In 2005 an extensive report into the professional development needs of lawyers working with native title representative bodies (NTRBs) identified that lawyers representing Indigenous peoples in this vital area were under-resourced, underfunded, had limited access to professional development or career progression opportunities, and that recruitment into the field of native title was difficult. Recruitment was especially affected by the fact that many graduate lawyers were not aware of the potential for gaining employment in the field. These conclusions had obvious consequences for native title claimants. The lack of well-trained and properly resourced lawyers had clear negative implications for the native title system’s capacity to recognise native title formally and to achieve any social justice outcomes for Indigenous peoples.
The Aurora Project was created to respond to the report findings. One of its earliest initiatives, and one which remains at the heart of its drive to address recruitment and retention of staff working at NTRBs, was to organise internships for law students with NTRBs and other Indigenous policy organizations. These internships serve many important purposes that benefit the community. Interns provide valuable assistance to overworked and under-resourced NTRBs and the internship scheme promotes awareness of careers in native title and related areas amongst law students, to ensure graduates consider careers in this important arena.
The students who undertake internships have the opportunity to develop important contacts, expertise and skills which make them more likely to progress to work in native title or other social justice fields. It is also an exciting opportunity to work with passionate people in a new location, whether Perth, the Goldfields of WA, Darwin or Cairns.
However, while Aurora Project internships provide students with a wonderful opportunity, they come at a cost which is prohibitive for some. Internships are usually completed full time, and often in a location far distant from Adelaide. Taking the time off from work here at home to fund travel to and accommodation in Kalgoorlie isn’t something that everyone can afford to do. In recognition of the importance of the Aurora Project internship scheme, and the difficulties some students have in accessing it, the Law Foundation of SA has generously provided funding to support scholarships to assist students to complete Aurora Project internships. Since 2012 more than 20 Adelaide Law School students have been awarded scholarships funded by the Law Foundation. For many of these students, this funding is a vital contribution which makes a real difference in facilitating them to participate in this wonderful learning and social justice initiative.
We are delighted to announce that the Law Foundation will continue to fund the scholarship scheme in 2017/2018. It recently awarded Anne Hewitt from Adelaide Law School and Brendan Grigg from Flinders Law $4400 to support students from both schools to access Aurora Project internships. This is a fantastic result, and helps ensure that opportunities to learn in a social justice environment continue to be broadly accessible.