Courtney Boag

Native Title
Winter 2016

My enthusiasm to apply for another internship through the Aurora Internship Program perhaps came immediately after I completed my first internship with Barengi Gadjin Land Council as I felt I had experienced more and in some ways learnt more about the social, political, physical and emotional environment of native title work through engaging in an internship, as opposed to sitting in a class room at university. Those who are already actively engaged in the sector will tell you that you will learn more about how to work in native title by just ‘doing it’, by just ‘being out there’ and I couldn’t agree more. There’s no one way we can prepare for the type of work that will be given to us once we have received our graduation papers and moreover there is no real method we can adopt to deal with the challenges that will arise as we get deeper and deeper into the work, once we are there- in the field. There’s just doing it and figuring out the intricacies as we go along and there are always mentors we can look to and ask for advice when we feel we may becoming overwhelmed by the nature of the work.

The six weeks I spent at Queensland South Native Title Services (QSNTS) were instrumental in helping me to broaden my understanding of native title law and how native title claims are navigated and negotiated through the Court system. The range of tasks I was allocated were hands on and mentally very stimulating and I instantly felt as if I was a part of the team. Over the course of my time at QSNTS I was involved in tasks such as searching for and ordering historical birth, death and marriage certificates which I would review in order to extract relevant data to then contribute to the Family Historian database software.

The Family Historian database contains genealogical information about families who are in most cases involved in native title claims in the QSNTS representative areas although at times QSNTS will provide some assistance to families- who are not a part of relevant claims- retrace their historical family links as this is one of the many services QSNTS provide. Genealogical work became the main type of work I was involved in during my placement and through experiencing the process of firstly searching for certificates online right through to writing up letters to claimants about new information we had gathered, I really found it to be an enriching exercise as we were helping people to discover their ancestors and in many ways their identities.  It also helped me to revisit what I had learnt about kinship systems in second year university… which admittedly I hadn’t reviewed in quite some time so that was very useful.

I was also fortunate enough to be able to visit the Queensland State Archives and the State Library Archives to go through old records and photos to search for connection evidence for some of the research that the ‘in-house’ researchers where conducting. It was quite amazing to look through old photographs, letters, maps and newspaper articles from approximately 100 years ago as it brought to my attention just how young European Australia is and consequently how much change has taken place during this small window of time.

Furthermore, by considering the amount of change that has taken place in Australia both socially and physically over the past 250 years or so really helped me to acknowledge just how important the work that QSNTS is doing to piece together parts of South- East Queensland’s history and the family histories in the area.

There is still a lot that needs to be done before the puzzle can be completed but through my experience working with the research team at QSNTS the weight of the work doesn’t seem so daunting because while there are people out there who are committed to the work they are doing and establishments set up to accommodate for the research to take place and manifest into positive solutions and policies it becomes more a matter of time.

The people I met and worked with at QSNTS were incredibly supportive and thorough; the drive to conduct holistic and well researched work that was timely was high on everyone’s agenda and this made for really productive and positive working conditions. Knowing that you are working alongside passionate people who are invested in the work they do rubs off in such positive ways, and I left feeling admittedly a little overwhelmed with the often tedious work that is common in native title but also very inspired by how my colleagues tackled their heavy loads with poise and thoughtfulness.

All in all I really got a lot out of my experience at QSNTS. The quite legalistic environment in the office was also very beneficial as I was able to engage the lawyers during my trips to the kitchen for a cuppa about questions I had related to the native title legislation and the Future Acts, which really helped me to understand better those ‘grey areas’ about the Act we aren’t taught much during our undergraduate studies.

I, like many of us are still trying to navigate my way through the often intimidating and highly political environment of native title work and I would be doing a disfavour to myself and anyone else if I were to paint my experiences and feelings towards native title work in a neat, fluffy and superficial way because it isn’t always like that. Often I find myself doubting the system that we have created to decide how native title is given and taken away from people and at times I feel like we will look back on the work that we are doing now and think ‘gee it isn’t too different to the systems and practices of the past’ but that’s what change is I suppose- it’s taking steps towards something greater or at least something more true to sustainable and positive change. Native title is a step- it’s a step towards reconciliation in Australia and we can only go forward from here. It can be a hard road at times but often it’s the hard, off the track dirt roads that lead us to new places, new insights and new understandings.

The Aurora Internship Program is an invaluable opportunity for those wishing to visit new places and discover new understandings. I am so grateful for the places Aurora has taken me in my early career and I am forever grateful for the many ways my placements have contributed to me both professionally and personally. I would highly recommend anyone interested in Aboriginal affairs to apply for the upcoming winter round; you won’t regret the bumpy but exciting road. So go on, just get out there… as they say.