Having grown up in Far North Queensland close to a large Indigenous community, I have always been drawn to working with Indigenous Australians. Even as a young child I remember being shocked by the extent of prejudice against Aboriginal people in Queensland.
As a law student, the Aurora Internship Program immediately appealed to me, as I hope to assist in fostering a more mutually beneficial relationship between Aboriginal Australians and the law. I made it through the application process and interview, and before I knew it I was excitedly packing my bags for Sydney!
The opportunity to work with Susan Phillips, a well-known native title barrister at the NSW bar was both nerve racking and incredibly exciting. My nerves, however, were quickly put as ease when I walked into Susan’s office and was met with a welcoming, friendly and clearly passionate face smiling back at me. Susan explained the project that I would be working on, which whilst not strictly regarding native title, was firmly within my area of interest as it centred around an application under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Heritage Protection (ATSHIP) Act.
Throughout my placement with Susan I researched the traditional practices of a particular Aboriginal community, and learnt much about the way in which legal mechanisms attempt to recognise Indigenous culture. Whilst legislation such as the ATSHIP Act constitutes a positive step forward, it is also limited in its application and it is now clear to me that much progress remains to be made.
Susan was an instructive, considerate and valuable mentor. She took time out of her busy days to introduce to me to other barristers (both on her floor and in the surrounding chambers) and also provided feedback on my work, whilst at the same time allowing me the independence to develop my own skills. From Susan’s guidance I have come to appreciate the difference between simply understanding all relevant information, and presenting it in a clear and coherent way. This made me feel involved in the matter at hand, and invested in the overall outcome of the application.
Other highlights from my internship included the chance to assist one of Susan’s colleagues with a matter regarding the death of an Aboriginal man. I particularly enjoyed the way I was able to connect with the clients and then attend the handing down of the judgment with Susan later in the week.
Susan is engaging, friendly (she took me out for many lovely lunches) and always made an effort to ensure that I felt productive and appreciated. Over the course of my internship she became a both a personal and professional mentor. I recommend that anyone and everyone interested in working with Indigenous Australians take part in an Aurora internship. You will grow immeasurably as a person and learn invaluable practical skills that can’t possibly be taught in the classroom!