Louise Nisbet

Native Title
Alice Springs
Winter 2011

I embarked upon my internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program with the Central Land Council (CLC) in Alice Springs in the middle of the final year of my Arts degree, enjoying majoring in anthropology, but not entirely sure what to do with it once done and dusted. Upon hearing about the program which offers placements at NTRBs across Australia, as well as at other organisations working in Indigenous Affairs, policy and social justice, I realised how opportune this experience could be- and all slotted neatly into my mid-year break to boot! I had already done a little bit of native title work for areas inland from Sydney, and wanted to extend my insight into working in an area with Indigenous issues as its core. I definitely did extend this insight, and then some.

Some of the far-flung locations in remote areas offered to Aurora intrigued me, so naturally I was thrilled to find out that I’d be flown to Alice Springs- an area to which I’d never been before- to work for the anthropology section of the CLC. One look at the new, spacious office, filled with nearly 200 employees, and I was taken aback at just how modern and impressive the CLC was as an organisation. Here I was picturing a dusty little office with a flickering computer screen!

Everybody I worked with was helpful and interesting, and I was able to get the gist of what an anthropologist does by the end of my 5-week internship simply by watching and listening. Overall, working at the CLC was rewarding. Yes, I was at a desk for most of the day, going through files and researching. However, the amount of times the anthropologists would come in and out of the office from remote communities after days of travelling, negotiating, documenting, and camping, returning exhausted but happy and covered in dust, gave me hope that there certainly is a whole lot more to this job that being a desk jockey. Besides, being research assistant for an anthropologist was genuinely interesting. Every day I would come across fascinating traditions, Dreamings, historical events and characters, and ways of thinking that intrigued me, and made going through files well worth it. I managed to get my head around some of the more complex concepts in Aboriginal societies, although some I think will need years of growing accustom to!

In my third week I had the privilege of going to Yuendumu with one of the senior anthropologists, to assist at a community meeting. Yuendumu, a good 300+km from Alice Springs, is the locus of ethnographic research for one of my lecturers at uni, and often referred to in class, so naturally I was really excited to see this community in real life. On the drive important Dreaming sites and their stories were pointed out to me, which really made my work back at the office seem a whole lot more meaningful. Rather than just names on a page, these were very real places with strong emotional attachments accompanying them. In this respect the trip gave me a renewed zest for my work back at the office. At the meeting I helped with setting up, giving everybody there lunch, and ensuring that women who entered late could sit amongst the other women without having to make eye contact with the men. This latter task reminded me that a lot of social rules governing Aboriginal people are still very much real and applicable today. During the meeting I got an insight into the legal side of the CLC. I definitely think I prefer my spot in the anthropology section!

All in all, my 5 weeks at the CLC zoomed by with outrageous speed, and just when I was starting to really sink my teeth into my workload! I’d recommend an internship with the CLC (and I’m sure at any NTRB offered by Aurora) to anybody who is curious as to what an anthropologist does out in the world beyond uni, something very few have been able to answer me until now. My interest in Aboriginal culture has only deepened from this experience, and working in an organisation like the CLC made it simultaneously fascinating and challenging, possibly the best working situation I could think of. Applications for Aurora’s summer 2011/2012 internship period have just closed but will be open in February 2012 for the winter 2012 round