In preparation for my interview for the Aurora Native Title Internship Program, I was forwarded the link to a document titled “A Report into the Professional Development needs of Native Title Representative Body Lawyers”. At first this seemed odd as I was an anthropology internship applicant, but in good faith, I skimmed through parts of the 175 page document, hoping it would help my chances of being selected for a placement. It was through reading parts of this document that I was able to gain a greater insight into the workings of Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRB’s) and the difficulties and challenges they face as organisations.
Throughout my degree I had been taught to understand the anthropology of the Native Title process and its outcomes. I had been well versed in critical arguments surrounding the confining nature of governmental and legal processes; and how the anthropological research which is produced under such conditions is inevitably skewed by these legal pressures and requirements.
Experiencing and understanding NTRB’s as workplaces and organisations is another matter altogether. My placement with one particular NTRB, the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) provided an invaluable experience in both my professional development as well as my knowledge of how anthropological theory fits into the real life context of ‘going to work’.
My time with the KLC was very much like the experiences you might read about from other interns. I was overwhelmed and admiring of the talented, hardworking and passionate individuals who I met. It was very valuable to view both the raw anthropological data and the polished final reports of senior anthropologists in the field, and I found inspiring conversations and experiences everywhere. I simply had a fabulous time all round. I could easily write an article about how wonderful everything was, but I feel that there is enough already said by other interns about how amazing an experience an internship can be. Perhaps what I’m alluding to is the respect I now have for the individuals who work in such organisations and the pressures which they endure; and how the work life of those who are part of NTRB’s can be incredibly challenging.
The NTRB is a place which holds uncertainty, shifting goalposts and unpredictable elements. Pressures are exerted from all directions; within the organisation, external to it, within the claimant groups, and from the broader legal and state mechanisms which interact with native title. It is not by any stretch of the imagination an ideal or straightforward situation. The word ‘ideal’ is important here. If I was to idealise the work and the organisation too heavily, then it would be unhelpful in truly describing how valuable my experience was.
For example, I was able to see a consent determination of native title for the Bunuba people in the Kimberley, an occasion which consisted of a Federal Court hearing under a marquee at Geikie Gorge with approximately 300 community members present. It was a privilege to witness, let alone contribute to, and it is an experience that I will treasure.
Yet the knowledge I gained about the enormous amount of background work which went into the Bunuba claim, one which took over 13 years to finalise, was also an inspirational and illuminating experience.
The tough work life and the stretched resources I witnessed brought a stark reality to my internship, and it helped me understand the extra sweetness that the victories within this field of work can bring. My emotions during my internship were true to the highs and lows to be experienced in this type of workplace.
This might sound a little negative and some who read this might be thinking to themselves:
‘Gee, I wonder what happened during her internship to make her write about her experience in such a way?’
The answer to that question can be found in taking a chance and applying for an internship yourself. Anthropology is a discipline which asks its practitioners to dive into another world and to participate while observing. This is perhaps why people who have a passion for anthropology should seriously take the opportunity to delve into the world of native title and Indigenous affairs and make up their own minds about the place of anthropological theory in grounded realities.
I can, after my short time with the KLC, honestly say that I have returned home to face my Honours year with renewed inspiration, a more consolidated opinion, and an honest desire to contribute in some way to the native title sector; warts and all