Mathilde Lillethorup

Native Title
Winter 2013

During the fifth semester (year 3) of a degree in Anthropology at the University of Copenhagen, you are meant to go abroad. You can stay in Denmark and study or do work experience, but let’s be honest – most of us couldn’t wait to leave! While discussing our academic futures with my some of my fellow students, I came to realize that many of them were a lot further than me in finding their fields of interest. It was quite a stressful time for me. I wasn’t close to finding anything that could fit my niche, until I read an article about Australian Aboriginal cosmology and was mind blown! As a started exploring my opportunities for digging deeper into this field in Denmark it became clear that this wasn’t really an option. And as I was supposed to leave the country anyway, I might as well go to Australia. After some intense surfing on the Internet, I found Aurora’s website. It was perfect! This was a way to both get more knowledge on the cosmology that first caught my attention but also to explore some overwhelming social injustices.

The Aurora Native Title Internship Program places students and graduates from law, anthropology and other social sciences in unpaid internships at Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and Native Title Service Providers (NTSPs) and other organisations working in Indigenous affairs and social justice for periods of 5-6 weeks. To clarify, NTRBs and NTSPs provide legal aid and cultural research to Indigenous communities across Australia. As an anthropologist working for an organisation like this, one would conduct research to support these communities’ claims for having their native title recognised and ultimately – if everything goes well – get full right of possession, occupation, use and enjoyment of the claim area over which they are the Traditional Owners.

I was lucky enough to get accepted by Aurora and got placed with Central Desert Native Title Services in Perth, a NTSP with clients throughout a vast area of the West Australian desert. At first I was terrified. This was such a foreign environment to step into having little knowledge of the complexities of native title, but being greeted so well by everyone in the office, meant that my initial fears disappeared right away. I spent the majority of my 6-week placement comparing files on the server and in the cabinets, which might sound like a tedious job (which it was at times), but through this I got an improved knowledge of the world of native title and the tasks anthropologists and others would meet in this line of work.

Most interns in this field highlight trips to communities as the most incredible experience they had during their placement. And for good reason! I went to a community assisting one of the heritage anthropologists from the office in a survey and that week in the desert was unforgettable. The members of the community were so welcoming and the work, though hard (and hot!) at times, was definitely both educational and entertaining. In our breaks from work people enthusiastically shared their stories and tried to explain to this poor Scandinavian girl their complex cosmology. I was so thrilled! Another experience I would like to highlight is the week in which I went to the Federal Court almost every day for native title litigations. I heard witness statements from a Traditional Owner on the claim in question, expert evidence by the historian who did research and, last but definitely not least, expert evidence from three anthropologists. It is something quite different from driving around in the desert and I’m really glad that I got to experience several aspects of the work anthropologists are involved in in native title.

To conclude I can only recommend an internship through Aurora if you have an interest in aboriginal culture and native title. It can be the beginning of a long, exciting career. I was lucky enough to get hired by the organisation after completing my internship and I’m definitely not done with native title!