Stephanie Triefus

Organisation: 
Stream: 
Legal
Sector: 
Aboriginal Legal Services
Location: 
Kununurra
Round: 
Summer 2015

KCLS is a fantastic place to undertake an Aurora internship and has a lot of experience hosting students and graduates. There isn’t a typical day at KCLS because there’s always so much going on. KCLS does an outreach day every Monday in Wyndham, where they run a drop in service and visit ongoing clients at home.  Days in the office involve seeing drop in clients, client appointments, visiting clients at home or picking them up and taking them to Housing or Centrelink, going to court, working on files by drafting letters and documents, making calls or researching, staff meetings and meetings with other local services like the Arts Law Centre or Knowmore.

KCLS assists clients with matters involving tenancy, credit and debt, family law, child protection, employment, criminal injuries compensation, government compensation schemes, consumer law and some criminal matters. Interns can be involved in everything that KCLS does, including writing submissions to government inquiries and lobbying the state government to change its policies. There is scope for interns to choose an area of interest and be more involved in that area. KCLS placements can be counted towards Practical Legal Training and Tom Allen (the principal solicitor) works hard to ensure that interns gain as much experience and as many skills as possible.

KCLS does a fortnightly three-day outreach trip to Warmun and Halls Creek, which I was fortunate enough to attend. This trip demonstrates a different way of practicing law, for example taking instructions in the op shop or on a client’s driveway, and appearing in less formal Magistrate’s court. In the dry season, KCLS goes on extended desert trips to remote communities like Balgo, Bililuna and Mulan. 

KCLS focuses on making its services accessible to people who would otherwise have difficulties accessing legal help due to location or capacity. This means you are out and about looking for clients, taking people places and making sure that they are able to participate in and understand legal processes that can have a huge impact on their lives. This can be very rewarding but also frustrating work, because progress is often slow. Patience and willingness to learn about and understand the underlying issues faced by Aboriginal people in the East Kimberley are important attributes for this kind of work. Half of KCLS’ sixteen staff members are Indigenous women from the Kimberley whose value to KCLS is crucial. These staff members do an invaluable job interpreting cultural mores, assisting the lawyers to find and help clients and ensuring that KCLS remains culturally appropriate. 

Kununurra is a small rural town of 4,500 people. Most things in town are walking distance and definitely biking distance if you can get your hands on a bike. There’s a large Coles stocked with any food item you could want, though fruits and veggies are a bit more expensive and a bit less available out of season than they are in bigger cities. There are a number of cafes and restaurants around town, such as the Pumphouse where you can get a fancy feed and catch one of the Kimberley’s famous sunsets over Lake Kununurra. 

Visiting Kununurra in the wet season has positives and negatives, in that some activities such as the Picture Gardens (outdoor cinema) and El Questro (nature park) are not open, but there are lots of beautiful natural water holes and waterfalls flowing with the rains (just be careful not to get bogged). KCLS only goes on extended outreach trips further afield during the dry season because the roads get flooded in the wet. The weather is very hot and humid in the wet season, but there are beautiful lightning storms every few days and every building has air conditioning. 

I would highly recommend interning with KCLS. I learned so much about working in a community legal centre and the areas of law that KCLS deals with, such as tenancy and criminal injuries compensation. KCLS is a holistic organisation and is sensitive to the various problems that cause, are caused by and surround legal issues. This means that not all of KCLS’ work is strictly ‘legal’ work, and you might find yourself doing some social work such as helping clients to navigate Centrelink and Department of Housing bureaucracy, chasing clients up when they fall out of contact and driving clients from place to place. I really enjoyed this aspect of KCLS’ work and found it much more interesting and fulfilling than places I have worked previously where there is no client contact.

KCLS staff members are good at their jobs and advocate passionately for the rights of people in the Kimberley. KCLS has been heavily involved in ensuring that the WA government compensation schemes of ‘Redress WA’ and ‘Stolen Wages’ have been accessed by as many eligible people as possible, as well as facilitating protest applications for those unfairly excluded. KCLS has also been agitating for a review and re-opening of the schemes for those who missed out and making submissions to the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse to ensure that the same mistakes are not repeated. Hearing clients tell their stories about being forced to work as stockmen, being taken away from their families and being abused as children is confronting and humbling. Studying these things at university or watching documentaries is no substitute for talking with clients about their experiences and trying to help them gain some recognition. Judy Harrison and Liz O’Brien’s commitment to pursuing this cause and practicing law with a human rights framework is inspiring and I am grateful to them for involving me in this process.

My Aurora internship has been an excellent experience and I would recommend it to all law students. Further details can be found at the website: www.auroraproject.com.au.  Applications for the winter 2015 round of internships are currently open through 27th March 2015 on-line via their website at http://www.auroraproject.com.au/about_applying_internship.