Trilby Donald

Aboriginal Legal Services
Summer 2019


I started interning as part of the Aurora Internship Program in Care & Protection at the ALS in Parramatta slightly unprepared (my working knowledge of the Care Act needed some serious revision) but keen to learn a lot and hopefully contribute to the team. I had never specifically considered care or family law as an option for me, and unfortunately missed out on those electives at uni. However, nearly all of my working background outside of law was with and about children and families so it makes sense that I enjoyed it so much, and mostly got so much back. The unreliability of government funding to Aboriginal organisations and community legal centres generally, in contrast to the well-documented “need” for such organisations for marginalised groups was also something that has eternally frustrated me (as a policy & community development major and nerd). And so I was stoked to be part of the ALS team for a little while.

I worked full-time for the 6 weeks which although required some financial planning (and a more permanent switch to instant coffee), I think was a key reason I got so much out of the experience. I was able to pick up any task that was offered because I could work with the timeframes which I know previous interns who can only do a day or two found a bit trickier. I got a great mix of tasks:

I worked on chronologies for matters based on reviewing materials produced under subpoena or in documents produced by the Department relevant to a child assumed into state care.
I attended Federal Circuit Courts in the City and in Parramatta and reviewed subpoena materials in the closed room, creating a review document with information I thought would be relevant to our case and written submissions.
I drafted letters to the Department of Family & Community Services requesting amendments to Care Plans which were deficient in cultural planning and/or proposed contact arrangements.
I drafted handover notes when we had agents appearing for our solicitors in matters, which requires a full matter synopsis and most of the time even some instructions.
I drafted (and delivered) briefs to Counsel to appear, including matter summaries, and preparing relevant documents (including deciding which ones are relevant).
I also completed some work for the ALS Family law solicitor who works in that office.

I drafted submissions in contested family law hearings over custody and parenting orders, including creating arguments for our preferred orders based on Aboriginal Cultural Planning and permanency planning principles, and going over subpoenad evidence to argue why the orders sought reflected the considerations in the Act.

I attended court with solicitors for both Care and Family matters, usually for contested hearings of matters I had worked on.
There were also some small administrative tasks like tabbing bundles or creating indexes but I actually really enjoyed this as you get to read and understand the progression of a file and see the final documents submitted to the Court, our Barristers or the other side.

The office environment was incredibly positive and hard-working but also fun. The solicitors constantly have carriage over several matters each (and then some!) and there is always interesting work to do. I always felt like I could ask questions or seek previous examples of specific tasks or submissions and felt very much part of the team. The days went by so quickly and I loved coming to work everyday. I sublet a room close to work as I was between places and enjoyed the food scene and particularly the markets in Parramatta every Friday.

I thank the Aurora Project for the opportunity to work in the ALS Care team. The huge array of very different Aboriginal-owned-and-driven community organisations you partner with reflects the breadth of both the needs and opportunities in this sector. I have not had that level of responsibility in any other legal setting, and the skills and knowledge the ALS team taught and expected me to apply to my work has set me up for the rest of my career.

To the ALS, thank you for welcoming me into the team, for giving the perfect balance of thrown-in-the-deep-end/try-and-work-it-out-yourself-first and taking the time to explain things, and making final copies available for feedback. Thanks for the running and unparalleled helpful commentary in court, explaining nuances no textbook or procedure lecturer could have taught me, and thanks for throwing into positive chaos what I thought I wanted to do with my career. I will be watching the ALS jobs page with an eagle eye.