I applied for an Aurora internship via the Aurora Internship Program as a confused graduate looking for some inspiration. I had recently completed a legal internship with a Non-Government Organisation in Sabah, Borneo, and I was extremely eager to get involved in meaningful work being undertaken in the Indigenous sector in Australia.
Being selected to undertake my internship at the Kimberley Community Legal Services Inc (KCLS) in Kununurra was immediately exciting, as I knew it would be a fantastic opportunity for me to gain a glimpse at the range of issues impacting Indigenous communities in the East Kimberley region. Throughout my internship the challenges Indigenous peoples and organisations in these communities face in their pursuit for justice became increasingly evident.
Organisations providing essential services in these communities like KCLS are difficult to staff, it is a huge and challenging task filling these organisations with professionals with the appropriate experience and skills, and it is even harder for these organisations to retain these staff once they are employed. These organisations can be extremely understaffed and overworked at times, which inevitably results in a reduction of the services they can provide. The lack of professionals in the East Kimberly region, such as psychologists and Indigenous councilors and interpreters, is a major challenge for these community organisations and their clients in addressing legal issues and disadvantage.
Whilst working at KCLS I had the opportunity to see these challenges arise. KCLS was very understaffed at the time of my internship, which made volunteering for KCLS even more rewarding and worthwhile. I was able to see how KCLS staff dealt with and overcame these challenges, which was truly inspirational. Three young, busy and motivated solicitors (Hannah Levy, Melissa Bateman and Meg Tait) took control of matters that had been passed down from several former KCLS solicitors, worked long hours, held legal practice meetings to divide the workload and continued to go on outreach trips to other Indigenous communities and operate their drop in service.
Dealing with and overcoming the huge number of challenges that arise for KCLS would not be possible without the assistance and support provided by all KCLS staff members. In particular, KCLS’ Indigenous staff who play a crucial role in helping all those who work for KCLS understand the most appropriate and effective ways to work with and build strong relationships with Indigenous peoples and organisations in the East Kimberly region.
Despite the challenges and busy workload KCLS staff members continue to advocate relentlessly for the rights of people in the East Kimberly. They attend, participate in and run community rallies, information series and drop in services in a number of communities across the East Kimberly region including Halls Creek and Wyndham.
Going into my Aurora internship I worked hard to keep my expectations low as my main goal was to provide support to KCLS and its staff in any way possible. However, my expectations were exceeded in terms of the work I undertook whilst working at KCLS. I found the work extremely interesting and challenging, and I was given a great amount of autonomy over the work I produced. I was heavily involved in the legal work undertaken by KCLS and the KCLS solicitors were genuinely committed to ensuring I was involved in areas of law that interest me.
During my time at KCLS, I had the opportunity to draft submissions, advices and general correspondence in relation to criminal injuries compensation claims, tenant liability appeals and lifetime driving disqualifications. I also conducted research on a range of different legal issues to assist KCLS solicitors advise their clients. These issues included whether an appeal to have a lifetime driving disqualification lifted would succeed and the possibility of being granted a violence restraining order that would only apply when the respondent was intoxicated.
Working at KCLS most certainly does not involve being chained to your desk at all times. Each day is different, exciting and unpredictable. I was able to attend interviews with clients at the KCLS office and their homes, court, a community rally to end family violence and an information seminar on the importance of using interpreters and plain English when representing clients who may have difficulty understanding English and/or legal terminology.
KCLS does a weekly outreach trip to Wyndham, which is invaluable as it ensures those living in that remote community have access to legal services. I was fortunate enough to accompany Hannah on this trip three times during my internship. My trips to Wyndham were the highlight of my experience as they allowed me to become familiar with specific matters and the devastating issues faced by some of KCLS’ clients. I also became aware of how important the presence of KCLS is in these communities as I witnessed Hannah help so many clients understand their legal issues and feel comforted knowing KCLS would assist them in trying to overcome them.
Although I could not participate in the interviews with clients, I continued to attend them throughout my internship in order to take detailed notes and prepare file notes based on my attendance. Even though this is a small administrative task, I feel it helps KCLS overcome the difficulties that arise as a result of clients’ files passing through so many different helping hands.
Working in a remote Indigenous community is an experience that is extremely beneficial both on a personal and professional level. It shows you how solicitors in these communities practice law in a different way in order to ensure their clients receive essential legal services, for example traveling long distances to run drop in services and driving clients to and from important appointments and meetings.You also have the opportunity to overcome challenges, which you would not regularly face working in a law firm in the city. For instance, searching for clients who KCLS have lost contact with, working on matters that have not progressed for years due to difficult reasons and understanding files that have been handled by multiple people. This requires you to be patient and understand the difficult realities inherent in this area of work. My Aurora internship reminded me of the importance of access to justice and the positive influence I can have in providing social justice to those experiencing disadvantage. I am grateful I had the chance to be involved in such meaningful work and I feel more inspired than ever to pursue a career in this area. Applications for the upcoming winter 2016 round of internships will be open from 9am AEDT Monday 7th March through 5pm AEDT Friday 1st April 2016.
See http://www.auroraproject.com.au/nativetitleinternshipprogram for more details.