Felicity Miles

Social Science
Winter 2019

I began my Aurora internship a month or so after I finished my Bachelor of Arts (Melbourne University) majoring in Sociology, and politics. I had completed a few Indigenous studies subjects at Uni and felt as though the Indigenous sector was a field I would like to be involved in, and perhaps work in one day. I was placed at the National Native Title Council (NNTC) in North Melbourne as part of the Aurora Internship Program , and initially had no idea what to expect. I had a basic understanding of the political history of native title, but my initial understandings of the structures through with it currently operates was very limited. To gain insight into this, I was definitely in the perfect place.

In my first week I completed a research task on Indigenous Nation-Building. I found myself completely immersed in this topic. For me personally, it is really fulfilling to collate and piece together research in order to come to a purposeful understanding on a topic. In the first week I very much confirmed my own aspirations of wanting to pursue a career in social and political research, and my interest in the Indigenous sector was heightened.

Following that task, I compiled some statistical data from the National Native Title Tribunal concerning rates of native title determinations. I initially found this task a little challenging as I believe I am more suited to qualitative work. However, after some persistence I discovered a newfound appreciation for statistical data. I found it very interesting how the results were inherently biased and somewhat incorrect. This was due to inconsistencies on the Website and the ways in which it classifies particular cases. My supervisor provided me with some insight into possible political reasons for certain trends. I found the interpretation of these (although necessarily imperfect) statistics particularly interesting. I feel that here I learnt a lot about the native title sector, and the complexities of native title cases.

I was asked to revisit my work on Nation-Building and conceptualise PBCs as a type of ‘nation’. This task provided me with a concrete backdrop to personally assess the pros and cons of the structure of PBCs. It felt very fulfilling to be able to apply my previous work to a governance structure. I felt here as though my work was very useful; it is quite exciting to a budding researcher to realise that their work will be read (and perhaps used) by someone other than an individual university marker aiming to provide a grade.  

The last task I completed was an analysis of a report which considered 5 PBCs as case studies. I found this task very enjoyable in terms of the type of work, yet a little frustrating in terms of the subject matter. I found myself often internally frustrated at Government inadequacies, and how severe resource and funding shortcomings are. I was reminded of my passion for indigenous justice as I felt a kind of anger reading of instances where certain State Governments have not held up the terms of an ILUA for example. Whilst I didn’t display these emotions outwardly, in a strange way, I was very grateful for them. I think it’s important to remember when working in this field that the subject matter can be at times confronting, or elicit a strong emotional response. Having personal reactions to this is likely normal, and demonstrates a level of investment in combatting the injustices intertwined with colonialism. I learnt here personally to appreciate an emotional response, not condemn it, as society at large conditions us to do.

In contrast to my, at times seemingly abstract, classroom-based university studies, my time at the NNTC granted me the gift of a truly immersive learning experience. I was thrown out of my comfort zone a few times, yet felt as though I was in a supportive environment as the team was very welcoming. I learnt much more than is evident through my research tasks. I learnt just by talking to others about their work, and doing background reading. I now have a clearer understanding that this is the kind of work I may want to pursue in future, plus an insight into very topical happenings in the field.

I am incredibly grateful for this experience, and definitely recommend the Aurora Internship Program. More information can be found at http://auroraproject.com.au/about-internship-program.  Applications for the winter 2020 round will be open from 2 through 27 March 2020.