Upon descending into the desert on my first cloudless Saturday morning in Alice Springs, I was filled with a very profound sense of serenity and awe. The lines in the desert reminded me of the veins embedded in a cranium; prominent, intricate, a pervading force of life. The sea, the land and the sky intertwined and flowed, ochre and blue dancing in the most brilliant light that was constantly changing. My eyes swam deeply in each part of the landscape, so intrinsically connected: as body, as heart, as soul and of being. And my own heart pulsing, I was inspired but was ultimately obstructed at how vaguely I might ever be able to conceive and embody this place: Arrernte country.
Ninti One was an incredible introduction to what would become (somewhat expectedly) a big love affair with the Northern Territory. Ninti One is an organisation that builds opportunities for people in remote Australia through research, innovation and community development. My Aurora internship experiences with the organisation were genuine and respectful, where everyone continually sought to support opportunities where I would learn and grow, both professionally and personally. My supervisor was the Manager of the Remote Field Projects, a program that utilises collaboration, research and relationship building for the development of communities through practicing Ninti’s core values of a grass-roots, community based approach. Part of my experience at Ninti involved the privilege of going out bush alongside Aboriginal Community Researchers to the remote communities of Yuendumu and Nyrippi where I observed the evaluation of the Warlpiri Education and Training Program, and to Mutitjulu and Docker River to observe the surveying of communities about mobility. These tasks involved respectful observation and engagement with community members around early childhood facilities, adult learning centres and youth programs with key stakeholders in the community. To say the learning was great seems like such an incredible understatement. I felt very humbled to be welcomed into these communities and have an opportunity to listen to their ideas, concerns and visions for the future. Additionally, the experience of going out with Aboriginal Community Researchers was profoundly meaningful: I felt like I was guided and mentored in a culturally appropriate and respectful manner, which is vital in any form of community engagement. These experiences reinforced my skills in collaboration and my passion to understand and work closely with communities, and also solidifying how bloody breathtaking this country is!
How can you begin to describe a place that’s so much more than its physicality? After a mere five weeks of being in the Territory, I especially don’t claim to be able to articulate it in its entirety. What I can do now, however, perhaps a little better than before, is embrace its complexity: the all-pervading paradoxes of culture, lifestyle and energy. Experiences here move like the red dust on the desert floor: in and out of stereotypes, of definitions, and of identifications. In many ways I think that experiencing Alice Springs has been experiencing a microcosm of Australia: many aspects of my heritage in searing light that is sometimes uncomfortable and confronting. Segregation and exclusion, avoidance and ignorance that’s also swimming in an ocean of inclusion, community, acknowledgement and recognition. There’s no denying the strength of community here in Alice, and in this respect, Alice really provides for ‘the internship experience’ that’s short-term and very stimulating. If you’re open enough, you can embrace and include yourself in everything from community fire circles, gigs in outdoor galleries, Tai Chi in the park, and weekly arthouse films at Araleun Arts Centre. From the minute I set foot in this dusty, crazy town I’ve been repeatedly told of the magnetising affect Alice has on a creative heart: an intangible pull to the centre that continues to draw people back. I think part of this is the experience of community life here, and how the energy of some people is cultivated, fostered and nurtured in a very uniquely creative and expressive space. I strongly recommend Alice for anyone who’s connected to the arts, you will be inspired to no end.
And then there’s country. Despite all its complexities, and at times very strong whiteness, Alice does have a powerful engagement with the Traditional Owners of Arrernte country and there are many opportunities to learn and educate yourself about culture. A part of the magic I’ve experienced is being inspired by country in ways that I can’t really seem to describe: feeling a connectedness to something that I’ll never be able to fully grasp, yet having a thirst for learning in whatever capacity I can. At times that’s meant just simply being in this environment- and that might be the extent of it. I think that a part of respectful interaction with culture in this space is acknowledging that inaccessibility and to be mindful of ways in which we automatically impose and demand understanding, where sometimes it’s just not appropriate or not meant to be. I strongly recommend taking an Arrernte language class at Alice Springs Language Centre, not only because the classes are so much fun and energetic, but also because I think it can be such an important experience of immersing one’s self in culture, being in a position to learn, and to actually communicate with Aboriginal people in their own language.
There was, and is, and will be so much more: especially as the current part of this journey has led me to move up here. Upon arriving in Alice Springs, I have felt a strong connection with the culture and the opportunity for unique work, particularly for and with Aboriginal people and communities. I also feel very passionately about cultural reflexivity in practice and understand there is so much more for me to learn from people, their culture and their experiences, and am committed to doing so. And whilst these are parts of myself I have already seen and witnessed in other experiences and places, I am incredibly grateful for Ninti One and Aurora for illuminating these aspects of myself, and reinforcing the amazing opportunities open to anyone with an open mind, a mindful spirit and a love for the clear desert air.
To find out more about the Aurora Internship Program, check out their website — http://www.auroraproject.com.au/what_is_an_Aurora_internship.
Applications for the winter 2017 round will be open on-line in March 2017.