Jake Cooper

Native Title
Summer 2013

During February and March of 2013, I was involved in a six-week Aurora placement at South Australian Native Title Services (SANTS). This placement was organised through the Aurora Native Title Internship Program, which facilitates placements in Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) and other organisations working in Indigenous affairs on a national scale.

My placement was in the anthropology stream, and I was matched with a supervisor in the anthropology department, who was friendly and helpful – she showed me the ropes on the first day, and continued to be supportive throughout the placement. Ultimately I was to work closely with another person at SANTS, a lawyer, who is the case manager for a potential native title claim, currently still in its infancy.

The lawyer outlined that the potential native title claim relates to an area of land in South Australia over which no native title claim is made. The Aboriginal community who have traditional and current connection to the relevant area have expressed interest in making a claim for native title.

My task was to research historical and ethnographic documents in order to identify possible apical ancestors in the written record for the potential native title claim. This task makes up a portion of the research required to put together a Form 1, or the first step in a native title claim. The general idea is, to find information such as names, dates, places, practices, traditional laws, and connections to country within the written record, to support a native title claim. Identifying potential apical ancestors in the written record may
a) support the claims of claimants by linking them genealogically with those people that were living on country in pre settlement times and had contact with non-Aboriginal people which was recorded; and
b) provide new lines of investigation into potential claimant group members through the development of family trees.

I was given a space to work and an extensive amount of material to read. It was a little overwhelming at first, but as I settled into the task I found it interesting in terms of content, and challenging in terms of presenting the information. I ended up providing a document that had upwards of 150 name references. Initially I was only looking for names, but eventually I also gathered information concerning practices, and most importantly, genealogical information.

The purpose of this task was to provide the research that will serve as evidence for a native title claim. It was an honour to be involved in assisting what could become a positive determination for a group of people. I did think a number of times during my research, that there was a real and tangible possibility that the research that I was doing, that a particular name reference that I had found, could lead to an individual being included on the claim form and thus gaining native title rights. I think that was the most valuable part of my time at SANTS, knowing that I may be helping individuals and groups today, by looking into the documented past.

I also was able to read some field notes of an anthropologist who was writing in the 1930s. This was particularly exciting because I was able to read the handwritten (photocopied) notes of an anthropologist who had contributed so much to the knowledge that we have about Aboriginal people. It was interesting and exciting to go along with his field trip via the primary source. This material is not publically available and so I needed to be aware of where I took notes, and to what extent I spoke about the material contained within the notebooks to people outside SANTS.

Ultimately I produced two documents for SANTS during my six weeks, the first, a table of names and surrounding contexts for potential apical ancestors within the claim area. The second was a ‘hand over’ report, detailing what still needs to be done for this claim area in terms of research. This second task was difficult because I have never worked on a native title claim before and felt that I needed guidance on where to go next. However, because of the extensive amount of time that I had already spent on the research, as well as conversations and advice received from others at SANTS, I feel confident that I left the internship with the knowledge and ability to step into native title research in the future. My ‘hand over’ report received positive feedback and I hope there is the possibility of me returning to SANTS in some kind of paid capacity in the future, as the claim area I was working on becomes a greater focus for SANTS.

I am happy and satisfied with my placement at SANTS and would recommend any student who is interested in native title, Aboriginal affairs, social justice, and the research that backs them up, to apply for an Aurora Internship. To be able to see a bold line between your research and practical outcomes for individuals is particularly rewarding. Do it – its great experience and good fun!