The Aurora Internship Program places a large number of enthusiastic anthropology, social science and legal interns in Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and many other organisations pertaining to Indigenous affairs more broadly. They normally accept students who are reaching the end of their studies and recent graduates. The idea behind the Program is to increase interest in Indigenous affairs and particularly native title while providing relief to over-worked staff in these organisations. Having completed my Honours in anthropology last year, I was looking to gain some experience that would help me start a career.
In May I was accepted by the Aurora Internship Program for a (very short notice) early winter placement. I was really lucky to be placed in Central Desert Native Title Services in Perth. Before going I had read a lot of positive stuff about Central Desert from previous interns, and to my surprise (as a sceptic) they were completely right. The people there were lovely, patient and always happy to explain things to me or chat. I was told that I would be assisting on an upcoming compensation claim. After spending most of the first day folding up enormous genealogies and watching documentaries I was starting to wonder how involved in the claim I was actually going to be. But it was not long before I was given more responsibility and more complicated tasks: creating orthographies for reference in the hearing, entering data into the Cultural Geography Database, readying files to be taken out on country and eventually transcribing interviews.
With all of these tasks I gained a more concrete idea of the case, the claimants, the area and I even learnt some words from their language. By the end it was almost as if I knew some of them. People often apologised to me for all the transcribing I had to do, but to be honest, I didn’t really understand why. Yes, at times it could be tedious and very difficult but I heard the best stories which were really emotive and powerful. I also learnt a lot about anthropological work: how to talk to people about sensitive issues such as people who have passed away and secret/sacred knowledge, as well as the kinds of settings such interviews would be held in.
Working in an open plan office I also learnt a lot about life in an NTRB through eavesdropping. Learning about Australian anthropology at university really ignores all of the practical elements involved and listening in on phone calls I was surprised and impressed by the amount of work that goes into planning trips on country, maintaining relationships with community members and other services Central Desert provides not directly related to native title.
The highlight of my internship was undoubtedly my overnight trip to Spinifex country. We were going to an on country meeting which was held as part of a negotiation with a mining company. It was a bit of a bizarre trip which made it all the more wonderful. We flew out on a charter flight, I was given an absent local’s caravan for the night, met a lot of interesting people, ate kangaroo for the first time and got to visit the local Art Centre. Unfortunately, a lot of locals were away because of a funeral two weeks earlier. Regardless, it was an amazing experience and was an insight into community life and working in anthropology.
I would strongly recommend considering an internship through the Aurora Project if you are considering working in indigenous affairs and/or native title. It offers a much greater perspective on the field and can be a foot in the door for an ongoing career; I also treated it like working holiday.