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My Native Title Internship with The Aurora Project

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For five weeks over my Christmas holidays in 2012, I undertook an Aurora Project internship at the North Queensland Land Council (NQLC) - the Native Title Representative Body (NTRB) in Cairns. This was undoubtedly the best legal experience I have had since commencing my degree.

The Aurora Native Title Internship Program aims to place legal and some social science students and recent graduates in NTRB’s and other organisations working in Indigenous affairs, to increase awareness in this often overlooked and under-resourced field. In doing this, interns are offered a practical and extremely valuable experience.

A common misconception is that by working in native title, you will be exposed only to Indigenous land law. This could not be further from the truth. Throughout my internship at the NQLC I encountered a wide variety of areas of the law including: land, mining and resources, company, taxation and environmental law.

As an intern, my duties varied from making summaries of Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUA’s) to be presented at Community Meetings one day, to finding out how to establish a gift fund under the Income Tax Assessment Act the next. I also learnt many other things, such as how to fill in Aboriginal Corporation Rules and how to transfer Aboriginal land from a trust to a RNTBC under the recent amendments to the Aboriginal Land Act.

I found that to make the most of an internship, you have to approach every task with a positive attitude and endeavor to learn as much as possible. For example, one of the jobs I was given was referencing submissions using connection reports (reports written by anthropologists). Some may have considered this a slightly dry task, yet in my opinion it was highly beneficial. I now have a good understanding of how anthropological material is applied by the law, and also how to structure submissions to the court. If anything, my referencing definitely improved!

Another particularly interesting task I was given was going through affidavits and connection reports, to find evidence that would satisfy the ‘connection with the land’ requirements to prove a Native Title Claim.

Working in native title means that you are always in and out of the office. During my time at the NQLC, I went to numerous claimant meetings in the Tablelands, attended a teleconference at the NNTT, attended six-monthly call over meetings in the Federal Court, and went to a Native Title Consent Determination in Atherton. The Consent Determination was the highlight of my time at the NQLC. To see the claimant’s land rights finally recognised by the law, 13 years after the claim was initially lodged, was particularly moving.

One of the best aspects of native title is the people you work with. I had the opportunity to meet lawyers from all over Queensland, Traditional Owners, court staff, and anthropologists. These people were all incredibly passionate about their work, and always took the time out of their busy schedules to talk to the new intern about their experiences.

I would most definitely consider a career in native title now that I have undertaken this internship. I believe native title provides many opportunities that are not available in other fields of law, and the work is most certainly rewarding.

This internship provided me with so many opportunities to learn things that cannot be taught within the confines of a law school, and for this reason I encourage students to apply for an Aurora internship.

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