Mikaylie Page

Native Title
Summer 2017

With international travel and voluntourism filling the bucket lists of many young Australians, our own (very big) backyard can be the last place many of us look for new and enriching experiences. Yet during my time at NTSCORP this summer, I learnt immeasurable amounts about Indigenous culture and some of the difficulties still faced by Indigenous Australians. Far from the South-East Asian experience I was considering for my summer holidays, my time working with NTSCORP in native title was rewarding in the way that it re-focused my attention to the needs and opportunities that are right here in front of us.

The Aurora Internship Program presents a unique opportunity to students and graduates across Australia to participate in internships within the Indigenous sector. Aurora aims to encourage interns to consider a career in native title and other Indigenous sectors after identifying low recruitment and high burn out rates in these positions. An internship with Aurora provides interns with an opportunity to experience work first hand in these organisations while simultaneously providing support to the staff in this under-resourced area.

Prior to my time at NTSCORP, native title was not something that I had seriously considered as a career possibility. However, the five weeks that I spent commuting to Redfern opened my eyes to the possibility of a very dynamic and legal career that also makes a meaningful contribution to social justice. My expectations as an intern painted a picture of endless piles of photocopying and coffee runs but my experience couldn’t have been more different. I was lucky enough to be interning during the beginning of a new native title claim that was going to be launched on the South Coast of NSW. Much of my work, particularly early in the internship, was focused around preparing substantive legal research in regards to the claim area and the process of authorisation which happens at the beginning of a claim. It quickly became apparent how invaluable interns are to these under-resourced organisations that are expected to complete increasing volumes of work with limited staff. Much of my other work consisted of writing case notes, researching precedent cases, preparing memos on legal issues, and assisting with Director’s meetings.

I found that these activities, and the internship in general allowed me to develop my legal skills and expand my knowledge of the native title process way beyond what is taught in University during the Property Law unit. I was able to see the passion of the Traditional Owners that drives much of the native title process and I was also able to see the frustration that the Traditional Owners feel at claims that can take decades to negotiate. The native title system is not a perfect system which can cause difficulties for Traditional Owners as well as those working in the area as there is a need to balance the rights and traditions of the Traditional Owners with a system that can be difficult to navigate. My time at NTSCORP gave me a deep appreciation for the strength of Indigenous communities and their strong desire for recognition despite the obstacles associated with launching a successful claim for the benefit of future generations.

The Aurora Internship Program is an intensely rewarding and enlightening experience that I would recommend to any law student or graduate with an interest in social justice. Native title provides the opportunity to work in a dynamic area of the law, while pursuing social justice goals for Australians who have rights to land that would otherwise go unrecognised.