Maddy Winters

Aboriginal Legal Services
Alice Springs
Winter 2017

This year, I decided to spend my July winter holidays interning in Alice Springs with the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service (CAALAS) as part of the Aurora Internship Program.

At this stage in my degree, a lot of students are applying for clerkships and the pressure to enter the commercial law world is strong. Others are heading off to enjoy summer in France, Italy, Croatia… And so it was with a hint of self-doubt and a sliver of regret that I packed my bags and boarded a plane into the middle of the desert.

Neither of these feelings lasted long. From day one, I was surrounded by incredible people and getting involved in really interesting legal work across the

Criminal, Civil and Family Law divisions. I developed a lot of practical legal skills and found a career path that I am really excited to begin. One month later, I can honestly say that it was one of the most valuable and special experiences I have ever been so privileged as to experience.

There are a couple of stand out moments. An absolute highlight was heading out to Kintore, a small community 520km west of Alice Springs, for bush court. It was a beautiful drive and quite a surreal experience seeing this small community meeting room, full of the proud town’s trophy wins, transform briefly into a courtroom when the Judge, court staff and police prosecutors flew in for the court sitting. I was also able to make my first criminal court appearance before the Local Court Judge, which was very exciting.

Another highlight was sitting in on a hearing for two days. I learnt a lot by watching the lawyer cross-examine witnesses, challenge evidence and make closing submissions. A week after I returned from Sydney I received great news – NOT GUILTY!

Special mention also has to go to my time spent with the Family Lawyer, who made every effort to help me gain legal experience and took the time to explain and discuss the care and protection system and family law issues in the Northern Territory. This was also some of the most challenging work, as there are so many obstacles to overcome to help clients gain access to their children again or reach an agreement about parenting arrangements. I was able to help in a small way by completing client intake forms, referring clients to social support services, drafting affidavits and parenting orders, and helping with file management. I loved talking with clients in these matters and found this work really rewarding.

I also really enjoyed working with the civil law team, who trusted me with taking instructions from clients, drafting client advices and undertaking research into legal options for clients affected by a breach of confidence by the government. The civil work that CAALAS do is really varied - anything from helping clients get compensation after a motor vehicle accident or after being the victim of a crime, to researching equitable causes of action or organising a class action, to helping clients navigate the housing and welfare systems or to challenge a debt.

On my last day at CAALAS I went out to the Alice Springs Youth Detention Centre where the young people cooked a lunch for visitors. Lunch included smoked kangaroos tail – interesting!

On a social note, everyone at CAALAS was very friendly and careful to include me in after work drinks and weekend excursions. I had so much fun, heading out to the Alice Springs show, attending a BBQ for NAIDOC week, cheering at the annual Camel Cup, going for a beautiful hike and singing karaoke and dancing at the Alice Springs hot spots. I even rode a unicorn on my last night!

Returning to semester, I feel reinvigorated to study law. I’ve found something I am really passionate about and I’m excited that I have something to work towards. I can’t recommend doing an Aurora internship enough – I’ve met incredible people, seen amazing things and been reminded constantly of how lucky and privileged I am.