Matthew Barton

Organisation: 
Stream: 
Social Science
Sector: 
Policy/Research
Location: 
Canberra
Round: 
Winter 2015

Canberra: one name that automatically dredges up memories of visiting Parliament House and the War Memorial on primary school excursions. Canberra: one name that immediately conjures vivid imagery of inescapable round-a-bouts, Questacon, fireworks and Lake Burley Griffin. Canberra: the one name that really makes you miss Sydney and Melbourne. This list is, of course, largely farcical; there are many more things to Canberra that make it unique and special. 

One notable absence from this list is the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) which is situated near the National Museum of Australia and the edge of the Australian National University. AIATSIS is one of the premier research bodies into a large range of Indigenous issues, culture, history, native title and policy. In what may appear from its exterior, an unassuming building actually contains a vibrant and diverse environment of research and passion. 

In 2015 I was fortunate enough to have been granted a social science internship at AIATSIS for five weeks via the Aurora Internship Program. As a part of the internship, I had the opportunity to work alongside Dr. Rod Kennett and Dr. Tran Tran at the Centre for Land and Water Research. Prior to commencing the internship I had absolutely no idea what to expect in terms of the kind of work I would be doing or the projects that I would be completing. I wasn’t sure if I would be spending hours behind a printer collecting disparate sheets of paper or making note of the seventeenth soy cappuccino regulated to 57o C with two and a half teaspoons of organic sugar. Gladly, I was not tasked with either of those things. 

Whilst my supervisors and most of the AIATSIS staff were at the 2015 National Native Title Conference in Port Douglas, I was assigned with two projects. In the first project I was asked to conduct a qualitative study of Community-based Management Plans for Land and Sea Management by looking at what Traditional Owners’ and Indigenous communities’ aspirations for management of country were. In the second project, I was asked to look at the presentation, or lack thereof, of Indigenous interests and participation capacities in scientific reports addressing Australia’s ecosystems and marine areas. If those tasks weren’t already gargantuan enough, I was also assigned other tasks such as creating draft reports from various workshops from the National Native Title Conference. 

What had drawn me to do internship under the Aurora Project was the desire to gain a deeper understanding about issues that Indigenous Australians face. I also wanted to be able to see how I can use the skills I have learnt in law, history and philosophy in a practical setting. Needless to say in an awfully cliché phrase, my internship experience fulfilled these aspirations and so much more. In only a matter of weeks, I felt as though I had completed a university course-worth of content. I gained deeper knowledge and new perspectives into the aspirations of Traditional Owners, the complex managerial systems needed to negotiate a cavalcade of interests in maintaining the cultural integrity of country, and the challenges communities face in accessing and protecting country. I also read widely into the successes of Indigenous Ranger Programs in relation to the ways they empower Indigenous individuals and communities, care for country and work with government agencies. The other positive outcome of my internship experience was using the skills that I have learnt in my tertiary degree thus far. I learnt that contrary to popular belief, an Arts Degree does provide some practical skills, and these skills can be used in a constructive manner. 

For me, the most important part of my internship experience was the research environment at AIATSIS. All of the AIATSIS staff were fantastic and welcoming and always willing to discuss what their various projects were. In addition to this, they were always readily available to offer advice about particular areas to assist in my projects. Luckily, I was also accompanied by another Aurora Intern and a former Aurora Intern. Their company was invaluable as it meant that I always had someone to talk to or learn about what projects they were working on. 

As the remaining threads of the wick, that is my internship, meet their end, I have just enough time to convince you, Dear Reader, why you should consider an Aurora Internship and undertake it at AIATSIS. If you have an interest in the issues and challenges that Indigenous people face or in the ways in which Indigenous people can be empowered and assisted, then an Aurora Internship is the most accessible way to do so. There are not many opportunities for university students to intern during their degree, and Aurora is one of the best avenues to take to acquire one. After the internship you will leave more enlightened and with a greater perspective and understanding of the issues in the lives of Indigenous Australians. 

There are both summer and winter internships under the Aurora Internship Program, visit their website for more details. 

http://www.auroraproject.com.au/