Ben Brant

Aboriginal Land Councils
Summer 2012

As an undergraduate student studying a BA (Anthropology), I am just entering the final semester of my third year. As a student I have often pondered the idea about what it would be like to finally leave the institutionalized setting of a university, and enter the work arena: particularly within the field of anthropology. On hearing about the Aurora Project Native Title Internship Program through university peers who themselves were past interns –with some amazing experiences to share-, I was both refreshed and excited with the notion that I could gain some supervised work experience in the field of study I am currently engaged in. Needless to say, I jumped at the opportunity to apply for an internship through the Aurora Project.

I feel fortunate and indeed privileged to have been accepted to undertake my anthropology internship with Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY). APY traces its incorporated beginnings to the passing of the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Land Rights Act 1981 by the South Australian state government. The passing of this Act gave Anangu peoples title to more than 103,000 square kilometres of arid land in the far northwest of South Australia. I was based in the small –purpose built- community of Umuwa. Umuwa is the administrative centre for APY Lands, and as such contains facilities for addressing automotive and housing issues, economic development, land management concerns, and also employs staff to liaise with mining companies over potential mineral exploration endeavours. It is in the area of mineral exploration –in fact any development which can have potential impacts on Anangu cultural heritage- that covers much of the workload for anthropologists who are employed by APY. Anthropologists play an important role for APY by ensuring that Traditional Owners (TOs) are given every possible opportunity to have an informed consultation and final consent for any development which will affect APY Lands. Anthropological skills such as researching genealogies are important in the process of identifying which TOs have the authority and hence right to speak for “country”.

As an intern my initial and prime responsibility was to help with sorting out the filing systems, matching both electronic and physical files. This is a continuing and often tiring process, but the rewards will be that there will be more efficiency when trying to retrieve and store files. Ultimately this will help with improving the service to TOs. As a person who came to the internship with no real administrative experience I found this set task to be challenging at times. It was none-the-less rewarding in the sense that I was –through reading some of the files- able to gauge and gain some notion of what anthropological –particularly cultural heritage management-work out here involves. If time permitted, there were opportunities to accompany my supervising anthropologist out into the field to conduct minor clearance work, or attend meeting in order to construct genealogies. These opportunities were very enlightening as they allowed me to glimpse into some of the social complexities, and also constraints that can be experienced in this type of field.

We as interns also had the opportunity to lend a hand to other departments during our internship. Such activities included volunteering to help out with the Warru (Black-footed Rock Wallaby) Recovery Program. Such activities involved going out on country in areas not usually open to the public. As part of our involvement, we interns were even able to go up in a light helicopter to assist with some of the tasks which the program required in order to be successful. Such activities, especially when up in the air, provided spectacular images of the APY Lands, which will forever be ingrained in my memory.

With weekends free, there were many opportunities to explore some of the surrounding area of APY Lands. We were able to visit Uluru and Kata Tjuta. We also were able to camp out by water-holes in some of the most beautiful country imaginable. There is nothing like being able to fall asleep by a campfire, while gazing up at a never ending ocean of glittering stars. Being able to visit the community art centres out on APY Lands was another definite highlight of the experience. I was often captivated by the complexity of the paintings and other craft pieces on display. Other recreational experiences included a little hiking, and accompanying some of the Anangu women out on country to collect tjala (honey ants) as well as to harvest mingkulpa (a type of wild tobacco).

My internship was an unforgettable experience in so many ways and has left an indelible mark in my mind of the APY Lands and the Anangu peoples who call it their home. It has given me insights into many concepts I have learned during the process of my undergraduate education and allowed me to apply these concepts to practical –real life- settings. I have furthermore been blessed with an opportunity to acquaint myself with professional anthropologists at APY and to form professional networks with them. Lastly my internship experience through the Aurora Project has both refreshed and reinstalled my desire to continue my studies to a post-graduate level and to pursue a career in anthropology both within Australia and beyond. I would definitely recommend the Aurora Project Native Title Internship Program to any current university students or post-graduates who are entertaining the idea of working in the dynamic areas of Indigenous issues.