Alexis Schlegel

Native Title
Winter 2017


The Aurora internship looked like a great opportunity for practical field experience in native title, and a foot in the door in native title work. So I made an application for the mid-year break of my anthropology masters. It was exciting to be offered a five week placement at Goldfield Land and Sea Council (GLSC) in Kalgoorlie, for the journey ahead, and also the opportunity to explore more of the country. Kalgoorlie, being nestled in the heart of outback Western Australia, seemed a great location in being right in the heart of the issues themselves. There are also a lot of claims still to be run in Western Australia, and so, provides good native title exposure. If an intern is placed in a remote native title location there is  the possibility of receiving a scholarship. I was extremely fortunate to receive the Lisa-Wright Scholarship, which covered transport to and from the location, accommodation as well as a stipend to assist with daily living expenses whilst on placement.


The GLSC was vibrant, and the staff friendly. I was shown around town including some community work that the council was involved in locally. In the bushland on the periphery I got to appreciate the good eye that Aboriginal people have in the bush, where I learnt how to find bush banana (Karkula) and heard wonderful stories about Aboriginal tracking. In the office, I did further cataloguing of heritage reports in a vast library, and in so doing, deepened my knowledge considerably on the native title process, and the Aboriginal culture, archaeology and geography of Western Australia. Additionally, I did a research project on Norman Tindale’s (1974) Aboriginal Tribes of Australia, to compare certain tribes according to what he wrote about them. A more recent critique by Kingsley Palmer provided additional depth and appreciation of the scope and limits of Tindale’s work. Early ethnographies, are important, where available, for many aspects of the investigation, including research about claim areas, genealogies, social change and so forth. However Aboriginal people themselves are probably the best knowledge holders.


On placement, I was brought along on a four day trip to a meeting in the desert with Aboriginal people. This was part of the preliminaries of a claim, for determining the connections to land of a claim group. Some of the deeper issues in native title surfaced, such as, how rights vary between people with different degrees or types of connection to land, such as those particularly affected by migration, or by marriage, levels of initiation, or cultural training in general. Being affiliated, with the land council, but also being alongside the consultancy anthropologist and lawyer, made this a beautiful sample of the native title claim process, for me, with its politics, and its dynamic relationship between Indigenous people and the state. One issue I wondered about was how Aboriginal people react to the embeddedness of native title within the framework of the White-Australian legal systems with its reverberations of conquest. Interestingly, they appeared somewhat accepting of the legal realities of the native title process. The meeting was deeply educational. What you read in the literature or learn in a course about native title steps out of the pages in a meeting like this, coming to life in the interactions between the two groups, black and white, on the very soil that has cradled the Indigenous world. As such, you experience it first-hand and come away with a much deeper understanding.


This parched land of scrubby vegetation and red soil had a harshness that gave one an appreciation of the hardiness of the people who lived there before, and the embeddedness of knowledge about the land, in their cultural knowledge, for instance the location of water holes. Skies were a terrific blue, and starry night skies brilliant. Many camp fires were going continuously, day and night, and we often were around them, with a hot drink. We all slept in swags, the Aboriginal people on the ground and us “white-fellas” on stretcher beds. The local Land Management Rangers did the much of the logistics involved in a 30 person 3 night camping expedition. I called this glamping although my supervisor strongly disagreed. There were barbecues, a generator, and we had an oven of meat pies, and several toasters. A few of us tried our luck at finding water in a nearby creek line, and in a soak. Later, on the way back, passing through primordial landscape, we were pointed out to a kurrajong, one of the water trees with water in the roots. We saw a herd of wild camels. They ran off when approached.


The internship was a very rewarding, and the knowledge gotten from it was similar to from a uni course with a practical component, but very real. It gives you a chance to experience work as a native title anthropologist first-hand, and perhaps, experience native title as something living and deeply engaging. I strongly encourage anyone who is interested to apply for an upcoming round.

For more information about the Aurora Internship Program, check out their website:  Applications for the winter 2018 round will be open in March