For 6 weeks across February and March 2010 I had the pleasure of undertaking a native title anthropology internship with the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) through the Aurora Internship Program. This was an invaluable experience for me which I enjoyed immensely and learnt a lot.
However, if I can be completely honest, I think it is important to note that I didn’t sign up for the internship with the Aurora program because I really wanted to work in native title. In fact I signed up to the Aurora program despite the fact that I really didn’t want to work in native title. I applied for the Aurora program because it seemed to be the right thing to do – to get experience, and ultimately to get a job. It seemed like the sensible area to start work in – native title is a field, I feel, where there will always be plenty of work for anthropologist in Australia.
I begin with this as it is clear that Native Title Representative Bodies struggle with recruiting both lawyers and researchers to the industry. From my exposure to native title concepts at university it seemed very complicated and confusing and didn’t really spark my interest. However, in reality I found that while native title is more complex and confusing than I ever could have imagined, it is also challenging, intellectually stimulating and an incredibly interesting field of work.
Suffice it to say, that my experience at Cape York Land Council completely changed my perspective on native title. In fact, against all odds I have now found myself in a permanent job with another Native Title Representative Body and I am enjoying it immensely. Further, I feel that the internship has provided me with a really valuable experience to take to my current position. As I was recently told in my current position: ‘there is no shallow end in native title, you always get thrown straight in the deep end’. It was great to get some practise at swimming for six weeks before the real work began!
One of the most valuable things about the internship was the low pressure situation that I found myself in - the opportunity to learn at my own pace and to take from the experience what it was I wanted to learn. In the setting of an unpaid internship, there was a freedom to take the extra time to understand something I found difficult to comprehend, to ask lots of questions without feeling like I should have already known the answer, to listen in on meetings about issues arising from particular claims without having the pressure to contribute something valuable. Reading through sections of connection reports for various claims gave me a deeper insight into the complexities of proving native title and huge weight of the onus of proof that rests on the claimants and all those involved the native title process. Putting what I had learnt about native title at university into a ‘real world’ context made the knowledge I had stored away come alive.
I also had the fantastic opportunity for field work. This involved attending a number of native title meetings in Cape York. This, of course, was the most valuable experience of the internship. While my role was simply to take notes, cut fruit and make the odd cup of tea or coffee for the claimants, it was great to see the places and meet the faces that I had been reading about in the office and to hear the issues they raised and the challenges they were facing as well as the aspirations they have for their land and their futures. Seeing the human face to native title made me feel like this is worthwhile and rewarding field of work, despite the complexities and difficulties faced.
For all of the above reasons I would like to encourage all anthropology students to consider and internship with the Aurora Program, as well as lecturers to encourage students to apply and representative bodies to be even more eager to take on interns through Aurora. The support and encouragement I received both from the Aurora team and CYLC has been invaluable and created a great platform to build a career upon.