David Tran

Summer 2020

When I applied for the Aurora Internship Program, I was in a strange place coming back from a year abroad in London, re-acculturating myself to Melbourne in the final semester of my undergraduate Arts degree majoring in Anthropology and History, unsure about what I wanted to do next. I was attracted to Aurora specifically because, out of the many months of trawling through job adverts, it was one of very few internships that had a specific anthropology stream and encouraged anthropology grads to apply. After a (slightly) arduous application process, I found myself placed at the Indigenous Data Network (IDN), based out of the Indigenous Studies Unit at the University of Melbourne.

Established at the beginning of 2019 by a team of Indigenous and non-Indigenous experts in social anthropology, data science, health, education and law, headed by Professor by Marcia Langton, the IDN is targeted at the restoration of Indigenous community control over data generated by and about them. As an organisation, the IDN forms the coordinating hub of a national network of Indigenous community-controlled organisations, national, state, and territory government departments and agencies, and universities. The objective of this coordination is the development of a national framework for the governance of Indigenous data that sees it used as the basis for more effective service delivery to Indigenous communities across Australia.

At the IDN, I learnt the value of data as an intangible asset and a tool for Indigenous self-governance and engaged with data using new tools that I learnt on the fly as part of my internship. In one example, I learned about the concepts of network analysis and research, using Excel to organise data from policy, literature and legislation, and a software package called Pajek to connect all that data into expansive information networks. The learning process was challenging at times, especially as an anthropology graduate accustomed to qualitative data, but with the constant support of my supervisor, I came to embrace everything wholeheartedly and really threw myself in it.  

Next was data from the Agreements, Treaties and Negotiated Settlements Project (ATNS), surveying and documenting over 2000 ATNS-related documents, and beta-testing new methods of data collection and classification in the process of a database revamp. Through this, I was able to have an in-depth look at how the native title sector works, through the documents in which the process creates and the parties on the ground are represented by. Concurrent to this were the invigorating discussions I had with James about the state of anthropology in Australia and its role within the native title sector. I’ve really come to see the value that data and quantitative methods can play in the practice of anthropology and I can guarantee that I will take the skills and knowledge that I have learnt here to future careers and research projects.

Over the six weeks, the internship has completely exceeded my expectations, and I have gained so much from this experience; numerous technical skills and proficiencies with data and data analysis software that I never would have encountered otherwise, as well as many networks and colleagues that I can turn to if I want to apply these technical skills to future endeavours. I would like to give my most heartfelt thanks to James Rose, for his guidance and understanding as well at the rest of the Indigenous Studies Unit for their kindness and openness. I would also like to thank the Aurora Internship Program and the team for providing me with this opportunity and their support before, during and after my time at the IDN. I would wholeheartedly recommend anyone with an interest in the native title sector or Indigenous affairs to apply for an Aurora internship. More details of the application process can be found: http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aurorainternshipprogram.