Over the winter break, I had the opportunity to travel up to Darwin to do a four-week Aurora internship with the Aboriginal Justice Unit (AJU) of the Northern Territory Government’s Department of Attorney-General and Justice.
The AJU is located along the Darwin Esplanade, with terrific views of Darwin Harbour. It was established in July 2017 to develop and deliver the Northern Territory’s first ever Aboriginal Justice Agreement (NTAJA). The NTAJA aims to: (1) reduce recidivism and imprisonment rates amongst Aboriginal Territorians; (2) engage and support Aboriginal leaders; and (3) improve justice responses and services to Aboriginal Territorians.
I arrived at the AJU at an exciting time. The AJU was close to releasing a draft version of the agreement, which was based on two key elements: first, an extensive data collection exercise; and second, a two-year consultation process consisting of 120 consultations with Aboriginal communities and organisations across the NT. By the time I arrived at the AJU, many of the other NT government departments were aware that a draft agreement might be released soon, and so the work I was helping out with at the AJU was in many respects the ‘talk of the town’.
The AJU itself is a small unit, with only a few permanent staff. A major benefit of this was that I had a steady stream of interesting work to do, and was given a fair amount of responsibility from the outset. On my very first day, I helped put together a presentation on the NTAJA which my supervisor delivered to the Aboriginal Affairs Sub-Committee of the Northern Territory Cabinet. Some of the other work I did included: helping put together ‘agency packages’ (i.e. agency-specific documents outlining the key issues that a particular agency or department would need to address under the NTAJA); conducting research on the systemic barriers faced by Aboriginal Territorians in the NT justice system; and drafting speaking notes for my supervisor in preparation for two upcoming conferences.
There were many highlights during my internship. In my first week, I attended several seminars at the 2019 Reintegration Puzzle Conference, an annual conference aimed at developing strategies to reintegrate ex-offenders back into the community. I also got to visit Holtze Prison for the opening of the ‘No More’ Art Installation – an art exhibition put together by inmates, signifying their commitment to ending domestic violence.
Perhaps the biggest highlight of my internship was getting to experience NAIDOC Week in Darwin. I participated in a number of NAIDOC events, including the NAIDOC March itself. NAIDOC Week was also my busiest week in terms of workload. My supervisor tasked me with co-drafting two of her speeches on the 2019 NAIDOC theme: ‘Voice. Treaty. Truth’. As a non-Indigenous person and someone with very little speechwriting experience, I found this task very challenging, but ultimately fulfilling. Preparing these speeches with my supervisor gave me an insight not just into the history and hopes of Indigenous Territorians, but also some of the inspiring personal stories that my supervisor wove into her speeches. Though I felt out of my depth at the time, in hindsight I am deeply grateful to my supervisor for involving me in her speech-writing process.
One of the best parts of my internship was the social aspect. I should point out here that I did my internship during the dry season. The dry season in Darwin (June to August) was some of the best weather I’ve ever experienced. It was consistently 30 degrees and sunny, with zero humidity. Naturally, dry season is a great time to visit Darwin for recreation and camping. For me, some of the social highlights included: feasting with other Aurora interns at Parap Market; watching the fireworks display at Mindle Beach on ‘Territory Day’; watching an Aboriginal comedy sketch at the Darwin Fringe Festival; and kicking back at the Mandora Ukulele and Folk Festival. I was also lucky enough to have an extra week in the Territory after my internship ended. I spent it travelling around the NT with two close friends. We visited Litchfield National Park, Katherine Gorge and Kakadu National Park, and saw some of the most beautiful sights we’ve ever seen.
Wherever you end up going, an Aurora internship is bound to be an interesting and potentially transformative experience. However, in my opinion, an internship with the AJU would be particularly special (especially during the dry season). Fun and passionate colleagues, interesting work that makes a real difference – what more could you ask for? And make sure you leave some time to check out the rest of the Territory as well!