The Aurora Native Title Internship is a program that was established to assist organisations and practitioners working in the under-resourced field of native title, and more broadly Indigenous affairs. It offers law, anthropology and social science students and graduates the opportunity to spend 4 to 6 weeks with a Native Title Representative Body, an Indigenous corporation, a barrister or other organisations working in this field.
I applied for the program as a recent Flinders University law graduate. Having completed my final year legal placement at the Crown Solicitor’s Office in the Native Title Section I was keen to expand on my knowledge of native title legal practice and was looking for an opportunity to engage with native title claimants, those who are personally affected by determinations and litigated outcomes.
I was fortunate enough to be accepted into the program and equally fortunate to be placed with Adelaide barrister Andrew Collett. Andrew Collett has worked in Indigenous affairs for many years and he currently is legal counsel for Indigenous body corporates, represents native title claim groups, and is involved in a variety of other Indigenous legal issues, such as stolen generation compensation cases.
During my internship I very quickly learnt that the work involved in Indigenous legal affairs is diverse and extends beyond the strict legal practice that you are taught about at Law School. As the legal representative for an Indigenous corporation, we met with Federal and State Government departments, together with an adjoining native title holding group, to negotiate about proposed legislative amendments which will affect the land and potentially the interests of the traditional owners in a particular area. Subsequently, we made a Senate Select Committee submission on behalf of the Indigenous group Andrew represents, outlining their position, and suggesting an amendment to the proposed legislation for the benefit of the native title holders.
The highlight of my internship was the preparation for and hearing of preservation evidence for a native title claim. The preparation for this hearing began in my first week of the internship. The firm representing the native title claim group only received the required funding for the hearing 5 weeks before the hearing was due to be heard by the Federal Court of Australia. While the firm had been working with the claim group prior to this it had a very limited period within which to determine which witnesses to preserve evidence from, prepare their witness statements, and brief Andrew as the barrister.
Andrew arranged for me to attend the first meeting the firm had with members of the claim group. It was great to meet the solicitors and the claimants in an informal session and begin to hear about the history of the claim group, the difficulties they faced in the past, and how their culture and traditions have survived into present times. Due to the limited timeframe within which the solicitors had to prepare, we received our formal brief the week before the hearings. In this week we had to review the brief material, critically read the witness statements and identify what aspects needed clarification, and meet with the four witnesses and proof them.
This hectic preparation culminated in a week long hearing of evidence covering the last week of my internship. This included two on country visits. There was a marked difference between the witnesses giving evidence in the confines of the Federal Court compared with giving evidence on country. On country they were more relaxed and open to talk about certain aspects of their culture. As these sites were within driving distance of the city, it was fascinating for me to learn of the stories connected to land with which I am very familiar. The hearings lasted the full five days, and on the Friday afternoon we had the solicitors back to Andrew’s office for celebratory drinks which was the perfect way to finish off my internship experience.
The Aurora internship has solidified my desire to work in Indigenous affairs as a legal practitioner. The experience allowed me to practise and further develop my legal skills, such as legal research and drafting documents, as well as exposed me to the workings of a barrister.
There are two rounds of Aurora internships available every year. Applications for the summer round are open through August, and applications for the winter round are open in March. For more information about the program and how to apply visit http://www.auroraproject.com.au/.