In January of 2016 I left the cold summer of Melbourne behind for two months in forty-degree Alice Springs. As part of the International Studies course at RMIT I was required to undertake a 40-day placement, which is included in the course as part of ‘work integrated learning’. I chose to complete this through the Aurora Internship Program. Aurora places students and graduates across the fields of law, anthropology and some social sciences in organisations working in the Indigenous sector nationally. Although my choice to intern in the ‘Aboriginal’ field within an internationally orientated course was unconventional, my desire to work alongside Aboriginal people in Australia was strong. Thus I set off to Alice Springs.
Arriving in Alice Springs I was surprised by the balance of ease and wonder that I felt with the place. While I had just moved from inner Melbourne, I had spent a lot of time in my youth in small country towns. At first glance Alice Springs felt like any other. I had to remind myself I was in the middle of our country by sporadically glancing up at the surrounding red ranges. As I investigated the town further I observed the strength of the Aboriginal presence and the subtle partition between the two dominant cultures within the township. I also came to appreciate the strong respect and knowledge afforded to Aboriginal cultures by the many people I met. So many of these people soon became my friends.
In Alice Springs I was placed at an organisation called Ninti One. Ninti One works out of the Desert Knowledge Precinct, a collaborative and innovative space located outside of the Alice Springs township. It sits cohesively amongst solar panels and the unique flora and fauna of the desert. Ninti One is predominantly a research-based organisation and works across a number of fields, such as agriculture, climate change adaptation, aboriginal wellbeing and community development. The work Ninti One undertakes is unique due to their employment of Aboriginal Community Researchers throughout the communities of the Northern Territory, rather than outsider anthropologists or researchers. My work within Ninti One largely revolved around their research relating to the trial of the National Disability Scheme in the APY Lands, the ‘Stronger Communities for Children’ project, within which Ninti One worked in a support & consultancy role, and research relating to Ninti’s Aboriginal Community Researcher network. Over my eight weeks I undertook desktop research, conducted face-to-face interviews, attended and took minutes for teleconferences and developed visual support material.
In the time I spent at Ninti One I learnt a lot about working within a professional, team-orientated environment. I also had the pleasure of meeting a variety of different people working within the Aboriginal field. Everyone had different motivations for working in this space, and the passion behind their work was ever-inspiring. Alongside the formal work I completed within the Ninti One office, meeting and working with Aboriginal Community Researchers taught me a tremendous amount. I was lucky enough to be able to take an overnight trip to a community called Atitjere with two Aboriginal Community Researchers. Two days in the heat, chatting to my colleagues and the people of the community could be labelled as token. However it provided me with an unwavering appreciation of life on community. I was proud of the history of these people, the way they spoke with such love for their country and their willingness to share their knowledge with me.
Even though I have come to recognise that regional hubs such as Alice Springs, and the remote communities that are accessed from them, require innovative professionals with a committed and long-term frame of mind, I would highly recommend the experience of an internship. I recognise that I may have added to the town’s retainment issues, however I gained a passion and love for the area that will see Alice Springs on the top of my list when I transition from university to the workplace. Without access to an Aurora internship this may have never been the case. Therefore I am amazed at the decision of our Government earlier this month to possibly cut funding to the Aurora Internship Program. In a time that is being promoted by our Prime Minster as the ‘innovation boom’ it would be hypocritical to not recognise the need for innovation and passion in the process of working alongside our Aboriginal people. I hope that any future interns who may be interested in undertaking an internship within Aurora express this by applying for the summer 2016/17 round. Through this I hope that the government can appreciate how willing Australia’s young people are to be working in this field.
Applications for the summer 2016/17 round will be open in August online via the website at: http://www.auroraproject.com.au/aurorainternshipprogram.