I was fortunate enough to be a recipient of The Aurora Project Internship for the Summer 2018/19 round, and to be placed with the Criminal Team at North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) in Katherine.
I left my regular employment as a Paralegal at a commercial firm for the regional town of Katherine NT, which would be my home for 5 weeks. I would soon learn that everything is bigger and more exacerbated in the NT. Temperatures are higher, rivers wider, and personalities are larger than life! Of course, the social issues are greater too, disproportionately affecting our clients at a level which at times I found confronting. No single day was the same. Some days I was in the office working on research tasks involving the applicability of joint criminal enterprise provisions. Other days I was whisked up in the court room chaos, assisting the Solicitors, and meeting clients. With three bush courts to attend, I was fortunate to see some of the most remote Aboriginal communities in Australia, including Kalkarindji, home to the historical Wave Hill walk-off (think Paul Kelly, ‘from little things, big things grow’). There are many reasons why my internship has formed life-long memories, but I couldn’t possibly share them all with you.
Instead, below are my top 3 reasons for interning with The Aurora Project:
1. Not really sold by those top-tier commercial firm internships?
Nearing the end of my time at the ANU College of Law I had become increasingly anxious about my lack of practical experience in my desired legal profession, criminal justice. I became highly susceptible to the heavily marketed top-tier commercial firm opportunities, and started to lose hope in the employability around my real passions in law. That’s where Aurora stepped in. The Aurora Project Internship allows you to gain valuable practical experience in the legal areas of native title, land councils, criminal and civil law while also contributing your hours to a heavily under resourced Indigenous sector. After a quick google search during the application stage, I found that the Aurora Internship is one of very few Internships being offered in these areas which you can undertake as an undergraduate. Rather than only accruing experience and insight during Practical Legal Training (PLT).
2. Working in Aboriginal Communities is a valuable experience
Yes, working in the 46 degree Yarralin heat is a somewhat undesirable office, but I wouldn’t change it. Despite the sometimes-harsh environment, working in Aboriginal remote communities jumpstarted my professional and advocacy skills. There is no greater way to really reflect on whether your client understands your advice than when speaking with a Yarralin local who speaks English as a second or third language, and Ngarinyman as a first language. Conveying seemingly simple concepts such as what "guilty" and "not guilty" mean, or the role of the Judge and Court, suddenly become difficult. Making you work harder to use clear language, to build emotional intelligence, and to robustly develop cultural awareness and communication techniques.
3. Grass-roots perspectives on reform
Being welcomed into the Indigenous sector to work alongside Elders and legal professionals pushing for change was invaluable to spectate. The negativity of certain News Corp Australia cartoons dissipates as the work of communities shines through. Such as Chongy the dual NAAJA Client Officer and foster parent. Or the ex-NAAJA employee who now runs ‘The Hub’, offering lunch and somewhere to feel welcomed for Aboriginal people in Katherine. If you’re like me and thinking about settling down in Canberra, it is likely that you might end up in a Policy position somewhere along your career. Being able to see the power of community based reform is invaluable to any policy related work in a post-intervention era in the Indigenous Sector.
Additionally, I was fortunate to make enduring friendships in the NT, and to be welcomed warmly by the community, receiving thanks and many greetings as I rode my bike home every day. The Aurora Internship also opened possibilities of working in the sector by building networks where opportunities become more visible than the commercial focus of Law School. If this sounds like the internship that fits you the applications for the Winter 2019 round are open until Friday the 29th of March.