Katie Davern

Barristers/Legal Firms
Winter 2017

I was fortunate enough to participate in two Aurora Project internships this year. One from August-September at the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) in Darwin where I was working in the criminal team, and the second with Sydney barrister and native title specialist Susan Phillips. 

My experience with Susan Phillips was part time and vastly different to my NAAJA experience, but certainly no less fascinating. I had never worked with a barrister before and I ended up commencing my internship the day after I returned from Darwin and so it took me about a week to get used to the change of pace. My understanding of native title, though helped by the reading materials compiled by the Aurora team, was still quite basic. Thankfully Susan was incredibly patient and generous with her knowledge.


I liked how Susan found it important to explain a task to me and where the work I was about to embark on fit in with the bigger picture. She also had set aside specific projects for me to work on before I had arrived. My first project involved helping Susan prepare for a conference she was attending the following week. I was pointed to eight huge folders full of brief materials and tasked with reading the anthropological reports within, making notes and summarising my findings in a table. At first I found this task a bit challenging as I was reading about anthropological and native title ideas I hadn’t heard of and faced with terminology that was quite anthropology-specific. After the first day, I was able to wrap my head around the concepts and jargon and it was fascinating to learn more about the basic native title requirements, and about the differing linguistic and cultural features of different neighbouring Aboriginal peoples. 


The majority of my internship was working on a different but no less complex claim for which Susan was part of a larger legal team. I was fortunate enough to tag along to conferences with the other solicitor and barrister, a court mention in the Federal Court and even a trip to Dubbo and Orange to visit the Aboriginal community and take minutes for an Applicants’ Meeting. I was focused on a task which allowed me to see, organise and assist in captioning a stunning collection of photos of sacred sites. I also read through and took notes on almost 6 days of a preservation of evidence court transcript from over ten years ago. Members of the Aboriginal community we were working for had been out to country with a Federal Court judge and the court itself and had travelled around to various sacred sites and given evidence. It was a fascinating read and this task along, with the photo captioning task, quickened my immersion into the claim background and contents which made my role in Dubbo and Orange a lot more comprehensible.


The trip to Dubbo and Orange was towards the end of my internship and besides being a huge highlight personally – meeting and conversing with clients, spending time with Susan and the other barrister and solicitors, being able to travel to parts of NSW I had never seen – it was also an experience which solidified my understanding of native title by seeing the real-life significance that the claim had to members of the Aboriginal community.


I feel that my understanding of native title has increased ten-fold and I would certainly recommend an Aurora internship and one with Susan Phillips in particular for anyone with an interest in or even a desire to know more about native title or administrative law. 

Details can be found on the Aurora Internship Program website: http://auroraproject.com.au/internship-program 

Applications are open twice a year.  Applications for the winter 2018 round will be open from 5 through 30 March 2018.