Five weeks in The Kimberley: My Native Title Internship with the Aurora Project
Fluorescent green foliage, rusty red soil, blackened tree trunks, massive burnt orange rock cliffs, waterfalls, natural pools, gorges, long roads and kangaroos – life in the Kimberley was something I had always wanted to experience.
When I stumbled upon the Aurora Project, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to gain some practical legal experience, reinvigorate my interest in a legal career and explore ‘alternative’ career options. It also had the added bonus of the opportunity to learn about life in remote Australia, and I can confidently say that applying was one of the best decisions I have made at law school.
The Aurora Native Title Internship Program places legal, anthropology and social science students in organisations working in Native Title and Indigenous Affairs around Australia. The benefits of the program are two-fold: students and recent graduates get the chance to experience practical legal matters and have the opportunity to apply and develop their legal skills, and organisations which are often under-resourced and under-funded gain an extra pair of eager hands. Some interns have even been offered subsequent employment or further opportunities to remain involved with the organisation after their internship has been completed.
My internship took place over five weeks in January and February, at the Yawoorroong Miriuwung Gajerrong Yirrgeb Noong Dawang Aboriginal Corporation (MG Corp) in Kununurra, WA. Surrounding Kununurra is a large area of land that the native Miriuwung Gajerrong people had recognised as Native Title land in 2006. One of MG Corp’s activities is representing MG people in matters relating to that area of land. But it is not a Native Title Representative Body so when I first arrived I wasn’t sure what kind of work I would be doing. I knew that MG Corp’s mission is to administer the benefits of the Ord Final Agreement and to improve the economic, social and cultural position of the MG Community, with a long-term goal of self-sufficiency… but I didn’t really know what that meant.
My work was incredibly varied. Sometimes ‘going to work’ meant sitting at a computer all day, researching various elements of native title or mining law, and sometimes it meant sitting out in the park and talking to the locals to identify which dawang (family group) belonged to which area of land. I spent a lot of time seeking out Traditional Owners to discuss Future Act applications and potential Indigenous Land Use Agreements (ILUAs), which often meant four wheel driving out to various Community Living Areas. I definitely learnt to have a more fluid concept of time and deadlines – because of the transient nature of the local population, it could take several hours to find the person you need to speak with, or they might have just left Kununurra for a few weeks on a whim.
The organisation has a strong emphasis on self-determination and empowerment, necessitating a strong element of community involvement, so I was able to meet a wide variety of people during my stay. In saying that, the hardest part was walking around Kununurra and witnessing first-hand many of the issues faced everyday by Indigenous people. I was so lucky to be privy to so many stories about country, about families and pasts, and about the future. It definitely opened my eyes to what life can be like for Australians not living in a city.
One of my favourite experiences was taking minutes for negotiations between a local business owner and a well-known mining company operating in the area. It was an eye-opening experience and definitely highlighted to me many of the issues and discrimination that Indigenous people face, as well as the conflicts that arise between parties wanting to use the same land for different purposes. I also sat in on various board and staff meetings, which helped me understand the overall focus and happenings of the organisation.
I should also mention that the first time I applied to Aurora, I didn’t get through to the interview round. Helpfully, the organisation highlighted that experience working within the community was looked on very favourably. I spent the next six months building up my resume, and despite the summer round receiving approximately 100 more applicants than the winter round, I was offered an internship.
I would definitely recommend this experience to any law student who wants to gain some experience outside of law school and the corporate sphere. You might discover you really enjoy working in a particular area, or conversely it may help you to identify areas you don’t want to work in. It’s a fantastic opportunity and you don’t have to leave your home city to do it either.
Remember, if at first you don’t succeed, try again! In my case, it was completely worth it.
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