parties.
Another highlight were two meetings with two anthropologists that I was able to be a part of. The first one was at the beginning of my second week at SANTS. I was given the opportunity to fly to Sydney, together with my supervisor, to meet with an anthropologist for a day. This claim involved a native group claiming land in South Australia that was bordering New South Wales. This was a very new experience for me, especially because I had no exposure to the anthropological side of native title, nor did I expect to be part of it. I was amazed by the amount of work, research and effort that went into putting together an anthropological report for a native title claim. It was also a huge learning experience for me, getting to know the different groups of indigenous people and familiarising myself with different locations in South Australia as well. It was at this time that I learned how the legal and anthropological aspects of native title intertwined.
I then attended a second meeting with an anthropologist in Adelaide in my fourth week at SANTS. This was especially exciting because it was a new matter and I was given the opportunity to assist in drafting the Form 1 for this claim. At this meeting, I found that it was easier for me to understand concepts and even areas on the map that were being discussed. It was fulfilling to realise that a month of interning at SANTS had indeed grown my knowledge in native title.
One challenging task that was given to me by my supervisor was to assist in drafting amendments to an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA) as I had never done it before. However, my supervisor assured me that it would be a good learning experience. I was grateful that he allowed me this opportunity (even if I doubted that I would be able to do it well) and provided some useful feedback. This exercise definitely helped me improve my writing skills. I am certain that this exercise will be beneficial to me as a lawyer in the future, especially, when it concerns drafting up contracts and other legal documents.
To top it all off, one of the main reasons I enjoyed my time at SANTS was the great work environment that I experienced. I was undoubtedly anxious to start my internship at such a recognised place. In particular, being an international student, I did wonder how it would be like working in a different environment. There was definitely an adjustment period, trying to get used to the work culture and even conversing with others in the office. However, the staff at SANTS were incredibly welcoming from day one and they made me feel at home very quickly. I could also see how a relaxed and easy-going environment actually promoted efficiency and productivity of the staff at SANTS. Furthermore, in my first two weeks at SANTS, there were three other interns there! I was able to get to know them and we would share about our daily tasks, experiences and even life outside work. It was incredibly enriching to also be able to make friends during the internship. I would definitely recommend interning at SANTS to anyone!
Applications for the Aurora Internship Program are open in March and August each year via their website at http://auroraproject.com.au/about-applying-internship