Christopher Orchard

Native Title
Winter 2015

My time at Native Title Services Victoria (NTSV) was both enlightening and challenging. I was placed at the NTSV offices in North Melbourne as a research intern. The staff were very nice and I was made to feel at home immediately.

My day-to-day tasks consisted of various research projects set by senior researchers and the head researcher. The tasks involved reading large amounts of archaeological documents and reports, collating them, and then working with a senior researcher to discern patterns and changes. Although I had no archaeological training, I quickly adapted and found myself enjoying the work. Indeed the work I did do turned out to be quite useful. To see my collated material mapped out and analysed gave me a real kick.

The head researcher took the time to patiently explain to me the context of various Native Title claims in Victoria. I learned a lot from these sessions and left the program with a much deeper understanding of what is required to work or practise in the Native Title field, particularly in Victoria.

The days would run from 9 – 5 or part thereof. One of the highlights for me were the social events organised by staff to farewell a colleague, to welcome a new colleague, or to simply get everyone together. I got the chance to speak with and interact with very senior people working in Native Title, and to learn from them.

One of the biggest highlights was a chance to perform fieldwork during NAIDOC Week. A fellow intern and I set about attending various events and speaking with numerous members of the community, all the while noting important interactions and other aspects of the day. The highlight of the day was being given a guided tour of Birrarung (otherwise known as the Yarra River). A Wurundjeri elder discussed with a crowd the importance of the area, the cultural significance it holds, the history it has seen, and the continuing threats they as a people face in attempting to continue their traditions.

I went into the program with both anthropological training and with legal training. Both aspects were exercised throughout my time at NTSV. There is something to be said, I think, for allowing law students a chance to really delve into substantive research material concerning the topic at hand. As a research intern with legal training, I was able to learn far more specific information about the Native Title claimants as clients, and as a result was able to form a much more thorough understanding of their potential needs and challenges.

My fellow interns, both research and legal, were collegial and great to work with. We would make time to sit down for catch ups, to chat and debrief on our days’ tasks, and to compare stories. It was nice to have others in my situation to bounce ideas off of.

Finally, I cannot overstate just how much I learned from spontaneous conversations with members of the NTSV team at various times at the office or after work. Every staff member I spoke with was willing to discuss with me everything from Mabo through to interview techniques. Although it can be intimidating at first trying to engage with people who are, literally, at the forefront of Native Title, it soon became second nature to bring up a topic I felt worthy of discussion. Their patience and kindness was fantastic, and would make repeating the program worth it for that reason alone.