Pepe Bingham-Hall

Aboriginal Land Councils
Winter 2019


In the winter of 2019, I was fortunate enough to take part in the Aurora Internship Program in the Anthropology stream. Over a period of 2 months, I was placed at two different Host organisations: first, with the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation (ALNF) in Sydney and then with the Cape York Land Council (CYLC) in Cairns.

I had just completed my degree in Anthropology and Visual Practice in the UK and flew over a week after my graduation to get stuck into the Program. I showed up for work at ALNF the day after I arrived, albeit severely jet-­‐lagged but raring to go. My first impression of the organisation was fantastic and only got better as the weeks passed.

I was placed in the First Languages Team, who research and deliver the First Languages literacy program in communities around the country. During my time there, I was conducting research into languages of the Torres Strait Islands, APY Lands, South Australia and Northern Territory. The linguistic diversity of First Languages in Australia was astounding and though I had studied linguistic Anthropology at university and found it incredibly interesting, the focus upon language literacy championed by the ALNF made the research I was doing invariably fulfilling.

I was also tasked with creating user guides for the First Languages literacy platform created by the organisation. Though this may appear a mundane task, it was anything but. I had to try my best to understand the platform and, in the process, received a crash-­‐course in literacy theory and practice – with words like ‘grapheme’ popping up every 30 seconds. Returning to literacy learning as an adult allowed me to appreciate the foundations of my own language learning, built when I was a kid, and take for granted now. These foundations are what the ALNF is helping to build in remote Indigenous communities, for both kids and adults in First Languages. It also gave me an understanding of the sheer complexities of languages and their constructions and the difficulties of interpreting traditionally oral language for use in written literacy programs.

After four weeks with the ALNF, I bid my farewells and set off for Cairns to work for another four weeks with the Cape York Land Council. I arrived the second week of September, just as the temperature was starting to pick up – which was a welcome break from the rain in Sydney. I was booked into a room in a share house in the center of the city, sharing with 5 other people – generously funded by my Host. The location was perfect, a ten-­‐minute walk to work/city/waterfront, and my housemates were all people who had come to Cairns for a variety of reasons and were all incredibly interesting.

The majority of the staff at CYLC worked either in the Anthropology or Legal Department, both contributing to their on-­‐going native title cases. Erin, a previous Aurora intern who now works at the Land Council, took me under her wing and explained to me the how’s and why’s of the

land council’s work – which she continued to do for the remainder of my internship, always there to help if I had even the slightest confusion. For my first few days, I was tasked with combing through expert Anthropological reports to find relevant ‘sites’ to be used in legal proceedings to prove connection to land. I found this really interesting because it gave me a bigger picture of the histories, tensions and uses of country in the claim. The reports spanned the linguistic, social and spiritual distinctions of different people on country. Though these reports were not meant to be exhaustive accounts, they gave me contextual understanding of the legal proceedings and the work being done by the council.

‘Sites’ was a term that was not immediately apparent to me, in its subtlety of what a ‘site’ actually entailed. More contemporary uses of land, like a cattle station, for example, were less important to the work of the council than a bora ground site. There, of course, was a huge breadth of sites all with their own distinct uses and purposes. Only after reading my first report, I began to really appreciate the nuance of the work I had been tasked with: which stuck with me for the duration of my placement with the council and will continue to do so for a lot longer.

Along with contributing to the site register, I was asked to look into family connections to very specific areas of country in the Cape. Some ancestral lands were more clearly demarcated between families, while others were not. As such, with each new area I was asked to look into, I had to adopt a different approach to understanding land connection. This information was, again, to be found in the extensive Anthropological reports. This work proved to be both incredibly challenging and rewarding and gave me the chance to explore the social histories of the areas with other people in the team and it was fantastic to be able to see how other people worked and the different areas of expertise they all had, coming from different organisations and backgrounds. During my placement, I also got to work with people on the legal team with their work, which deepened my sense of the huge amount of work the council was doing!

Everyone at the council was incredibly welcoming and Cairns was a hot and gorgeous place to spend a month. I had family friends who lived in and around Cairns who I met up with on the weekends and got to see the wonders of the region, which are there in abundance – the Great Barrier Reef and Daintree National Park to name just two. Cairns is also a great multicultural city and the amount of good food was belief defying. I could not recommend it as a potential placement destination (both Cairns and CYLC) more.

During my last week in Cairns I was offered a job back with ALNF in Sydney for the duration of my stay before I headed back to London in December. I was not expecting the offer and was thrilled they wanted me back to continue the work I started when I was first there. When I returned, I was able to see how the First Languages team used the research I had previously done when they went out to country. This allowed me to see both continuity in my work, and its real-­‐world application and contribution to the literacy program.

Aurora is a fantastic organisation and the work I was able to do and see is second to none and I encourage anyone with an interest in the work they do to consider an Aurora internship.