In my experience, law firms tend to be loud and animated, with the printer running in the background, telephones ringing, a multitude of people rushing around the office. When I first stepped into 6 Windeyer Chambers, I was struck by its relative quietness. As I tiptoed into Tina Jowett’s chambers, the silence was broken by a cheerful “Hello, you’re here!” Thus began my education as an Aurora intern for the next six weeks, in an area of law that is incredibly complex and rich with historical and cultural detail.
Native title is not something many students get the chance to study in depth at law school. I had read Mabo and a few other cases, but I certainly did not realise the full extent of the evidentiary challenges Aboriginal groups are required to meet before they can have native title recognised. There are also a multitude of other concerns, including disputes between or within claim groups, resulting in further fragmentation of communities. I was privileged to have two patient and incredibly experienced barristers guide me through the formal and informal procedures of native title claims.
The tasks I worked on ranged from analysing and reviewing briefs given to Tina, scouring transcripts of hearings for future submissions, making sense of maps of claim areas, research, drafting correspondence, putting together submissions and advice, and proof reading.
For a few days I was given the task of summarising a number of witness statements given by Aboriginal people about their connection to land. So much was visible within these pages – their anger at the government, their fears of losing culture and country, their sadness about losing parents and children. Some of them wrote about having light skin as children and how they would have to hide from police for fear of being taken away and put in orphanages. Others had been placed on the notorious Palm Island. Despite this hardship and oppression, they somehow found ways to laugh at the disparity between traditional and modern ways of life.
During my internship, I was required to become familiar with the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and engage in in-depth research, sometimes using the wonderful Bar Association Library as a resource. Questions of law never involved Joe Bloggs, rather they would be about specific Aboriginal communities in a certain part of Australia whose lives and cultural practices I had just read about.
I also had some exposure to anthropological reports, and not being from an anthropology background, this was an interesting experience. Tina gave me insight into the history of claim areas or of famous Australian anthropologists, and I learned how to extract and apply winding and complicated anthropological reports to incisive legal arguments.
I learned about different native title services and their various approaches to claims, and Tina encouraged me to think about the efficacy of these approaches. The question always was, she emphasised, whether these approaches were helping Aboriginal people.
I learned a lot under Tina and Vance, including how to improve my writing, to pay meticulous attention to detail, and to bring together information from different perspectives and areas of study to make a coherent legal argument. They also taught me much about life at the Bar, such as how to interact with instructing solicitors, formulate an outline for advice, and put together submissions. Above all they showed me that it is more than possible to work in an area that you care about.
I would highly recommend an Aurora internship working for Tina and Vance to anyone, but particularly to those who are interested in becoming a barrister, in working in native title, or in social justice more generally. Further details may be obtained at http://auroraproject.com.au/what-aurora-internship.