The Aurora Internship Program is a national program for law, anthropology and some social science students and graduates who wish to gain experience working in organisations that support the Indigenous sector. Aurora places interns in the areas of native title, land rights, community law, policy development, advocacy and research in both local and remote areas.
I was privileged to be placed with Kimberley Community Legal Services (KCLS). KCLS is a nationally accredited Community Legal Centre which provides generalist civil legal advice, casework and representation in the areas of family tenancy, credit and debt, estates, family violence, care and protection, welfare rights and community legal education. KCLS works alongside Legal Aid WA, Aboriginal Legal Service and the Aboriginal Family Law Service to provide legal assistance throughout the Kimberley. Throughout my time in the Kimberley, I was fortunate to experience the work KCLS does in advocacy, advice and communicating legal information. My time at KCLS was fascinating, challenging and inspiring.
Aurora interns are given opportunities to be involved in all of the work KCLS does. During my time there, I assisted in drafting submissions for criminal injuries compensation, letters of advice to clients and affidavits I also visited clients' homes, attended court, researched and interviewed clients on outreach. All of the KCLS solicitors and in particular, Thomas Allen (Principal Solicitor) are committed to ensuring that interns have exposure to a variety of work and experience in areas of law that interest them.
My first week of my internship was spent traversing the Gibb River Road, something Google assured me was one of the last serious adventures in Australia. With Tom and Ruth, KCLS Senior Indigenous worker, I visited communities in the Kimberley that are inaccessible by road for over four months of the year. These remote communities face unique problems including access to basic services and adequate housing conditions. This was my first exposure to levels of disadvantage in Australia that I rationally knew existed but had never completely understood before. KCLS staff demonstrated the importance of effective, sensitive and culturally appropriate communication skills when working with Indigenous clients who have often face systemic disadvantage. I also saw how crucial KCLS’ Indigenous staff are in assisting lawyers to relay and explain information appropriately.
KCLS does a fortnightly trip to Warmun and Halls Creek, remote communities in the East Kimberley. In both communities, KCLS run regular drop-in services and provide legal advice as well as ongoing casework. I helped to locate clients which required flexibility and patience on behalf of those working in the area. Innovative solutions such as giving advice wherever we found the client, be that at their house, a family member’s house or at the local park as well as spreading the word of our presence in the community, demonstrated how KCLS have adapted legal practice to suit the needs of their clients.
One area I found fascinating was the role KCLS play in liaising between government departments and our clients. This could include issues within tenancy, welfare and care and protection and often required patience and sensitivity to a history that is fraught with abuse and conflict. To see how KCLS lawyers navigated these issues, explained processes to clients and advocated to other parties was an amazing professional development opportunity in advocacy.
Kununurra is a small town in the Kimberley. In this environment, it may seem as though recreational choices are few and far between. However, I spent my weekends at the picture garden, travelling, climbing local lookouts, going out bush and memorably being driven home in a monstrous 4WD school bus. In doing so, I challenged my own expectations of myself as a city girl and found myself going on adventures in some of the most beautiful and intense landscapes in Australia. I would recommend the winter internship as it is the dry season in Kununurra and much more of the Kimberley is accessible. This means you can see areas that may not be open during the summer and was also why I was able to travel on the Gibb River Road. It also means you can escape a city winter to above 30 degrees most days which is pretty perfect weather for being out and about.
The skills you learn at KCLS cannot be adequately explained in a classroom and would benefit any young lawyer or student. Working within an environment that has been shaped by historical and ongoing disadvantage not only develops you as a lawyer but as someone who wishes to live and work in Australia. Further, KCLS have an approach to interns that recognises their abilities and as such, gives you both exposure to matters and responsibilities. My time there reminded me of the reasons I chose to do law, so I could use my skills and capacity to assist others in recognising and asserting their rights. My experience went above and beyond my expectations.
If you would like to work in an organisation doing important work for vulnerable people and have the opportunity to develop your skills in one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, I would wholly recommend interning with KCLS.
Further details can be found at the website: www.auroraproject.com.au. Applications for the summer 2015/16 round of internships are open through 28 August 2015 on-line via their website at http://www.auroraproject.com.au/about_applying_internship.