Bonnie Einsiede

Social Science
Winter 2011

An alternative winter: Aurora Project Native Title Internship

Winter is my least favourite time of the year. Each winter holidays I spend too much time indoors procrastinating, eating, sleeping and wishing it was summer. This year, however, I decided that winter could be interesting and productive; if I did something different. With this idea in mind (and having enjoyed two Indigenous electives at Monash), I applied for The Aurora Project’s voluntary winter Native Title Internship Program.

Over the winter break, I spent five weeks based at the National Native Title Council (NNTC) based in North Melbourne. Having an ashamedly limited understanding of native title, the first week at NNTC was a steep learning curve. My first challenge was to master the jargon of the sector (i.e. understanding the countless abbreviations like ILUAs – Indigenous Land Use Agreements, NTRBs – Native Title Representative Bodies, PBCs – Prescribed Bodies Corporate); my second was to coax my research skills back from holidays.

The internship was a busy, challenging and skill-building experience which included the following activities:

Drafting a funding proposal for a national gender project aiming to involve more Indigenous women in the native title and extractive sectors
Researching the concept of cultural flows and the feasibility of an Indigenous Community Fund
Writing a draft intervention for a meeting of the United Nations Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Attending a water conference at which the views of various stakeholders in Victoria’s water were presented (the CEO of NNTC spoke on the relationship between Indigenous Australians and water)
Being present at a Indigenous book launch at the Koori Heritage Trust as part of NAIDOC week.

The NNTC placement greatly expanded my understanding of native title and other issues affecting Indigenous Australians, improved my research and report-writing skills, taught me how to set academic boundaries and work independently, and increased my focus from a maximum 120-minute university lecture to an 8-hour office day.

The internship was not all reading and writing, however, and the situation of the NNTC is conducive to shopping, sipping lattes and eating crepes. Two other interns were placed at my host organisation and we spent our lunch (and occasional coffee) breaks exploring the quirky suburb, trying different cafes, checking out the local vintage and op-shops, visiting Victoria Market and trying to retain a healthy bank balance.

Most importantly, five weeks at NNTC was a valuable insight into the native title sector. It’s a field with seemingly never-ending work and far few resources, however, it is vital to the rights of Indigenous Australians. Although the existence of native title upholds the values Australia wishes to espouse - i.e. fairness and equality - it is a system which needs greater funding, modifications to simplify and speed-up the processes involved, along with the recognition that native title in its current form takes a great toll upon Indigenous communities and individuals. I believe there should be greater public education about native title and I feel privileged to have learnt about it at NNTC during this alternative winter.

Applications for the upcoming summer 2011/12 round of Aurora internships are open from 8 August through 2 September on-line via their website. Internships are offered to legal, anthropology and some social science students and graduat at the 15 NTRBs around Australia as well as at 60 other organisations working in policy development, social justice, human rights and Indigenous affairs more generally.