Matilda Handsley-Davis

Social Science
Health/Medical Services
Winter 2017


On a warm summer evening earlier this year I was leaning up against the wall of my boyfriend’s house in Adelaide, checking my emails on my phone while I waited for him to get home from uni to meet me. I had finished Honours a few months before and decided to take a year off to reflect on where I wanted to go next. I had a background in both biology and humanities, and I knew that I was interested in Indigenous history and health – but I wasn’t sure how to pursue this interest, or whether the sector would be a good fit for me. For the time being, I was working part-time in a job I wasn’t particularly passionate about, missing the sense of purpose and identity that I’d had as a student, and worrying about how I would soon have to make what seemed like a huge decision about my future. 

That evening, a friend had forwarded an email about the Aurora Internship Program to my inbox. This is a program that places university students and graduates in short-term internships at Indigenous-focused host organisations, including law firms, Native Title Representative Bodies, research institutes and NGOs. As I read the email, I knew that it was something I wanted to apply for. It seemed like such a good way to contribute to a sector I care about, as well as gaining experience and insight into whether I could pursue future work in that area.



The application process is quite arduous – I had to supply a cover letter, CV, academic transcript and two references, and attend a panel interview. You definitely need to be prepared to work hard, as expectations will be high, and to show that you are interested for the right reasons – that you want to contribute to a cause, not just pad your own CV. The upside of this process for the intern is that you can probably expect to be entrusted with important and interesting responsibilities on your eventual placement. Aurora has a reputation for sourcing excellent interns, so if you’ve made it through, host organisations take it as a sign that you will be highly competent and motivated.

Following my successful Aurora application and interview, I was proposed for a five-week internship in the Health Science stream at one of my top preferences – the Australian Indigenous Doctors’ Association (AIDA) in Canberra. AIDA is a professional association for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander doctors and medical students, committed to promoting and supporting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander medical workforce. Their work also includes research, policy development and advocacy for Indigenous health. AIDA was a great fit for my interests in Indigenous health and health policy.



During my five weeks at AIDA, I contributed to several different projects and tasks. My main focus was researching and writing a report on cultural safety training in Australia. Cultural safety is an emerging concept in Australian healthcare. It focuses on strategies for making clinics, hospitals, and the healthcare system as a whole more welcoming to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, improving cross-cultural communication, and ensuring that health workers and systems do not question or denigrate Indigenous cultures. This is a major area of interest for AIDA, as increased cultural safety should improve Indigenous health outcomes and also promote the growth and retention of the Indigenous health workforce. I also wrote a couple of other brief policy reports, liaised with presenters and delegates for AIDA’s upcoming annual conference, and participated in regular team and all-staff meetings which helped me understand where my projects fit in with the organisation as a whole. I was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend a stakeholder workshop hosted by the Australian National University, which is developing a new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and wellbeing research plan.

While some aspects of the work were more interesting or enjoyable than others, my supervisors really made an effort to find work that would be relevant to my interests and experience, and overall I found my internship to be a very educational and intellectually stimulating experience. My colleagues were fantastic people and I felt very welcomed and supported in the workplace. It was lovely to work for a small, tight-knit organisation with such a positive workplace culture and an important mission.

Canberra is a relatively quiet city (and freezing in winter!), but I really enjoyed my stay there nonetheless. The city is easy to get around in; there are many beautiful parks on your doorstep, quirky pubs and cafes, and wonderful cultural institutions like the National Gallery of Art. It is a bit more expensive to live in than Adelaide, but there are still cheap and free things to do – visit a farmers market, sightsee at the art gallery or Parliament House, go for a walk around Lake Burley Griffin or in one of the many national parks and nature reserves. Just bring your thermals and try to save up a little extra money before you go and you’ll have a good time!



Now that I have completed my Aurora internship I feel motivated to continue pursuing my interest in Indigenous affairs and Indigenous health, whether that will be through my career or volunteering. It was an incredibly valuable experience that allowed me to gain much greater insight into the sector and into the issues facing Indigenous Australians, and into how organisations like AIDA are working to improve them, than I could have had from study alone. I’ve returned home with greater clarity about my own skills and what I am capable of contributing to causes that I care about. I really want to thank Aurora and AIDA for this invaluable experience.

If you are studying or recently graduated from law, anthropology, social sciences, social work, public health, or health sciences, and you are interested in Indigenous affairs, you should definitely consider applying for an Aurora internship. The internships are generally unpaid, although some host organisations and universities may provide financial support – so you do need to consider whether you have the resources to spend 4-6 weeks doing unpaid full-time work, in addition to potential travel and accommodation costs if travelling outside of your home city. However, if you can, it’s a really wonderful and beneficial experience and I would recommend it highly! You can find out more about Aurora and the internship program at  Applications for the winter 2018 round will be open in March 2018.