James Loneragen

Native Title
Summer 2012

The Aurora Native Title Internship Program provides a fantastic and unique opportunity for students and graduates in anthropology, some social sciences and law to gain insight and experience in Aboriginal native title, policy development, social justice, human rights and Indigenous affairs. The Aurora program places successful applicants in Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) as well as other organisations working these areas all around Australia.

I applied for the internship knowing very little about native title, other than some very basic details. I had completed my degree in Anthropology the previous year and upon return from a jaunt overseas I decided that I needed some real-world work experience if I was going be able to get a job that I actually wanted. After searching around for some volunteering opportunities I remembered I had heard of the Aurora Project, who provided internships for Anthropology students in native title. Being an Anthropology student I felt that this would be relevant not only to my degree but my interests in social justice.

After a relatively straightforward application process I was placed at NTSCORP in Redfern, the NTRB which deals with native title claims in NSW. What quickly became apparent was how much work is needed for a claim to have any chance of success. The onus is on the Aboriginal claimant groups to prove that they fit the criteria set out in the Native Title Act: that they have maintained both their culture and connection with the land since European settlement. As such, a lot of research goes into attempting to find proof of these criteria, especially establishing kinship genealogies. As I was placed in the research section of NTSCORP, I was able to participate in some of this research. I spent much of my time summarising and indexing numerous reports, books and newspaper articles, and indexing details from birth, marriage and death certificates. Some of the most fascinating parts of my work was reading through newspaper articles from the late 1800s and the journals of early explorers and settlers, which provide us with the first (admittedly Eurocentric) accounts of contact with Aboriginal people.

The most important thing about the internships is that you are providing vital assistance to these underfunded and often overstretched organisations. Extracting names and places from birth certificates, articles, reports and the like, while it may seem basic, is vital information for proceeding with claims, yet as I was told by one research assistant, it is often hard to find the time to get through it all. Interning through Aurora is definitely a great way to make a difference and also pick up some work experience!

And of course you need not only be placed in Sydney, as the Aurora program also offers opportunities to be placed all over the country if you wish to go further afield.