What happens when you take a legal internship in one of Australia’s most remote communities?
The Kimberley region of Western Australia (WA) is sometimes described as Australia’s last frontier.
It’s a vast and remote swathe of land – with stretching deserts, spectacular scenery and extreme weather – that’s book-ended by Broome in the west and Kununurra in the east.
Late last year, as part of his studies, Deakin law/commerce student Sebastian Cross spent five weeks completing a legal internship with a community legal centre in Kununurra.
It was in this sparsely-populated, often-harsh environment that he found inspiration for a possible future career with Australia’s Indigenous communities.
With three years’ experience in Melbourne-based programs mentoring Indigenous teenagers, Sebastian saw the WA internship as a way of building on his knowledge through a more legal context.
‘I learnt so much about working with Indigenous people, the tensions that arise from the intersection of Indigenous Australia and White Australia and what future challenges may arise,’ he reflects.
Working closely with the centre’s solicitors, Sebastian helped provide legal services to local clients – most of whom are Indigenous and from highly-disadvantaged backgrounds.
‘Alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence and low literacy levels are some of the key challenges facing the community,’ he explains.
While most of the work involved conducting interviews and meetings, preparing letters of advice, undertaking research, and liaising with government bodies to help the clients navigate through the legal system, he says the biggest challenge was the issues behind each case.
‘Clients often come to the centre in moments of crisis with the need to take out restraining orders or find emergency housing when they (or their children) are at risk of harm. These circumstances were always challenging, but also incredibly worthwhile when the team could band together to arrive at a successful outcome for the client.’
Yet despite the challenges, Sebastian reflects on the internship as a rich and formative experience.
‘It was eye-opening to learn about how regional towns in Australia operate and, often, how sheltered we can be from their issues when living in metropolitan areas like Melbourne … I was also fortunate enough to spend one week on an outreach trip to three remote communities along the Tanami Track. Developing an understanding of how these remote communities live and intersect with the rest of society was really valuable.’
Sebastian’s WA internship builds on his other off-campus Deakin learning which includes a 2016 summer school program at The London School of Economics, a 2019 consulting internship in South Korea, and an upcoming Trimester 2 exchange program in Spain.
‘Each program is vastly differently and it’s great to make the most of the breadth of opportunities available. Studying in London was entirely theoretical, where we learnt from a brilliant seminal academic in the field, while the other programs have allowed me to further refine my practical skills beyond what you can pick up in a classroom,’ he says.
In tandem with his studies (which will be completed in 2019), Sebastian holds a four-day a week role with a large commercial law firm in Melbourne where he supervises and coordinates the firm’s paralegal team.
‘During my third year, I started studying via Deakin’s Cloud Campus and re-organised my course structure to fit around my job. Deakin's flexibility was brilliant and it allowed me to gain first-hand, practical industry experience while still completing my degree,’ he says.
While Sebastian’s immediate goal is focused on graduating and commencing training as a corporate lawyer, he’s also looking forward to future work in Australia’s remote Indigenous communities.
‘There is some great work being done by a range of people and organisations, but there is a lot of progress still to be made. The more educated people are about the issues and the more light that is shone on them, the better off society will be,’ he says.
‘Long term, I would love the opportunity to move in to the Indigenous Business Development space – I think there are huge range of opportunities to expand capabilities and capacity of Indigenous businesses. This internship was the perfect way for me to explore these possibilities.’
Similar to Sebastian, if you are a current Deakin Law student seeking practical experience plus a credit towards your degree, consider applying for our law programs in Trimester 2 2019. Apply now.