Apart from the odd day here and there, I haven’t really travelled on my own before. So when I left Perth for the big smoke (Sydney), admittedly I felt a little nervous. How would I find my way around in such a big city? How much will the bus cost? Where do I even catch the bus from? Do they even have buses in Sydney or just those gigantic multilevel trains? You may be thinking: “this girl is in no state of mind to travel alone, let alone step inside one of the most reputable, challenging and award-winning law firms in this country.” But that is exactly what I did.
Right from the moment I entered the office of Terri Janke and Company (TJC), I was made to feel completely welcome and a valuable part of the team.
The firm specialises in business law and intellectual property, with a focus on Indigenous Cultural and Intellectual Property (ICIP). ICIP refers to Indigenous people’s right to their heritage, including:
· literary, performing and artistic works;
· knowledge (scientific, spiritual, agricultural, technical and ecological);
· cultural property (both moveable and immovable);
· Indigenous ancestral remains;
· Indigenous human genetic material;
· cultural environment resources; and
· documentation of Indigenous people’s heritage
Terri has pretty much written the whole area of law on this subject, and I have to admit I was a little star-struck when I first met her (having cited her work on numerous occasions during my studies). However, all my fears were dispelled right from the moment she warmly greeted me and sat me down to work out what I was interested in getting out of the internship and the particular areas of law I was most interested in.
In Australia, IP law does not adequately protect ICIP. TJC is trying to change this by teaching those who want to deal with ICIP to do so in a respectful manner and by following appropriate procedures. This lack of protection means there are some challenging issues to grapple with and I found myself having to look beyond decided cases and legislation to international documents (such as the United Nation’s Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples) and protocols for working with Indigenous artists. Along the way I gained a greater understanding of Indigenous knowledge systems, Country and Culture and an appreciation of how the law only caters for a very narrow range of dominant worldviews. This is something we are not really taught at uni, so it was very inspiring and refreshing to see lawyers working towards changing the law and educating the wider community about its pitfalls, rather than monotonously applying black-letter law.
I went into the Aurora Internship Program expecting to be given a substantial amount of less-than-glamorous admin work – one of the aims of the Aurora Project is to support over-worked and under-resourced organisations. However, every task I was given was jaw-droppingly interesting and dispelled any inclination I may have had toward the time-honoured myth that the legal profession is dull. Each day brought something completely new and I’d often be juggling a mountain of tasks all at once. This included drafting advice to clients on copyright issues, preparing contracts and community consent forms, researching grand rights for performing arts companies, taking notes in meetings, preparing workshop speeches, attending a conference with Terri on the implementation of Indigenous language apps, editing publications and battling the paper shredder. These experiences brought together everything I learnt at uni and I found myself shuffling through a whole heap of old notes from native title and Indigenous history, to IP, admin and employment law. I felt very privileged to be given work carrying such a high degree of responsibility, and was excited by the fact that I was finally putting all those long years of study into practice and making a difference to empowering Indigenous people.
There was always something exciting happening in the office too – from countless meetings with clients, running off to conferences and film crews taking over for the day, to walking down to the local shops with the girls for “Falafel Fridays” and scooting over to the famous Hong Ha for the most delicious Vietnamese baguette (If you haven’t been, please try ASAP and don’t let the queue scare you off). The cherry on top was the surprise lunch at The Grounds of Alexandria on my last day of work. The food was delicious and lots of laughs were had.
I think I learnt more during my 4-week stint at TJC than I ever learnt at uni. Working in such a close-knit team meant I was given invaluable access to extremely knowledgeable, approachable and generous mentors and an opportunity to ask questions and feel appreciated in a career that can often seem more about billable hours than helping out real people.
Moving away from home meant I also learnt priceless life skills about independence, budgeting and finding fun things to do in a big city. On weekends and after work I became a tourist – highlights included exploring the beautiful Sydney coastline (and checking out the Bondi Rescue lifeguards whilst I was at it), rummaging through piles of second-hand treasures at Glebe Markets, wandering up and down vibrant King Street in Newtown, unwinding in evening yoga classes, scoffing dumplings in Potts Point and Gelato Messina in Surry Hills, and sipping cocktails beneath the stars at Opera Bar.
I had the best time interning at TJC. I learnt so much from Terri and everyone else at the firm, and feel like I’ve made a difference towards empowering Indigenous people. I made some lifelong friends along the way and will miss all the laughs and good times spent with such a fab group of passionate, dedicated and beautiful people.
I’m off to Broome next to intern at Kimberley Land Council. It will definitely be a stark contrast to big city life, but I’m excited to see what this next chapter brings.
Aurora internships are arranged twice a year over the summer and winter uni breaks. For more details see http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aboutapplyinginternship. Applications for the winter 2016 round will be open in March 2016.