The Aurora Internship Program offers a unique opportunity to network and gain legitimate hands-on experience within the Indigenous sector in a way that could not easily be achieved independently. I would strongly encourage anyone studying in Anthropology and Social Science fields to consider this program, as it enables students and graduates to engage their theoretical skills in practical and meaningful ways. Moreover, it facilitates the establishment of professional relationships with experienced practitioners in your field, which may lead to paid work.
My internship experience was resoundingly positive. I feel incredibly fortunate to have been given this opportunity. I have gained a lot - in terms of connections with other interns and colleagues, as well as a greatly expanded understanding of Native Title, the people involved, and its many facets. The program places Aboriginal, Torres Strait Island, and non-Indigenous students and graduates in full-time unpaid internships to over 200 Indigenous organisations across Australia for up to 4 to 6 weeks. It not only offers greater awareness of and opportunities in the Indigenous sector but provides assistance to under-resourced and often over-worked Host organisations. I opted for the maximum amount of internship-time and had a truly memorable six-weeks. The tropical, unique landscape of Northern Queensland is breathtaking, and the work was both interesting and rewarding.
Prior to my Cairns offer, I was accepted into the 2018/19 summer round and placed at Fitzroy Crossing, which I was thrilled about – as it fulfilled my vision of remote community engagement. However, unforeseen circumstances required that I delay the completion of my Masters of Research and thus my placement. Upon some communication with the Internships Manager, Kim Barlin – who was lovely, and provided great advice and dialogue over the phone – I opted to wait for the winter round and see what other opportunities arose. I had hoped to be placed again in the Kimberley region, yet upon receiving the offer to go to Cairns - it took only a brief moment for me to change my tune. This was in part because I really wanted to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef before it becomes more extensively damaged by coral bleaching (somewhat morbid but true!). On top of all the learning and friendship, this internship gave me that opportunity, and it was an extremely awe-inspiring experience that I am so grateful for! The timing for Cairns worked out far better as I was more prepared for my position – having been given time to save and organise after the submission of my thesis in April, plus the weather was amazing!
While the idea of working in a city was not my original vision, Cairns offered more than I could have imagined in terms of personal enjoyment and professional development. My accommodation was provided by the Land Council and was a short five-minute walk from the office and ten-minute walk to the city centre. I settled in there nicely – with my own balcony and double bed, it was comfortable and functional, ideal really! I feel very lucky to have been offered accommodation included with the internship - as I may have struggled financially if not.
Upon arriving fresh-faced and inexperienced in the Cape York Land Council office, I had few expectations – other than anticipating the menial tasks of every intern everywhere – namely the printing, scanning, and filing that goes along with the role – and there was some of that, certainly. What I did not expect, however, was the amount of trust and responsibility that I was given. I was assigned research tasks that enveloped much of my time on placement - as the sole writer and researcher of two anthropological advice reports. This included thorough self-led research that drew on maps, anthropological archives, and genealogical records, resulting in the formulation of both a detailed report as well as a redacted version for release to lawyers and stakeholders concerned.
While daunted at first, I strived to learn this new language – a style of report-writing dissimilar to any I had done in university. Having written my MRes thesis in gender and education, I had not explored the realm of Indigeneity and Native Title very extensively throughout my degree, and I found that the learning curb was a real “sink-or-swim” experience. My mentors in the department were all flat-out doing their own tasks and often were out of office conducting research on Country, so it was all on me! Despite my nerves in navigating this uncertain terrain, I was determined to create useful documents, and was later commended for my work. My supervisor informed me that both reports were well written and researched, and that I should be proud – I was proud! Completing these reports has shown me how dynamic the work can be – engaging in problem-solving and addressing unique issues, such as negotiating lack of data or identifying inaccurate information in previous reports. This work, while challenging at times, was rewarding and gave me a real sense of how fulfilling on a professional level it can be. Coming out of my degree, I’m motivated to find work that allows me to draw on my skills in Anthropology and Sociology and this career path certainly provides that opportunity. Further, it offers the prospect of spending more time on Country to conduct research that engages with individuals and communities affected by Native Title processes and policies – an aspect that strongly appeals to me.
I was especially struck by the amazing warmth, kindness, and generosity of the Anthropology Department. Over the duration of my time in Cairns, I was so honoured to be invited to do activities with my colleagues – I enjoyed a lovely afternoon of lawn sports with one co-worker and her friends, and an even lovelier afternoon of trail-riding in the hills with another co-worker – kind enough to let me ride one of her horses! These afternoons made me feel very welcome and accepted on a social level. Another amazing aspect of my internship was the friendships I forged with other Aurora interns placed in Cairns at the same time as me. Comprised of four girls in total, our little gang all had similar goals and aspirations in how we wanted to spend our time on placement, so we achieved a lot together - teaming up to see many beautiful sites and do some wonderful activities.
Perhaps the most integral experience of my internship was the opportunity to attend and assist in the running of a Native Title meeting in Cape York. This overnight trip on Country, where I was driven 4-hours north with my supervisor and the leading anthropologist of the region, was pivotal to my understanding and awareness of Native Title and the role of the Land Council in mediating the interests of Traditional Owners. I felt privileged to be permitted as a fly-on-the-wall at this meeting – simply taking attendance and making the occasional coffee. I could see the beautiful landscape that CYLC is concerned with, meet the claimants I had been reading about, better understand the complex issues involved, as well as hear the concerns and aspirations of the families of the area. They were incredibly kind to me and I had some very insightful discussions with my supervisor on the road about Land Rights, social justice, and the nature of working for Land Councils. The trip was short though deeply thought-provoking.
Another pivotal moment of the internship was going to the Supreme Court to observe a hearing. It was quite eye-opening to see how anthropological work is translated into the Court setting. One of the barristers spoke to me afterwards and commented that anthropologists with a firm grasp of law are in high demand right now – given their crucial evidence-gathering role in the legal process. This was definitely food for thought. I also had an opportunity to speak to the CEO of CYLC and hear some of his views, as well as the views of an Indigenous family concerned with the hearing – it was a great day for understanding the sometimes starkly different perspectives of those involved in Native Title … and how long the process takes!
I also feel particularly grateful for my supervisor, Pascale, who was so competent and welcoming, I could not have asked for a better guide into this sector. Upon returning home, she sent an email encouraging me to apply for a job at a Land Council she used to work for and offered to be my referee. Unfortunately, due to other obligations I was unable to apply, however, this “foot-in-the-door” is invaluable to me and I’m grateful to have this connection as I explore future career pathways.
This experience has undoubtedly reaffirmed my desire to engage in areas of social justice and the promotion of positive social change. I can see through my background in sociology of gender and education, the importance of intersectionality in the Indigenous sector. The conversations had, as well as the research skills I have acquired over the course of this internship, have helped illuminate the depth of issues facing Indigenous communities and the importance of addressing the entanglement of race and gender. I am hopeful that the understanding I have gained through this experience will help me to pursue a legitimate vocational career that effectively draws upon my skillset and passion.
I have learned so much of what it means to work for a Land Council and the intricacies involved in Native Title. I feel I made the most of my time and thoroughly enjoyed living in Cairns … I’m sure I will return! I would like to give I heartfelt thanks to Pascale, CYLC, Aurora, and all those who made my internship so amazing. I was sad to leave, but thrilled to have had the privilege to do this internship.
(http://auroraproject.com.au/about-internship-program) Applications for the winter 2020 round will be open from 2 through 27 March 2020.