Hannah Dreher

Aboriginal Legal Services
Winter 2018

I first heard about the Aurora Internship Program whilst completing a month long internship with the Aboriginal Legal Service in Wollongong. Some of the students who where volunteering there where undertaking the Aurora internship. I thought the Program would be an awesome opportunity to get some more legal experience and learn more about the Indigenous sector.

After applying for the Aurora Internship Program and eventually being selected, I was put forward for a number of different placements and I was eventually placed with the Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) in a little town called Albany. The ALSWA in Albany is a small office with one solicitor, one Aboriginal court officer and one administration assistant. They provide free legal representation for Aboriginal clients in the criminal division. ALSWA had the unique ‘Aboriginal court officer’ position, which is an Aboriginal person who is not a lawyer but can deal with small matters in court and take instructions from clients

I found my time at ALSWA in Albany a really enriching experience. It was awesome to see the differences between the ALS in Wollongong. I learnt a lot about the Western Australian criminal law legislation but also how courts and the ALS operate differently in a small town like Albany compared to a city like Wollongong. I had a wide variety of tasks, which included shadowing the solicitor and the court officer, when they taking client interviews in custody, both in the court cells and in the local prison. I also had a number of tasks in the office such as taking notes from electronic record of interview, typing notes, updating the database and organising files. I also practiced my advocacy skills by doing a mock plea mitigation for the managing solicitor. I was able to gain a much greater understanding of the criminal procedure by seeing a matter from initially receiving instructions, giving the advice, the matter being dealt with in court and the database being updated.

Due to the small size of the office, I was able to be involved at every level. I accompanied the office to a town called Katanning for the circuit day. My day in Katanning in particular, was a big learning experience in regard to the cyclical nature of many of the issues facing Aboriginal communities. In Albany and the surrounding areas it was many of the same families who were reoffending and it was easy to see how a cycle of drug and alcohol abuse, would be extremely difficult to break. It was great to see that the existence of the Aboriginal Court support officer role, improved accessibility and rapport of the legal service.

The staff at the ALSWA in Albany were beyond lovely, I felt supported and challenged during my time in the office. I was taken around Albany in work breaks to see the area. The managing solicitor lent me a car and set up accomodation for me. Each member of the three staff went out of their way to make me feel welcome and comfortable and to make sure I had a great time whilst I was in Albany. Every weekend I discovered a new walking track and was in awe of the coast line. The managing solicitor and her husband took me out on their boat and we saw dolphins in the harbour.

Due to the small number of people who work in Albany, it was a short time before I knew almost everyone in the courthouse, from the lawyers, to the security people and the court registry staff. A particular highlight was attending the court’s NAIDOC celebration. Getting to know everyone in Albany so well, enhanced my professional experience, allowing to me feel comfortable in asking questions and putting my self out there and to gain a greater understanding of the court process.

I couldn’t recommend applying for the Aurora Internship Program more highly. The program is an amazing opportunity to be pushed out of your comfort zone and to gain practical skills and knowledge regarding the issues facing Aboriginal peoples. It is through the immersion that the internsip program provides, that allows you to gain a deeper understanding of the process, allowing you to gain confidence and skills which will assist anyone thinking of working in the legal Indigenous sector.

For more information or to apply for the summer 2018/19 round of Aurora internships, visit http://auroraproject.com.au/about-internship-program. Applications close on through 31 August online via the website.