Courtney Boag

Native Title
Winter 2015

My enlightenment into the colourful world of anthropology began with an article entitled; ‘The Original Affluent Society; The paradox of development’ by Marshall Sahlins and a very coincidental conversation with a peer about the Aurora Internship Program. I became immediately intrigued with the notion of working alongside people to try to better understand why we do the things we do, so I decided to quit International Relations and enrol myself into a course with I felt would offer much more flexible and fluid ways of perceiving people and the world around them. I have never looked back.

​​​In my third and final year of my undergraduate in anthropology and archaeology, I felt it was finally time to apply for an Aurora internship. I would love to say that I spent months carefully preparing my application to ensure I had the best chances of getting selected into the Program but life happens and things don’t always go to plan the way you had imagined them. My application - although rushed and sent off last minute - was sent eventually and I spent the next few weeks anxiously waiting by my phone for ‘the call’.  Approximately two weeks later I received that exciting call, and thankfully I can say someone saw the heart and enthusiasm I had for anthropology that was invisibly written between the lines of my application.

After a few adjustments to my preferences just a few weeks before my placement I finally decided that I wanted to be placed in Horsham with the Barengi Gadjin Land Council. Barengi Gadjin Land Council or BGLC is the Prescribed Body Corporate for the Wotjobaluk claim area, as outlined in the Native Title Act and therefore they are the only body in the region with the legislative authority to make legal decisions on the cultural heritage and Indigenous land management of the area. Interestingly, BGLC were also the first to be recognised in south-eastern Australia under the 2005 Native Title Consent Determination and currently represent Traditional Owners from the Wotjobaluk, Jaadwa, Jadawadjali, Wergaia and Jupagulk family groups.

In my first week with BGLC I was given the honour of visiting a number of places around the Horsham and Antwerp district that still to this day maintain great significance and relevance to the family groups that inhabited areas along the Wimmera River. The sites as they sit geographically are reasonably spread out, however as a whole they paint a mosaic; a living culture which can tell a thousand stories and like memory lane these special places connect people to their past, present and future. I came to realize very quickly just how special the next five weeks were going to be.

My first project with BGLC was to update their library and add new reading materials to the library catalogue on their database. Once I finished compiling the library catalogue, I was then given the task of looking through all of the materials (ie. books, articles, newspaper cuttings, maps, past survey reports and old photographs) relating to the Ebenezer Mission in Antwerp and then I was to add them into a separate online catalogue with additional annotated footnotes.  Although it was initially daunting when I began flicking through the first few reports on the Mission, I eventually picked up my pace and became really quite hooked on the history of the Mission and what the site still meant to people today. It was also in those moments of cataloguing that I realised the importance of ‘places’ and their wider association to other ‘places’ and people- something I think we shouldn’t lose sight of when conducting ethnography or site surveys.

I finished off cataloguing and organising the library in week three and then was asked to look through the reports that had been conducted on the Ebenezer Mission and create a presentation that explains the areas of research that have previously been done on the site and areas of research that BGLC could look into for any potential future research that they may like to organise. I presented my findings to the Board during one of BGLC’s full day board meetings and I believe it has conjured up some positive discussion for future surveying in the area.

In weeks four and five I was given the incredible opportunity to be a part of a research team that was helping a Phd student from La Trobe with his thesis. I moved into a shared house with the student archaeologist’s and we began excavating sites around the Grampians (Gariwerd) straight away. It was an incredible opportunity to see what happens behind the scenes at an excavation and it also gave my placement additional variety as I was not only able to work with the anthropological side of things but I was also able to learn valuable archaeological skills in the process.

It may have been due to unforeseen circumstances that I came to do my placement with BGLC, but it’s true what they say about life-changing lessons and experiences being presented to you when you least expect them. In retrospect I don’t think I came to Horsham with any preconceived expectations of how my time might manifest, but looking back I can definitely appreciate the change in course as the experiences I received in Horsham led me to the realisations and personal growth that I needed most. All in all I don’t think I could really do my time with Barengi Gadjin justice through a generic article. The people I met while working in Horsham not only facilitated an incredibly eye-opening experience for me but they have left a remarkable imprint in my heart and I only hope that in the near future I can return to the area and continue to work with them in their aspirating pursuits with cultural heritage and land management.

The Aurora Internship Program is an incredibly valuable opportunity for anyone wishing to pursue a career as an anthropologist or simply for anyone interested in Aboriginal affairs in Australia.  I can say from personal experiences that through this Program I have learnt far more about the reality of working as an anthropologist in Australia than I ever would at University. Experiencing what it is like to work ‘on the field’ has really ignited my passion for working with people and has really given me that push in the right direction to pursue a future in anthropology.