Melanie Dulfer-Hyams

Social Science
Native Title
Summer 2013

One of the first things that I noticed as I began my Aurora internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program with the CLCAC’s Land and Sea Unit, was how achieving a native title claim was not only seen as the final conquest of a legal battle, but how it was also used as a tool to acknowledge, protect, and strengthen the rights of Traditional Owners.  This is most evident from their work in natural resource management, where native title reframes peoples’ connection to their country and recognises their right to manage natural resources and assets.

From strategic planning, to campaigning and on-ground conservation work, the recognition of Indigenous rights is a fundamental tool in land and sea management.  It is how Traditional Owners redefine and reframe boundaries based on their country and its development.  During my internship, I slowly saw these lines and connections appear and began to understand the processes to achieving ownership and control of traditional lands, and how this supports involvement in decision-making processes.   

From my desk in the Cairns office, I got the chance to read all about land and sea management planning, monitoring and reporting, and how these processes support the work implemented on-the-ground by the Burketown and Normanton ranger groups.  In particular, I assisted in project reporting for Federal and State government funded projects; researched and drafted briefs for the Redbank legacy mine meeting and Flinders and Gilbert Agricultural Resource Assessment; assisted in developing a submission for a State government inquiry into nature conservation legislation; and provided administrative support for various consultants working with rangers and Traditional Owners.

One of my favourite experiences was heading out to work in Burketown and also going on a quick trip over to the Northern Territory with the Gangalidda Garawa rangers for the Redbank legacy mine meeting.  Spending time with the rangers, I began to see how their work is valued as it represents a cultural responsibility to resource management where natural assets have environmental, monetary and traditional or cultural values.  As part of the meeting, the rangers presented their observations of the environmental impacts the legacy mine has had in the Settlement Creek Wild Rivers area that they manage.  Everyone was really grateful for their support at the meeting.  Back at the Burketown office, I assisted in organising the photo archives.  It may have seemed like a dull task, but a lot of the photos also came with a good story from the rangers.

From working with everyone at the CLCAC I have learnt to see that country does not end at the gate to a cattle station, that traditional knowledge has an essential role in understanding local natural systems, and that there are many different tools that can be used to strengthen Indigenous rights in natural resource management. 

I feel very honoured to have worked alongside some great people and gained the opportunity to apply my skills and also learn many new ones; to understand the power of learning through stories; to get a crash course in Indigenous politics; to be taunted with croc stories and lured in by the hopes of catching the biggest barra; and most importantly, gain a true understanding of processes that acknowledge and strengthen traditional rights and how these are implemented into developing sustainable livelihoods.  Being able to continue working with the CLCAC after my internship ended has been an amazing opportunity for me, and I hope to keep my connections with the Gulf region. ... Most importantly, I can proudly say that I can now drive a manual!