Carolyn Plaistowe

Summer 2014

For many people, Aurora internships are about travelling to a new place and gaining firsthand experience in the field. For me it was a way to enter an unknown field of research and begin to understand the fundamentals of Aboriginal affairs. I had just completed my Bachelor of Arts in Melbourne and was looking for a productive and inspirational way to fill the summer holidays before starting my honours year at the Australian National University.


I have had an interest in Aboriginal affairs throughout my time at university, but my subjects in geography and anthropology focused more on theory. I do not have a strong desire to become an academic so I decided that a better understanding of the issues at home would lead to the most interesting anthropological career. I was also keen to trial this interest in the workplace before committing to my thesis research question of how Aboriginal land management intersects with identity. This is what led me to apply for an Aurora Native Title Internship and my expectations were certainly met.


My supervisor at the Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research (CAEPR), Dr. Nicholas Biddle, is an economist who is currently analysing the Australian Census data from 2006 and 2011. His series of paper ask what this reveals about the contemporary Indigenous population in Australia and my first task was to read and summarise the key findings and the reasons why the data is useful or important. This task was quite challenging for me as the thinking and style of analysis is vastly different from anthropological or ethnographic writing, however the papers were fascinating and so it was easy to work through the papers. My understanding of the issues shifted away from remote or traditional ideas as the data indicates a growing young and urban population.

Some of his main findings are that the population who identify with the Indigenous category in the Census has grown by over twenty percent between 2006 and 2011, they are also young, mobile and increasingly urban. This growth is occurring much faster than that of the non-Indigenous population and has great potential as an untapped work force, however the figures also outline that they are much less likely to participate in education or mainstream employment. There is also a disparity in the levels of disadvantage, disability, and satisfaction with housing between the Indigenous and non-Indigenous populations. Such findings highlight the importance of understanding contemporary Aboriginal lifestyles to policy makers, educators, and academics.

These figures were useful in giving my an understanding of current circumstances but I felt that my anthropological background made me want to understand whythere is such great disparity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.


Luckily, I started chatting to one of the anthropologists, Dr. Seán Kerins, working at CAEPR and he offered to supervise me for a project aimed more towards my interests of identity and land management. Hearing that this was an interest for my honours thesis he asked me to complete a 5000 word literature review on this topic, which would be useful to me and interesting to the organisation.


After a month of researching I came to learn what country is and what it means to Aboriginal people. This has given me a greater understanding of why native title and land rights are integral to Aboriginal rights and how detrimental the prejudice of systems like education and law enforcement can be to achieving such self-determination. I started finding answers to my questions and found that Australia places great importance on data and Closing the Gap but not, as many Aboriginal people/s do, on finding meaning through work and education.


My time at CAEPR may be the less expected internship but my time at the research organisation helped me to broaden my understanding of Aboriginal history, aspects of certain Aboriginal cultures, and contemporary issues faced by those who identify as Indigenous Australians. 


I also met my honours supervisor and have made a really great start with the research for my thesis. This internship was wonderful as it allowed me to enter the subject at my own pace so that next time I will be ready for the field. 


Applications for the winter 2014 round of internships will be open from 3 March to 28 March online via the website at