Andrew Whalley

Native Title
Winter 2014

The Aurora Internship Program connects students and recent graduates in anthropology, law, or the social sciences more generally with various bodies that work in the field of native title as well as other organisations that deal generally with Indigenous affairs. While it is stressed by Aurora that interns are placed first and foremost in order to assist with whatever duties are required by their host organisation, I personally found that the work combined with the environment was very helpful in imparting skills and experience that cannot be acquired in the classroom.

My placement as an anthropology intern was at the South West Aboriginal Land and Sea Council (SWALSC) in Perth for an internship of 5 weeks. Throughout this period I worked in the research department alongside their anthropologists and research officers in an open setting where there was generally open communication. As an outsider I thought this worked quite well as it appeared to help bring together all the researchers as a team as well as provide a lot of insight for myself as to how the researchers go about their work. I feel that as an intern the immersion in the working environment was easily as valuable a learning experience as the work itself.

My first task at SWALSC was to become acquainted with the background of the claims that were being worked on. Soon after this had been done I was to look to more contemporary issues which at this stage was to look into amendments that the WA state government intends to make concerning the Aboriginal Heritage Act (AHA). Throughout my time at SWALSC I spent much time looking into the background of the West Australian AHA and equivalent acts across the country, critically assessing the government's intended amendments, writing up a plain English guide that outlines these changes, and commenting on a draft public submission that is to be made on behalf of SWALSC concerning these changes. Other tasks undertaken include the proof reading of anthropologist reports, a trip to the Department of Aboriginal Affairs to digitally capture a document of interest to SWALSC as well as the formatting of this document, and data entry from primary sources into SWALSC's genealogy database. I should add that whilst data entry can be a slow and tedious process, in this case it gave much insight into the problematic and conflicting nature of primary sources, as well as an appreciation for the vast amounts of information involved in native title claims.

The experience of my internship at SWALSC was very positive. As well as the valuable learning gained on the job, I felt very welcomed by the research team, and the staff at SWALSC in general. It was great to see that whilst there are aspects of working in native title that can be difficult, there was also a great sense of purpose that I could see with the people who worked there. There were also times when working in this team could be a lot of fun. I would certainly recommend undertaking an Aurora internship to anyone interested in working in native title specifically, or in a research team more generally. I should add that the Aurora Placements team were very helpful and supportive throughout the whole process.