Gabi Cohen

Native Title
Winter 2014

I was fortunate enough to be chosen for the Aurora Native Title Internship Program this July. The Aurora Project was established in response to the report on the professional development needs of the lawyers working for Native Title Representatives Bodies (NTRBs).  The Internship Program is one, amongst many of the initiatives of the Project.

As a legal intern, I was placed at NTSCORP Limited’s head offices in Redfern in Sydney for five weeks. NTSCORP is the Native Title Service Provider for NSW and the ACT.  They provide legal, facilitation and research services to native title claimants, native title holders and traditional owners throughout NSW and the ACT. This includes helping to determine native title for claimants and secondly, acting for claimants or traditional owners in the Future Acts process under the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth), one of those processes being the ‘right to negotiate’ process. I was placed in the Strategic Development Unit, which meant my tasks concerned the Future Acts process.

The Future Acts process means that native title claimants and holders may have some of the following the rights:

1.      For a Future Act Notice sent by the government to the relevant Native Title Representative Body or Service Provider;
2.      The right to comment;
3.      The right to be consulted;
4.      The rights of an ordinary title holder; or even
5.      The right to negotiate in good faith for six months (or longer if agreed) from the date of the notice.

To date, this internship has been one of the most important experiences I have had as a law student. This did not mean that each day was filled with new experiences and excitement, because inevitably that’s not possible. But rather and perhaps more importantly, the experience provided me with invaluable exposure into a number of areas that I had little to no idea about before. Perhaps most significantly, I gained insight into native title law and the inevitable complexities involved in it, particularly the extent of cross-cultural communication and co-ordination required. The internship at NTSCORP also provided me with exposure into the workings of a non-profit organisation.

After being prepared for five weeks of a healthy balance of administration, I can say that my experience at NTSCORP far exceeded my expectations. From the very first day I was thrown straight into the deep end being given legal research tasks, editing of legal documents, writing up of meeting records and requested to research advise on certain legal issues facing NTSCORP. My team members also went above and beyond to guide me through my constant stream questions. Although often quite challenging, it substantially strengthened by legal research skills, my legal writing skills and my knowledge of native title. 

What I found fascinating about working at NTSCORP was learning that native title is not simply another legal practice group, but seemingly an industry within itself. That is, to function and respond to its legal demands, lawyers are only one part of the puzzle. It is not as simple as the lawyers having a depth of knowledge on native title law, as native title lawyers need to be culturally sensitive to the Indigenous peoples’ many respective cultures as well. Additionally, all legal representation requires further support roles from any or all individuals involved in anthropology, history, land tenure and importantly community facilitation, all of which are also part of the NTSCORP team. This evidently makes it a fascinating, dynamic and constantly exciting area of law to be involved in and workplace to a part of.

Another fantastic part about working at NTSCORP was that although the work was challenging, the people were always willing to chat and offer their advice. It is a very uniquely friendly and often social environment, which meant there was no boring day at work. I went out for lunches with my team members, which always proved to be exciting, had pizza catch-up meetings, and eventually formed Thai-Fridays with my team members and the other Aurora interns. NTSCORP undoubtedly has one of the most uniquely down-to-earth working environments and I am so grateful for being given the opportunity to work there. Although exposure to NTSCORP’s work environment evidently provided excitement during the full-time workweeks between the challenging tasks, it was another extremely important aspect of the internship that I was exposed to. It made me realise that as a law student, avenues such as native title and NTSCORP are not only fascinating to be a part of, but are often concurrent with unique cultural experiences such as meetings with Indigenous communities. Even more importantly, it exposed me to a place that perhaps I could see myself working for in the future.