Wendy Somerville

Social Science
Winter 2013

The Ngunnawal Centre at University of Canberra provides support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students and it was through those offices that I heard about the Aurora Native Title Internship Program. Originally Aurora internships were offered to law students to gain experience working in Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs), but the program has now expanded to include anthropology and some social sciences (archaeology, cultural heritage, environmental management, human geography, history and sociology). Students and graduates can apply for internship placements at over 80 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations, government bodies, community groups and other policy organisations Australia-wide.

A requirement of my cultural heritage course was either a research paper or an internship and as actual experience in a research area appealed to me, I applied on-line hoping to be placed at AIATSIS. I chose AIATSIS because as an Aboriginal I wanted to practice doing research in an organisation concerned with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues. I had already contacted a person at AIATSIS and been told that they would have me for six weeks but went through the application process because places are allotted on merit. I was the only UC student doing an Aurora internship in the summer 2012/13 round, and was interviewed at the ANU as that is where the ACT interview panel is based. I was offered a placement and arrived at AIATSIS to find that I would be interning in the Native Title Research Unit. The NTRU takes a lot of interns and while I was there two law students and an archaeology student, all from the ANU, also did research there.

I learnt a great deal during my internship. Being involved in a process where I had to put into practice the training I received as part of my course made a major impact on me, with the added bonus that I got to work the hours I wanted as if I was a real grown up researcher. At times I found myself slipping into university student ways – leaving things until the last minute, not sticking to my research plan – and came to appreciate why my lecturers stressed time management. Another bonus was that I was there in the time leading up to Christmas and enjoyed the hijinx of the Christmas decoration competition, including the order from the Director of research to ‘stop researching and start decorating’. The NTRU came second in the competition. The people were helpful and welcoming and interested in making my experience there a positive one.

While I was interning at AIATSIS I was offered 2 other placements at Aboriginal organisations in Perth, which I would have jumped at if they were paid, but that is the downside for students as you have to be prepared to pay for travel and accommodation costs.

Based on my experience I can recommend the Aurora Internship program to anyone who is interested in working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations.

More information can be obtained from the website at www.auroraproject.com.au.