Montana Burton

Health Science
Aboriginal Legal Services
Summer 2019


My six weeks at ALSWA via the Aurora Internship Program has completely transformed my worldview and shifted my understanding of the interactions between culture, government authorities and the legal system facing the Indigenous population. I have a new found grasp of these factors and their implications in perpetuating a ‘revolving door’ pattern for many of these individuals.

The nature of the work that the Youth Engagement Program does is limitless, with each day different to the next, as the Diversion officers do whatever they can in their power to keep these children out of the legal system.

A typical day for me would begin at Perth Children’s Court, where we would be either meeting with a client facing the magistrate or signing up new clients. There were times were I was fortunate enough to be part of the sign up process and met with clients for the first time, in custody. Emotions run raw and I can only be honest in saying there were times that I felt quite disheartened. But this is the reality of the work, and my supervisors at ALS have taught me how important it is to be resilient and detach from the confronting work when at home, plus the importance of self-care.

I tagged along on many home and detention center visits, helped enroll children into schools or source new accommodation. Bank accounts were set up, birth certificates and Centerlink payments were obtained and assisting with transport to go to medical appointments were all part of my day.  There were even times when I went to the movies or to botanical gardens, and had a yarn with the children about how they’ve been. It was times like that I had to stop and pinch myself, as if that was a part of my internship!? But it is through addressing the fundamental physical and emotional needs of these children, then scaffolding outwards towards the benefits of addressing Indigenous culture and lifestyle factors that instilled a new found sense of hope for these children.

I accompanied my supervisor to meetings with Youth Justice and networked with many other legal services and engagement programs. I met and networked with so many people working in the industry and conversed over many stories that have inspired me to do my bit for the community. This whole experience has really reinforced for me that the social work and mental health industry is most aligned for me.

On a personal level, these children and the stories they have shared has taught me to be so grateful for the family and background that I come from, and how that has enabled me for the life that I get to live. At uni, I read multiple case studies about situations that mirrored those of these children, but it wasn’t until I saw it with my own eyes or heard it with my own ears the reality of what these children face every day that it began to truly sink in.

 I could not be any more grateful I was given this opportunity, for these short six weeks have completely transformed me. For social work and psychology students considering applying, do not hesitate. I cannot think of a better way to complement your degree than by undertaking a real life experience and putting yourself out there. The rewards know no limits.

To Aurora, thank you for all the work you did to place me and for supporting me through my scholarship. To the team at ALSWA, thank you for your constant mentoring and inspiration. I have learnt so much about working with the Indigenous population, the legal system as well as other professional skills such as networking and diligent negotiation. I am returning to my last semester of uni with the most fulfilled sense of purpose and re-inspired to finish my degree strong.

I have nothing but sheer admiration for the work, culture and impact made by the staff at ALSWA. To be able to contribute one day in a greater role would be an honour.