Alexandra Pluss

Organisation: 
Stream: 
Anthropology
Sector: 
Native Title
Location: 
Darwin
Round: 
Winter 2012

The purpose of this report is to explore my experience as a intern placed at the Northern Land Council as part of the Aurora Native Title Internship Program winter 2012 round. This report will give some valuable feedback about my six weeks work experience in the Northern Land Council (NLC).

It is hoped that this report would serve as a cardinal vehicle to the promotion of the internship program.

Aurora Native Title Internship Program
The Aurora Native Title Internship Program is part of a nation-wide project that places law, anthropology and other social science students and graduates at Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and other organisations involved in Indigenous affairs. As a postgraduate student in Anthropology, I was placed in Anthropology Branch of the Northern Land Council.

Length of the internship
As an international student on an exchange program for a year in Australia, the time frame during which I was available for the internship was constrained by the length of my visa, expiring by the end of June 2012. Although the winter round of Aurora internships usually starts in June, there is some flexibility around this and the Aurora placement team arranged an early internship for me in less than 2 weeks after my application on the 5th of March 2012. Thus, I began my internship on 19th March 2012. The internship was to last 6 weeks and as a result it came officially to an end on 27th April 2012. However, for reasons that I will explain subsequently, I extended my stay in the NLC until the beginning of June.

My expectations prior to the internship
The Northern Land Council is an independent statutory authority of the Commonwealth responsible for defending Aboriginal people rights and interests in their traditional land in the Top End of the Northern Territory. It is both a Land Council, under the ALRA (Aboriginal Land Rights Act) and a Native Title Representative Body. I had originally intended to join the NLC as a way to participate directly in the making of social justice. During my final year of a Bachelor in Anthropology I had developed a particular interest in Indigenous management of land. Therefore, I decided to get involved, during my journey in Australia, in an
independent body working on the protection of Aboriginal Land Rights.

In fact, internships are the most effective way for students to get practical exposure in the field they have chosen. It enables people intending to start a professional career to get familiarized with the way to live in the organizational environment, which is dramatically different from the educational environment. It gives the opportunity to young inexperienced people to become more confident, more knowledgeable, more responsible, and above all, more committed to its work in the practical field.

When I first arrived to the NLC, it was unclear to me exactly what my duties were to be. Although I had been very well informed by the Aurora team about the purpose of the Internship Program and the process of Native Title, not much indication had been given to me in advance about the actual tasks that the NLC was expecting me to undertake. In fact, it had been suggested to me that I was going to assist the anthro/research team of the organization in whatever native title related work they were working on. However, for most of the time, I was assisting in the area of in Aboriginal Land Rights.

Tasks undertaken under my placement in the NLC
During my six weeks internship in the NLC, I've been involved in a range of different tasks. From the first day, I was placed in the Land Interest Reference office (LIR).The Land Interest Reference Register is a service that offers access to all the anthropological resources of the NLC (Land Claims, Native Title Determination Applications, maps, anthropological reports, etc). I was first given the task to assist the LIR officer cataloguing documents into the LIR digitized register. Once I had learnt how to manipulate this computing system, I had the chance to assist anthropologists in the completion of Land Information Requests. Indeed, every time that a project (commercial, industrial, recreational or scientific) is planned on Aboriginal Land, advice is sought from the regional anthropologist from the NLC as to who the traditional owners are who need to be consulted. Land Information Requests are basically lists of traditional owners with rights and interests in a delimited geographical area. Releasing those documents requires a good understanding of the Aboriginal land tenure system as well as the ability to manipulate genealogies.

As this service was under-resourced during the period of my internship (lack of two staff members, and change of LIR officer) my assistance in the LIR office had been a great help. I was also given other minors tasks by different anthropologists of the branch to undertake (such as listening to recordings, printing maps, doing bibliographic and genealogical research...) however my main focus during the office hours in the NLC was filling and releasing Land Information Requests, specially to the Kakadu-West Arnhem Land Area Region.

I had also the incredible chance to participate in two field-trips to Gregory-Jutparra National Park. The first one was for the annual joint management meeting, between Parks and Wild Life Australia and Aboriginal Traditional Owners of the park, and the second one for a “Fire
Meeting” during which rangers and traditional owners burned country together for the first time. During those field trips I was assigned more practical tasks such as driving, cooking, taking pictures, shooting, setting up tents, and making lots of tea! As a young woman, my duty was specially to take care of the older ladies.

Benefits of the internship
In retrospect, I can say that I have benefited from the internship program in many different ways.

First of all, the internship has enabled me to understand better the practicalities of Aboriginal land rights. It has also given me the chance to learn from experts in the field of applied anthropology in the arena of Aboriginal land rights, specially John Laurence and Robert Graham.

Career-wise, the internship program undoubtedly enriched my curriculum vitae (CV), but I would undoubtedly say that the most rewarding aspect of my internship has been the human experience. My internship has been a great human experience in the sense that it has sharpened my capacity to work in team and learn from passionate and engaged people in an incredibly friendly work environment. Above all, it has been an overwhelming cross-cultural experience that as enriched me not only as a person but also as a future anthropologist. This internship as given me the opportunity to experience practical anthropological work for the first time in my life, and to discover the beauty of one of the oldest cultures in the world.

Conclusion:

My internship with the Northern Land Council has been without a doubt the greatest experience I've had during my journey in Australia. It has been a worthwhile learning experience that as allowed me develop a more comprehensive view of the bureaucratic process of the application of the ALRA. It has also help me gain a better understanding of the complexity of Aboriginal culture and social issues.

Some challenging tasks, such as releasing LIRs for important mining royalties distribution, have enhanced my self-confidence as well as my sense of responsibility.

I joined the NLC hoping to have the opportunity to go on a field-trip and see the work that anthropologists do on the ground with local Aboriginal communities. Now, I can say that my expectations were more than exceeded and that I have lived the experience of a lifetime. Two weeks of field-trip have influenced my deliberations on my future career as I now consider Aboriginal management of land, and more particularly Joint-Management in Natural Parks, as a future career option. Indeed, after my six week internship I have decided to make Aboriginal land tenure system and the process of Joint-Management the subject of my Master's final dissertation. I have been very kindly invited by the Anthropology Branch Manager, and by other staff members of the NLC to extend my stay in the NLC in order to use the LIR resources for my personal research. Overall, I have been a member of the NLC anthropology branch team for more than two months.

To conclude this report, I must say that I am extremely grateful for the way I have been accepted by both, staff members of the NLC in the Darwin office, and local Aboriginal Traditional Owners in Gregory-Jutparra National Park. This internship has been an unforgettable experience that has made me grow professionally and intellectually.