Sara Cavalvanti Marques

Social Science
Native Title
Summer 2018

It took me six years to get through my bachelor degree in Ecology, meandering through just about all departments and labs available at the University campus and delayed even further by exchange programs overseas. Yet, academia as I’d known it never seemed to satisfy the urge in me to actively be involved in addressing social issues and sustainability. I soon came to the realization that environmental conservation could not progress if basic human rights were not guaranteed throughout, and if traditional custodians didn’t have their voices heard.

With this in mind, I set out to gain perspective on what working with Indigenous peoples in Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) entails in Australia, and whether this might tick the boxes I spent the previous 6 years attempting to meet. I was thrilled to discover there was an organization in place to assist in just that, and I was overjoyed when I discovered I had been selected to participate in a 6-week Aurora Internship with Desert Support Services, which is affiliated to the Central Desert Native Title Services. The Aurora Internship Program provides substantial assistance to those interested in seeking to delve into native title and to experience working with related Aboriginal affairs. The program facilitates internship placements with over 150 host organizations nationwide, and keeps each intern’s assets, aspirations and interests in mind when helping to pinpoint the most suitable organization.

During my time at Desert Support Services (DSS) in Perth, I found myself surrounded by supportive staff members that were always happy to share more about their work with me and lend a hand if ever I needed one. I was involved in developing field resources to be used by Martu IPA rangers on their land management programs. This expanded my view on the natural environment as it geared me to constantly reflect on the holistic way Martu understand and look after country, steering me away from the often-limited western scientific outlook I had been primed to consider. Not only did I gain valuable knowledge on desert fauna and the ins and outs of working in an office that supports Aboriginal communities in managing established IPAs, but also learned to see environmental conservation through a different lens. I was also lucky enough to participate in two IPA Land Management Team meetings, where I had the chance to meet the protagonists of the work I had been assigned to assist in, the Martu rangers themselves. Witnessing the way Martu exercise leadership in two-way science and in developing management programs to the benefit of the natural environment and community alike, my interest in pursuing a career in the area was consolidated. Inevitably, I also glimpsed the depth of the challenges faced whilst undertaking this kind of work, but I am confident that the gratification earned outweighs the difficulties faced.

Looking back, the internship with DSS through Aurora has played a crucial role in defining the pathways I now choose to follow professionally. I highly recommend the program to anyone, student or graduate, with a keen interest in working in this field and in need of practical experience.