Jose Ballesteros

Social Science
Winter 2018

My internship with the North Australian Indigenous Land and Sea Management Alliance (NAILSMA) via the Aurora Internship Program was intense, humbling and moving. They are a respectful insightful and constructive organisation - forming holistic and long-term relationships with Traditional Owners (TOs) and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mob across the vast and varied north of Australia. As Jethro Sallman, a previous NAILSMA intern wrote in 2017:

“NAILSMA is an independent, Indigenous owned and led, non-for-profit, non-governmental organisation aimed at supporting Indigenous people in empowering and sustainable land and sea management across northern Australia. Their scope is large, with many projects including implementing carbon farming, water management, and biosecurity in Indigenous land management with a focus on broad-scale change that achieves cultural, environmental and economic benefits for Indigenous people.”

NAILSMA is the only Indigenous land and sea management organisation that operates across Australian jurisdictions in the North, and the only one to work across the spectrum from practitioner to policy level, as informed by community-defined projects.

Being included in their story, philosophy and practice - through interacting with staff, learning about their history and collaborating - was foundational to my internship experience, both at the office and outside of it. I was able to conceptualise my discrete piece of work as part of broader, diverse historical and future struggle. It enabled me to better understand the work I did, be more effective, and expand my relationships and intellectual processes.

I was tasked with desktop research review of technologies (hardware and software) relevant for the I-Tracker program, which supports and connects land and sea Ranger groups across the North. The aim of the research was to inform NAILSMA’s decision-making and planning about the future of I-Tracker - at a critical juncture in the program’s life - as well as their day-to-day support of Ranger groups. Maintaining a pragmatic approach to ensure a balance between research quality and time constraints was a constant struggle. I managed to progress steadily through the research, but ordering and compiling findings towards the end of the task proved particularly challenging. Overcoming this was really rewarding and developed my independent and self-guided research skill set. My supervisor allowed me to finish the review after concluding the internship.

When they’re not out bush (which many staff members are, quite frequently) the NAILSMA team work in relaxed, spacious offices at the North Australia Research Unit (NARU) as part of the Australian National University (ANU) campus next to Charles Darwin University (CDU). It’s a great place to be located, outside Darwin city centre and close to Casuarina. I was warmly welcomed, and had the good fortune on my first morning to be given a tour, and the time for a good yarn about the organisation’s history, staff and projects, and other things about Darwin and the Territory. Throughout my internship my direct supervisor was working remotely, but was still able to brief and support me effectively, on video calls over Zoom and via close email contact. I also attentively supported and encouraged by the team in the office. In addition to my dedicated research task, which did take up the vast majority of my working time at NAILSMA, I offered to help/be involved with other bits and pieces, both in a general way and with specific meetings/tasks that came up over the 4 weeks - among other things I worked on/participated in: weekly catch-up meetings; the new NAILSMA website and social media channels; discussions around policy in areas including and beyond ecosystem services; and a philanthropy strategy workshop.

Staff also kindly tried to include me in a trip out bush to work with mob, which ultimately wasn’t possible due to time constraints (I would definitely have stayed on longer if I could). Although I’m sure it would have been absolutely incredible, I didn’t arrive with the expectation of doing that, and I'm thankful for the all the efforts staff made to offer me the chance. It’s something that would be wonderful to do in the future.

On my last day we had the chance to have morning tea together, and though I was sad to farewell colleagues, I’m so glad to have met them, and hope to cross paths with them soon!

I lived in a beautiful comfortable and convenient house in Rapid Creek. The location was perfect for working at NAILSMA - half an hour walking (with the option to walk along the beach or through Casuarina reserve…) or 15 minutes on the bus. My host, Kim, a local nurse who was on the Aurora Accommodation List, was extremely welcoming and kind. I was offered a room in the main house, as opposed to a cottage she has in the garden where interns have stayed in the past, and because of this I paid a cheaper rate ($100/wk as opposed to $190/wk). This was more than reasonable, and I was made to feel welcome to be in and use the space as if it were my own home. There was a pool which I relished daily, and another young person staying downstairs who it was really nice to get to know.

Walking around the Rapid Creek, Nightcliff and CDU areas was a beautiful past time - there are also pop-up food places around here in the evening. These suburbs were sleepy and relaxed compared to Sydney. September was a wonderful month to be there weather-wise: everyday was warm and sunny, but not oppressively hot, and I caught the first of Darwin’s breezy weather, just before the build-up and the Wet. Dripstone Cliffs, Cafe de la plage (who have nice food and windows on Fridays and Sundays), the Railway Club Hotel (good for music or just a casual drink), Brown St Mart Courtyard (in the city) the Foreshore Pub, the Sailing Club, and the Art Gallery and Museum of the NT are all great places to check out. As were the markets I went to - Mindil (loved the music and beach), Parap (delicious foods of all sorts), and Rapid Creek (delicious laksa amongst other Asian foods, and cheap Asian vegetables). The Darwin International Film Festival was on while I was there, and I saw a bunch of music (lots of free gigs, including the Whitlams!), and made good friends, including other Aurora interns.

Outside Darwin I visited Berry Springs, Batchelor, Litchfield National Park - including Wangi Falls and Buley Rockhole - and other places. At the end of my stay I hired a car for 24 hours - so glad I did - and visited Kakadu National Park, named after the Gaagadju language group. Learning something of the stories and history of the Bunitj and other Bininj peoples at Ubirr, a rock painting site, was beautiful. I also stopped in Limilgnan-Wulna country on the edge of the wetlands near Darwin.

I was sad to be leaving, I should have liked to stay longer, but I was grateful and happy for the time I had, and all the relationships I started!