Alice Leggett

Native Title
Summer 2018

My time at Central Desert Native Title Services


The Aurora Internship Program provides intern support to over 170 Indigenous sector organisations working in the area of native title, land rights, community development, health policy, education, justice and research. Through placing Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous students and graduates in full-time unpaid 4 to 6 week internships, the program provides assistance to under-resourced Host organisations as well as promoting career opportunities through raising awareness of the native title  and broader Indigenous sector.

I was fortunate enough to be successful in applying for an internship in the Anthropology stream, and while I was away in the Kimberley undertaking my first placement, I was offered a second placement back home in Perth at Central Desert Native Title Services. I immediately accepted the offer, as my first placement was such a fantastic experience and I was eager to pursue another. As a bonus, I was told that I would be able to complete the internship part time, as I would be completing the final year of my Master’s degree and a bit of a busy bee! Aurora and Central Desert were so accommodating and flexible, something which I was really appreciative of.

Starting my placement at Central Desert was a smooth and enjoyable experience as everyone was super friendly and welcoming. Not to mention the office was around a 15 minute walk from my permanent home in Perth – a definite plus! It was a bit of an adjustment at first, however, as my previous placement was at a PBC, and Central Desert is a native title service provider. This meant that there were a lot more staff, quite different tasks and responsibilities, and significantly more funding and resources! Essentially Central Desert’s role is to provide services to native title claimants and holders of the Central Desert Region of Western Australia, an area covering around 830,000 square kilometres. They employ anthropologists, lawyers, accountants, auditors, IT experts and more. So there were a lot of people to meet, but the staff and office itself had a very warm vibe and everyone seemed to have great working relationships.

The first week or so at Central Desert involved quite a lot of reading, as I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of previous Anthropological research and the many boundaries, communities and languages encompassed in the area. It was really fascinating stuff, and being given the time to sit back and soak it all in was fantastic. It also meant that when I started completing more challenging tasks I had a decent foundation of knowledge there – though I continued to learn more and more every day. After spending my last placement on-country for a very hands-on internship, experiencing the reality of how native title effects individuals and communities, having the opportunity to gain knowledge surrounding the nitty gritty processes and policies behind it all was incredibly insightful.

I completed three main tasks during my six week placement, the first of which was writing a report that outlined all the key sources for a new research area. Although it started out as a simple task, it ended up being a bit more substantial, and eventually became a report that was sent to a key Anthropologist and stored on the CDNTS database! So to have my name on a report so shortly after starting the internship was a big confidence boost, and it was great to feel as if I was really contributing to something. After my previous internship being so full on and practical, I was concerned that I wouldn’t be able to help out much at Central Desert, and so to complete tasks that were actually quite useful was extremely satisfying.

My second task was to organise a moderate collection of genealogies in Central Desert’s collection, genealogies that had remained a bit disorganised for quite a while (the task obviously wasn’t at the top of the Anthropology team’s priority list!). I had to find a way to make some order and sense out of the hand-written genealogies, often written by numerous authors and dating from around 1953-2000. So it was definitely a challenging task, but being able to have a in-depth look at the genealogies was another great way for me to familiarise myself with the area and the previous research that had been done. Once they were organised, I wrote a short executive summary outlining the ordering system that I had created and how to best navigate the genealogies. All in all it was another very satisfying task, and it enabled me to gain a deeper insight into past research in the central desert and the significance of genealogical information in the native title context.

My final task was to organise a large amount of maps and other imagery that had been sitting in the archival room for a few years (inevitably a lot of dust and sneezing was involved!). I had to identify whether the maps/imagery were on the CDNTS database, and then discard of anything that was no longer relevant. Again, it was a way for me to complete a task that the Anthropology team had little time to do, as well as gaining more information about the region. This meant that nearing the end of my placement I was a lot more familiar with the boundaries of the central desert and the many socio-linguistic groups and communities that belonged there.

Around halfway through completing my final task, in the penultimate week of my internship, I was fortunate enough to be able to travel on-country to attend an authorisation meeting. I was absolutely stoked to be afforded the opportunity and it was very unexpected! The meeting was to be held a few hours north of Kalgoorlie, in the more western region of the Central Desert. The trip went for around four days in total and was an amazing experience, the landscape and country was exquisite and the individuals and families I met with were wonderful. We spent many an hour driving, but they were the most beautiful car trips I have ever taken – I felt so lucky. The authorisation meeting went really well, and being able to observe the proceedings was obviously very useful. I finished the trip feeling very accomplished, grateful and relaxed. Being able to get away from the city for a few days and spend some time listening, learning and taking in new experiences was more than I could have asked for.

By the time my placement was over at Central Desert I felt motivated and excited for the future. I think it really helped me get through the first few months of my Masters degree, as well, as all of the reading and writing helped me to remember how much I love doing research. My two supervisors, Sean and Trinity, were absolutely fantastic and I will certainly miss the office banter. I learnt a lot from them both, as well as everyone else I met along the way, and I am sure that I will reunite with Central Desert in some shape or form in the near future.