Sharlene Kuruppuarachchi

Native Title
Summer 2018

I have been passionate about Indigenous issues since I was first exposed to NAIDOC Week when I was in primary school. Over time I have been aware of some of the issues that were impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This exposure has been mainly through the media.  I really wanted an opportunity to assist these people first hand. I heard about the Aurora Internship Program when I was studying my law degree at Victoria University in Melbourne. I knew this was something I wanted to be part of because I knew I had a gap in my Indigenous knowledge and was keen to find an opportunity for me learn more about the issues that was facing them.

I was given an opportunity to complete my Aurora Internship at NTSCORP in the Strategic Development Unit. NTSCORP is the Native Title Service Provider for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who hold or may hold native title in New South Wales and Australian Capital Territory. Native Title is a practice area that allows for the recognition of traditional interests to land and water for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The court case of Mabo brought native title to the attention of the Federal Government but also to the general Australian public. The Federal Government then enacted the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) to allow native title claimants to put in applications to the Federal Court of Australia to have their native title claim recognised under Australian law.

I have not worked in this practice area and had only briefly been exposed to native title through the Property Law unit offered in Victoria University. I found NTSCORP was easily accessible as it is walking distance from Redfern station. I found this was beneficial for me as I was able to use public transport to and from this placement.

The first aspect of this organisation that I recognised was that the organisation cared about it’s staff members. The staff made me feel welcome and I felt like I was part of a team. If I had any questions I was able to easily approach them. The work culture of this organisation is one that supports the work that each other does.  The work of the clients underpins each task that is completed. An example of this is obtaining information on land parcels. I had the opportunity to attend the NSW Land Office in Sydney with a colleague and see how they obtained this information. I found this allowed me to see the type of information that was required to be obtained for a claim.

One of the other tasks I enjoyed undertaking was completing policy documents. My supervising solicitor provided me with a list of tasks. Some of the tasks related to policy submissions. I obtained instructions from the supervising solicitor to know what they expected from this document. This allowed me to provide them with a draft document for their submissions. I was previously hesitant to undertake policy work but having undertaken this task I was now able to see how policy fits into the work that this organisation does.

During this placement I had the opportunity to attend some meetings. I was able to observe these meetings with the consent of the other party. I found it beneficial to see how solicitors interact with the other party. I saw the skill set that solicitors working in this organisation have. I felt inspired to have skills like these when I too become a legal practitioner. The staff at this organisation are kind and have allowed me to undertake many different tasks. I would highly recommend undertaking an Aurora Internship at NTSCORP. This internship has really opened my eyes to the work that is completed not only in native title organisations but also in the Indigenous sector. I feel like I want to read and gain more experience in this sector and have already made inquiries into other Indigenous organisations as I genuinely want to gain further insight into this unique client group.