Ellen Burke

Social Science
Winter 2019


When I arrived in Darwin at the end of August 2019 I felt a mixture of relief and anticipation. I was immensely relieved to get there as I had spent two months driving through central Australia and faced many setbacks and challenges along the way. At the same time, however, I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with the work and the humidity ahead of me. Overall, the biggest lessons I learnt whilst interning with Aboriginal Peak Organisation NT (APONT) are to always be flexible and friendly. Of course, prior to the Aurora internship I hoped I had reasonable skills in those departments, but in Darwin the importance of them became especially clear.

The first thing I did as an intern, starting a week earlier than originally planned, was attend the 2019 National Housing Conference in Darwin. I was very lucky to attend this event as my internship was with the Housing Policy Officer of APONT, and initially I knew very little about Indigenous Housing in the NT. After three days of seminars and discussions though I had a good grounding in some of the problems at hand. I also saw the official launch of Aboriginal Housing NT (AHNT), a peak body formed with assistance from APONT and previous Aurora interns. It was exciting to enter the housing space in such an atmosphere of hope, hard work, and determination to face the problems ahead with unity. I am glad that I had flexible travel plans so could take up this great opportunity.

Initially my main task as an intern was to develop and finalise three ‘position’ papers for AHNT. I felt daunted by this task as I had very limited background knowledge in the area, but much of the research was already done and my main task was to fill in gaps and edit the writing. I felt comfortable doing this as basically it was like writing a report or essay for university, except that this time it was for real life people to use in their campaigns for better housing policy. It was exciting to bring skills I had learnt at university to the real world!

However, as things got busy with APONT and AHNT my supervisor and I realised help was needed with more immediate tasks. I began to help with AHNT secretary tasks, as that was the other role of my supervisor. It was a small test of my flexibility to leave my original task half-finished and focus on the new one. It was also challenging because I felt I lacked the knowledge and skills to help in an official way, but we mitigated this by giving me basic tasks such as making forms, notices, registers, and taking notes/minutes at meetings. I learnt a lot about the administration required to manage and operate an organisation. I am grateful for the change in plans that allowed me to learn these new skills.

I learnt the importance of being friendly at the many meetings, presentations and workshops I attended with my supervisor. These varied from APONT office meetings to an all-day community workshop on climate justice in Darwin. Meeting people at all of these events was the most rewarding part of my internship. As someone looking for the 'next step' in life after uni it was very helpful to be exposed to many different ways of living and working.

I am extremely grateful for all the opportunities and challenges I faced in my internship. I had hoped that the internship would give me a clear idea of what career path to follow, but it has not. I still do not have one end goal in mind. But, I am learning this is totally fine. Being flexible and opportunistic is going to lead me somewhere interesting, as it did in the six weeks of my internship. Whilst I feel that Indigenous housing is not ultimately the field for me, I have seen that the problems the sector faces are linked in with big and complex ones like social justice, health and climate change. I know I want to work towards resolving these big issues, and so the knowledge about housing gained during my internship will no doubt be invaluable in future.