Billeigh Waaha

Winter 2012

As a mature aged student, I came to La Trobe University with the intention of earning a certification, which would allow employment within the field of native title, or at least somewhere within the Aboriginal sector. Discovering the Aurora Project, I felt that experiences gained during such an internship would be invaluable; I aimed to be accepted. The Aurora Native Title Internship Program places successful applicants with Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and other organisations throughout Australia , working in land rights, policy development and human rights, all with an Indigenous focus.. Aurora is rigorous when ensuring that applicants are committed to social justice and Indigenous affairs and developing greater understanding of Australian issues. At the time, I thought the application process was a little excessive but on completing my five week internship in sunny Darwin, I understand why.

Placed with the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (AAPA) in Darwin, the statutory authority upholds the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act (1989) and works within the Territory, registering and protecting Aboriginal sacred sites. I was one of four Aurora interns placed with AAPA, (two legal and two anthropology) entrusted with the task of each delivering a report that would contribute to the Seabed Mining Review. In March 2012, the NT government placed a three year moratorium on exploration and mining in NT waters and AAPA and the EPA were tasked with reviewing the impact of such activities. The other interns and I were each responsible for delivering a report based on important aspects surrounding seabed mining. As an anthropology intern, I was required to deliver findings and recommendations in relation to the historical context of Indigenous management of sacred sites in the sea. My research allowed me to collate information about past and current activities, policies and research into Indigenous management of sacred sites, including sea closures, native title claims and government initiatives supporting Indigenous management of the seas.

Working the usual NT government hours from 8am-4:21pm, five days a week over five weeks, I developed a sixty page report including a timeline of significant events surrounding customary marine tenure and an appendices elaborating concerns and a historical overview of recorded Indigenous management of the seas. Knowing very little about the Northern Territory before I arrived, the internship gave me the opportunity to work with a great Aboriginal resource library in Australia, developing a deep understanding of concerns surrounding the development of NT coastal waters. Immersed in various records, books, ethnographies and other primary research material I developed an affinity with my work; entrusted with such an important task, I would not take this opportunity for granted. Hence the 60 page report.

Working along side three other Aurora interns at AAPA allowed for company at lunch and a sounding board for when issues, whether personal or work related, arose. I made friends with my colleagues and became acquainted with many more Aurora interns placed in Darwin, all experiencing profoundly inspirational moments throughout the duration of their stay.