Over the summer break I was fortunate enough to be placed as an Aurora intern with the Kimberley Community Legal Services (KCLS) in Broome. I was in fact the first intern that the Broome office had ever had via the Aurora Internship Program, so it was a new experience for both of us.
KCLS provides legal advice in a range of practice areas including wills and estates, contract disputes, violent restraining orders, tenancy matters and criminal injuries compensation. Over the duration of the internship I was exposed to all of these practice areas in some way or another. On my very first day I began taking clients’ initial instructions, I was regaled with long histories of convoluted facts involving different names and dates and places. This was certainly confronting, but I was not deterred – and neither will you be. As the weeks went by I became familiar with names and faces and the family connections within the town. I was able to focus in on particular files and practice areas and complete legal research that had immediate practical benefits for both our clients and other solicitors in the office. Working on one particular matter I was asked to research the procedural elements of a workers’ compensation claim, an area of law I would otherwise never have been exposed to. Carol and Karen are the solicitors in the Broome office and they encouraged me to sit in on client meetings and interviews, accompany them to the courthouse and to build relationships with the clients.
Whilst KCLS does try to provide legal advice on a range of different matters, it mainly assists clients who are public housing tenants. From day one I was asked to contact the Department of Housing and for the following five weeks I worked closely with clients struggling to keep up with things like rent arrears and tenant liability debts or getting maintenance done on their property and applying for priority transfers. I sent emails back and forth; requested tenant liability accounts; posted applications and forms; and spent a lot of time on hold on the phone, and while this kind of work can seem less exciting it is very much part of the job and it is where I felt I contributed most to the office. It was doing some of these less engaging tasks where I actually got the greatest sense of fulfillment in the internship; I could see I was picking up the slack and making life easier for Karen and Carol. Moreover, it was working closely on clients’ files and with the Department that gave me a much deeper understanding of the relationship between Aboriginal people and White Australia. I recognized a deep disconnect between Indigenous Australians and the Government, which has led to feelings of disempowerment and alienation and to some of the broader issues facing Aboriginal people and the Kimberley today.
Even though I was the first intern at the Broome office, everyone from KCLS in both Broome and Kununurra made me feel right at home. The Broome office has a very relaxed and welcoming vibe and the old building makes you feel like a real country lawyer. Every week we had a videoconference with Kununurra, which was a great way to meet the other members of the staff and learn more about the work that the KCLS does outside of just assisting clients. Both Carol and Karen were always quick to give encouragement and were happy to talk to me about a legal issue whenever I needed help. They were eager for me to have a challenging and stimulating experience and gave me a good amount of responsibility and independence. Often I found they would discuss their own matters with me, imparting their wealth of experience and legal knowledge and giving me hints and tips for when I one day practice. By the end of the internship our little office had a great relationship and was running like clockwork!
Every fortnight KCLS run an outreach program to Derby, a much smaller town about two hours north of Broome by car. Derby is even more remote than Broome, which has amplified some of the issues and challenges facing the Indigenous community. Going on outreach was another great opportunity and is something every intern should definitely get involved in. Making home visits to clients is a really unique experience and being able to deliver good news to a client in person was one of the real highlights for me. It is also a great opportunity to see the rugged landscape of the West Kimberley, a dramatic collision of red pindan, the turquoise ocean and the green bush.
Set against the stunning backdrop of the Indian Ocean, Broome is surrounded by water. With its vibrant culture and friendly locals it is easy to see why it is one of Australia’s top tourist destinations. Broome also has a rich and unique history that saw the convergence of Chinese, Japanese, Malaysian and Aboriginal cultures during the pearling industry boom and after the Second World War. With the Saturday markets and lots of bars and restaurants there was usually something on each weekend to occupy my time away from work. I stayed in an apartment not far from town and only a ten-minute bike ride from the office. Broome is a relatively accessible place with the shops and beach all very close, but having access to a car is ideal to go fishing or go on day trips. I was there during the wet season so town is much quieter (which the locals prefer) but during the dry season there is more to do and the weather is more bearable with better access to the gorges and rivers inland.
Looking back on my experience I have realized just how much I learnt in such a short space of time. My experience in Broome has been a truly defining moment in my law degree and as I set out into the real world it has given me strong direction for my career. The Kimberley is a unique and incredible place, where there is so much opportunity to gain a greater understanding of Indigenous culture and affairs and to learn about the law.
For more information about the Aurora Internship Program, go to http://auroraproject.com.au/what-aurora-internship. Applications for the summer 2017/18 round of internships will be open in August (dates TBC).