Spotlight on our Alumni

Charlotte Deans

Class of 2006


What is your current position and what led you to this role?

I’m a lawyer at the Northern Land Council (NLC) in Darwin. The NLC represents the rights and interests of Aboriginal people from Tennant Creek to the northern tip of the NT. A day in the life of an average NLC lawyer could include anything from instructing Senior Counsel in land rights litigation to negotiating the terms of an agreement with a safari hunter to take wild buffalo or crocodile eggs from Aboriginal land. (Fun fact: Our crocodile eggs become Hermès handbags. Finest skins around!)


While the NLC’s practice is diverse, mine is relatively specialised. I deal with mining, petroleum and infrastructure projects on Aboriginal land. Where my clients instruct me to refuse consent or object to a particular development, it’s my job to use the legal mechanisms available to ensure their land, sacred sites and rights are protected. Where my clients want a project to proceed, I help to negotiate the best terms possible. Where there is disagreement between my clients about a project, I need to help mediate a resolution.  


My work takes me all over the NT in troopies, teeny-tiny planes and precarious looking choppers to remote Aboriginal communities, outstations and pastoral properties. (Another fun fact: Alexandria Pastoral Station is larger than East Timor).


I came to the role seeking adventure. I had always wanted to work out bush (thanks for the inspo Dolly Parton) and practice environmental law. At 21, I wasn’t quite up for donning a pinstripe suit so did a rudimentary Google search for remote jobs. I landed the job at the NLC by phone on a Thursday and touched down in Darwin for the first time four days later. My Dad said I wouldn’t last six months. That was more than five years ago!


What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishments (personally or professionally)?

I’ve worked on some great projects, however one of my best experiences was stepping outside the mining bubble and working on the landmark case of Rrumburriya Borroloola Group v Northern Territory. The traditional owners of Borroloola, a rural outstation near the border of Queensland, had been fighting for land rights for more than 20 years by the time the case was listed for hearing before the Federal Court and I came on the scene as an instructing solicitor. The matter revolved around whether my clients had the right to take and use the resources on their land ‘for any purpose’, including trade and commerce. It may seem logical that a person should be able to use the things that grow on their land for business, but the right had not been successfully established in native title law in the NT before this case.


Evidence collection was fairly grueling. My clients (many of whom were elderly) and I spent several weeks in 40+ degree heat in Borroloola over the Wet Season walking all through the claim area documenting bush tucker, bush medicines, ceremony grounds, hunting grounds and fishing spots to prove the obvious: that they had always used and continue to use the resources on their land. Thankfully Justice Mansfield agreed and ruled in their favour in 2016. Beautiful artwork by many of my clients depicting Borroloola region and their resources can be purchased through the community’s grass-roots art centre here:


In what ways has your experience at MGC had an impact on your career and who you are today?

MGC encourages strong, smart women that value social justice and recognise the importance of other cultures, not unlike famed Yorta Yorta and Wurundjeri woman Hyllus Maris, the namesake of Maris House. I like to think some of that ethos has rubbed off on me (notwithstanding I was actually a Chisholm gal).


What was your most memorable moment as a MGC student?

There are too many to count. Flying in a Cessna for the first time as an Air Cadet was a fabulous experience that prepared me for the go-cart-with-wings that I now frequently enjoy in the NT. Survival camp was also excellent and cemented my love for camping. However, my most memorable moment would have to be getting absolutely admonished by my coordinator for deflating teachers’ tires when I was 14 in an act of petty rebellion. I’m not sure whose tires I deflated or why, but I’m still sorry.

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