How my Aurora Project internship deepened my understanding of native title

The Aurora Project
Brigid Horneman-Wren (right) credits her four-week internship with the Aurora Project for reaffirming her passion for working for Australia’s First Nations people.

I would absolutely recommend an Aurora Project internship to anyone interested in working in the social justice or Indigenous sectors.

By Brigid Horneman-Wren Bachelor of Arts/Laws (Hons)

Over the June-July break before my final semester at The Australian National University (ANU), I was fortunate to swap the Canberra winter for the Kimberley dry season. I arrived in Broome on a scorching hot Sunday – “mild”, to locals – excited and nervous to start my Aurora Project internship the next morning.

Flying in, I knew that I was about to be faced with a whole world of new experiences. I’d spent the flight torn between trying to read up on a legal sector I knew little about and staring at the completely unfamiliar desert landscape out the window.

I was placed with the Kimberley Land Council (KLC), which is the native title representative body for the Kimberley and one of the most successful organisations of its kind in Australia. It has grown from a pre-Mabo grassroots movement to be the Kimberley’s peak Indigenous body and one of its largest employers. It works with about 25 native title groups, and has a tangible feeling of being very proudly Aboriginal-managed. Its mission commits it to “getting back country, looking after country and getting control of the future”.

From day one, my internship showed me the diversity of work in the native title sector. I was placed in KLC’s Future Acts team. Future Acts are proposals to deal with land in a way that affects native title rights and interests; for example, granting a mining tenement.

While numerous courses in my degree had mentioned how hard it is for Traditional Owners to get their native title recognised – native title determinations often take decades – I’d never before had to consider what happens once that determination is handed down.

Working in the Future Acts team showed me how much more there is to native title than the passing mentions it had received in class, and I felt very privileged to be working for Traditional Owners managing their land.

My tasks throughout my internship were challenging and diverse, ranging from collecting affidavits from Traditional Owners to assisting with the preliminary research for a High Court appeal. I was also tasked with more “traditional” intern jobs: preparing case notes, redrafting contract templates and consolidating old files. Through attending board meetings, drafting pleadings and reading contracts, I saw corporate, evidence, litigation and contract law in action.

My internship also gave me a deeper understanding of how sometimes the law can simply be inadequate. For example, while there are various legislative protections on areas of heritage, these often don’t go far enough to protect native title land.

I found it very rewarding to see lawyers negotiating with the government and other parties to incorporate better and stronger protections, showing me every day that just because something was “legal”, it didn’t mean it was “just”. I am incredibly grateful for the conversations I had around and outside the office, and to everyone at KLC for having the time to educate a girl from Canberra.

The final thing that made my internship such an amazing experience was the chance to explore some of Australia’s most spectacular landscapes. KLC made sure that each of its interns got a chance to travel on country and truly experience the breadth of the organisation’s work and the beauty of the Kimberley. More than that, the staff were incredibly social, welcoming and generous with their time; on weekends, I was driven to a huge Aboriginal festival, to camp near croc-infested waters, and to hidden local gems. Not only was the country stunning, but it helped me to see the place of KLC’s work in the region.  

My four weeks at KLC provided me with more than I could have imagined, reaffirming my passion for working for Australia’s First Nations people and showing me how I might pursue a career in the sector. After five years of university, and 18 of being a full-time student, it’s surreal to be facing “real” adult decisions. Talking to my supervisors about their extremely varied career paths and reflecting on what I want to use my law degree cast some light on where the next few years might take me. 

I would absolutely recommend an Aurora Project internship to anyone interested in working in the social justice or Indigenous sectors, or who just wants to get some hands-on experience while travelling Australia. ANU has a proud history of having the most students of any university undertaking Aurora Project placements each year, and it is one I have no doubt will continue.

Ready to experience the Aurora Project Internship for yourself? Apply here.

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Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team