I arrived in Darwin on the 1st of November 2016 with very few expectations. I knew it would be very hot and humid – which worried me greatly – and I knew I would be working with the Aboriginal Peak Organisations for the NT (APO NT), assisting in the drafting of a submission for the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children – which excited me greatly. Other than these two realities and the suitcase I dragged behind me I came with very little to Darwin, but I left with much more than I expected.
My Aurora internship, via the Aurora Internship Program, was arranged to start nearly a week earlier than expected so that I would have some time to work with Julian Cleary, seconded from Amnesty International to assist APO NT with the drafting of the aforementioned submission. With just over a week’s confirmation of my placement my last week of classes at University was a flurry of activity, finalizing assignments and preparing for the move to Darwin. The pace of things certainly didn’t slow much once I started with APO NT.
There was an immense amount of work to do for a submission that would cover previous work undertaken by all five of APO NT’s alliance members, which related to the Royal Commission’s terms of reference. This meant addressing land rights, housing, early intervention, the social determinants of health, child protection, the nature of the legal system and the state of detention facilities. Not only did previous work and subsequent recommendations in these areas need to be highlighted, but also a new way forward or ‘paradigm shift’ needed to be developed, through consensus of all five organisations.
I commenced my internship at the very beginning of this process and it was both a fascinating and incredibly challenging project to have been a part of. I learnt a lot about the work already being done across the Territory towards achieving social justice for the Aboriginal population, and researched new and innovative approaches to child protection and youth detention which have been implemented around the country and the world.
In addition to the main task of drafting a submission for the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children, this internship presented the opportunity to attend a number of interesting meetings and to meet incredible and influential people, including parliamentary advisors, politicians and a human rights commissioner. I was also lucky enough to participate in a smoking ceremony as part of the opening of the Children in Care and Youth Detention Advice Service, an incredibly humbling experience. I attended the APO NT CEO’s meeting and a forum on the Community Development Program (CDP), both providing the opportunity to refine my minute taking skills. I also assisted in the development of a funding application and drafted official letters on behalf of the organisation.
The team at APO NT gave me guidance but also a lot of free reign to do what I felt was needed to achieve the goals we set. I found this equally exhilarating and terrifying. I understood the gravity and importance of the work that I was a part of and often felt unqualified in the face of that reality. The support provided to me by both my supervisor and the rest of my colleagues always helped to assuage those concerns however, and in retrospect I now feel that the independence and autonomy I was extended helped me to gain confidence and skills I might not have had the opportunity to otherwise.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect from APO NT – a peak body that represents its’ five alliance members perspectives on such a diverse range of policy and practice issues. Having initially applied for what I perceived to be a more ‘grassroots’ organisation I was somewhat concerned that in this placement I would be too far away from the issues as they are experienced on the ground, and too caught up in theory and bureaucracy. However I found that the close processes of collaboration that APO NT has with its alliance members and other stakeholders, as well as the close-knit nature of the NT, meant that I was never far away from these issues and nearly always within yarning distance of someone with a wealth of knowledge about them.
Furthermore, I found that the policy and other ‘big picture’ questions, which APO NT spends so much of its time contending with, are central to creating an enabling environment in which smaller organisations and service providers can effectively function. Working within a large peak organisation was also a fantastic opportunity to see how organisations can collaborate to give more power to their positions. This was particularly evident in my work on the Royal Commission submission, requiring the careful exercising of diplomacy and facilitation to achieve consensus, which could ultimately lead to recommendations with immense support behind them.
Finally, the staff of APO NT were incredibly warm and welcoming in our personal engagements as well as supportive and encouraging in relation to my professional aspirations. I have walked away from this 7-week internship with a better understanding of processes of collaboration and the diplomacy required to achieve them effectively, as well as policy processes and how these can be influenced through effective advocacy efforts. This internship was a fantastic opportunity to build valuable networks, and it is largely because of the people who I have connected with through my work at APO NT that I will be returning to Darwin at the end of February to start a new job as a policy officer within an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation.