When I first heard about the Aurora Project, I was nearing the end of my Masters of Development Studies and Culture Change. I had developed a keen interest in Indigenous affairs through studying several anthropology units and I had gained social justice experience through a one-month volunteer project in Manila, Philippines. I had a keen desire to further my knowledge and experience in such an interesting, meaningful, and contentious area and the Aurora Internship Program was promoted as an incredible way to launch a career in the Indigenous sector.
What the Program offers to students and graduates is incredibly unique and rare today- experience! It is well known that the job market today is highly competitive and most positions require substantial experience. However, one thing that was lacking in my degree, unlike others, is the existence of a formal placement or internship program. A key concern of mine was that I would complete my degree with a truckload of theoretical knowledge and research skills, but with little of the practical experience that employers so highly value. The Aurora Internship Program is a fantastic way to enhance your employability and professional skill-set, whilst providing an invaluable insight into the functioning and vision of NTRB’s and other organizations working in the sector.
I was lucky enough to be selected for two Aurora internships via the anthropology stream for the summer 2014/15 round. The first was with the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) and the second with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP).
NCIE is an Indigenous not-for-profit social enterprise located in Redfern, Sydney. It works with its pathway partners to deliver life-changing programs across the platforms of Arts and Culture, Health and Wellness, Learning and Innovation and Sports and Recreation. The NCIE delivers its programs in a way that cultivates pride in the Indigenous community and their history and it supports and inspires Indigenous individuals to strive for brighter futures. The majority of NCIE staff are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander which strengthens the Indigenous identity of the organization and provides ownership and pride over its directions and achievements.
Located in the heart of Redfern, NCIE is well positioned to engage and promote positive and holistic changes within the local Indigenous community. The successful delivery of NCIE’s pathway programs, community forums and events is supported by outstanding facilities, such as the NCIE campus and conference centre, the Fitness centre, and the Koori Job ready facilities based in Eveleigh. NCIE has a buzz and a special feel about it. The community involvement and investment in NCIE and its vision has created a sense of family, which provides a strong base for support going forward. NCIE is an inclusive, welcoming and nurturing organization that does all within its capacity to generate growth and confidence for all who walk through the gates.
As an intern, my role was varied and I primarily assisted the Executive officer and CEO with research and policy based tasks, as well as helping out with the Programs’ and Indigenous Digital Excellence (IDX) teams. I also assisted with the Afterschool program 3 afternoons per week. Being an intern is an enviable position as it enables exposure to the entire cross section of the organization. This varied experience provided me with fascinating insights into the tremendous diversity that exists under the umbrella of the NCIE. Through this exposure, I was struck by two things; Firstly, the immense passion, talent and specialist skills, which drive these teams. Secondly, the way that all these seemingly distinct focuses integrate for smooth and successful program delivery.
My involvement with the NCIE also shed light on the fundamental importance of partnerships on a corporate, government, and community level. The success and sustainability of social enterprises such as the NCIE are highly dependent on external funding, grants and donations. As such, I discovered that one of the key pillars of the NCIE’s vision involves the nurturing of these partnerships. Further, funding and ongoing support of the organization also necessitates a powerful communications, media and marketing team to convey their message across social and conventional media platforms.
Aside from the concrete programs delivered by the NCIE, the organization is also concerned with the Australian Indigenous dialogue and discourse. A core component of their vision is to transform the conversation from one of deficit and disadvantage to one of excellence, assets and opportunities. This was a reminder that for lasting changes to be made for Indigenous Australians, attitudes and perceptions need to change. This, combined with constitutional changes and recognition for Indigenous Australians is critical in the path to reconciliation and closing the gap. I was also able to attend an Apology Luncheon hosted at the NCIE. This was a touching, emotional and eye opening experience, where I was able to hear a number of Indigenous elders and community members speak of their experience of the stolen generation. Their message gravitated around the political importance of Kevin Rudd’s Apology speech and the immense amount of progress, which remains to be seen for Indigenous Australians.
The NCIE is an organization, which has its finger on the pulse, not only politically but socially and culturally, and this internship was an invaluable learning opportunity for me both personally and professionally.
My second internship was with the Department of Environment and Heritage Protection (EHP) in sunny Cairns. I was placed in the Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program team. This program oversees 13 Indigenous Ranger Groups across Queensland who manage their land and Sea Country.
My key role was in monitoring and evaluation and required me to research and identify a new and user-friendly system to store this updated six monthly reporting data and to populate and pilot this new system to ensure it was meeting the needs of the Senior Project Officers (SPO’s). This project required me to work both independently and collaboratively and I had many opportunities to discuss and gain feedback from the SPO’s. I was really well supported and included and I couldn’t have been placed within a friendlier, warmer or more accommodating team!
Unlike the NCIE and other NGO’s, the Indigenous Land and Sea Ranger program is largely reliant on government funding. Subsequently, there are strict work plans and guidelines, which must be adhered to, and the economic and social viability of the program must be consistently demonstrated. I gained an insight into the challenges of planning and delivering Indigenous programs in an environment where overall government priorities can shift.
With fortunate timing, my internship coincided with the Annual Ranger workshop. I assisted in the preparation and coordination of the annual ranger workshop in Cairns, which had over 80 attendees over 3 days. This is a valuable opportunity for Indigenous rangers to collaborate and discuss and share new ideas, experiences and challenges. It broadened my own understanding of the program and the multitude of factors, which are intrinsic to its success, such as compliance and partnerships. I also gained opportunities to network with other attendees such as other EHP staff, Indigenous rangers and coordinators and federal government employees. This event was a change from routine as it drew greater numbers than previous years, had a very ranger focused format and had significantly more structure and organization. It was hailed as a great success amongst both Indigenous rangers as well as government and private sector attendees.
The richest and most insightful aspect of my internship was the field visit to one of the Indigenous Ranger Groups in Laura, QLD. This field visit allowed me to better grasp the reality of the program and the way the rangers operate. I was lucky to be able to accompany rangers to some of the amazing local rock art sites, which aren’t easily accessible to the public. I also was exposed to the approach and tools used by these rangers to manage their land and sea country, such as water monitoring activities, which are fundamental in measuring the impact of upstream water river usage. I also learnt how this group, through a collaborative approach, was able to execute the biggest (arguably) Salvinia eradication in Australia.
Visiting an isolated Indigenous community was a valuable experience in itself. This field visit illustrated first hand, the powerful and broad reaching impacts generated through the program. It creates job opportunities, skill development and a significant economic stimulus. Just as importantly, it creates less quantifiable outcomes such as a sense of achievement, pride dignity, agency and confidence for Indigenous Australians. The impacts have a multiplier effect, which radiate across communities and create intergenerational change, for example through the Junior Ranger program which engages school aged children in natural and cultural resource management.
From an Indigenous perspective, the Land and Sea Ranger program is important as it promotes skill development, capacity building and creates employment opportunities by getting Indigenous people back on country. It encourages, rewards and values Indigenous rangers for being responsible and passionate stewards of their traditional country and it places traditional knowledge on par with western science as a way of managing country. For myself, it was so encouraging to see such a positive and meaningful insight into Indigenous Australia, when the media can be so disenchanting.
My experiences through these two internships were incredible and powerfully consolidated my desire to work in Indigenous Affairs. The Aurora internship is designed to be a mutually beneficial exchange between yourself and the host organization. Whilst I feel I contributed in all the ways I could, I have gained so much more from these organizations than they realize. I have broadened my professional skill-set and have cultivated a much clearer career objective for the future.
I have had the benefit of working within both an NGO and a government body, both designed to promote better life outcomes for Indigenous Australians in an urban and rural/remote setting. I have had immensely valuable exposure to Indigenous culture, customs and way of life and I have developed relationships, which I continue to value.
I couldn’t recommend the Aurora Internship Program more enthusiastically.
If you are a law, anthropology, social science or business student or graduate with an interest in Indigenous affairs, this is an absolutely golden opportunity. Applications for the upcoming summer 2015/16 round will be open from Monday 3rd August through 28th August 2015.
For more information, please visit http://www.auroraproject.com.au/what_is_an_Aurora_internship