Janik Freese

Native Title
Winter 2018

I found out about the Aurora Internship Program while searching for internships that would fall in line with my studies and interest me on a personal level.  At the time, I was finishing my second year of cultural studies in Bremen, Germany and knew I was heading to Australia for my semester break. Since I wanted to do something meaningful and possibly practical, I chose to dive into the Indigenous sector of Australia, a topic that has been with me from an early age on and I had been in contact with from time to time while living in Australia. Also, since I had written several papers on border studies and essays about asylum policies and marginalised peoples, I felt the need to properly understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their position in Australian politics and everyday life. Not sure what I was to expect, I headed to the NQLC in Cairns and was introduced into the complicated, broad and intriguing world that is Native Title. As a future anthropologist I was extremely interested in the anthropological work that was being done in native title and tried to observe, take in and learn everything I could about the field, which still seemed too complex to fully comprehend. Coming from a university where Law and Anthropology does not particularly correlate, but rather co-exists, I was surprised to see lawyers and anthropologist working together codependently. In fact, I was able to learn quite a bit about the legal perspective of Native Title, not only because I worked with lawyers in my unit, but because it was essential that the anthropologists understood and used the legalities surrounding native title.

At the NQLC I was welcomed warmly and was quickly integrated into everyday work routines, making me feel like part of the team. Everybody was immensely helpful and friendly, showing me that I was not just a paper pusher intern, but could contribute and support them with the little knowledge and skills I had. Over the first week, I was introduced into genealogies and community and personal history files (CPH files), a significant part of anthropological work in native title, and I started skimming documents for key words, such as family names, places of importance and traditional identities. Due to my German background, another main task I was asked to fulfil was to read through the foreign language documents in the library and see if I could spot anything of importance for current and past native title claims. These two main tasks kept me fairly busy during my entire 6-week internship. The anthropological team was very helpful and was always happy to answer any and all questions I had, and more than once they took the time to explain certain parts of the process to me. Other than that, colleagues around the office handed me a few other short-term tasks, which kept me alert and gave me the chance to look into a lot of different aspects of anthropological work in native title.

I was privileged enough to take part in several interviews with Traditional Owner groups and was able to attend a meeting with the applicants of a claim. This was my first time hearing dreamtime stories first hand and listening to Traditional Owners talk about their past and tell stories handed down by their ancestors. I often left meetings with my head vibrating with all the information I had gathered and spent much of my free time thinking about stories I had heard, reconstructing past events and situations in my head.

One day, a Traditional Owner came into the office to speak with two anthropologists about his traditional dreamtime stories and I was able to sit with them and listen. These dreamtime stories had been part of a task given to me by one of my colleagues, where I had been asked to identify the most significant, as part of work being done to make a sign, informing tourists of the stories connected to the Traditional Owner ‘s land. We sat together for about 2 hours, talking about his connection to these stories, his ideas of repatriation and how he felt about the relationship between Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples in Australia. It was truly eye-opening and was overwhelmed with emotions through-out the rest of the day.

Other tasks I completed at the NQLC included translating German documents, reading through connection reports (written by consultant anthropologists), to collect information for other colleagues, filing and scanning and generally supporting the other anthropologists in any way I could.

Reflecting on my experience from those 6 weeks, I would strongly recommend anybody studying social science or anthropology to undertake an internship similar to mine. For me, it was especially rewarding to see practical anthropology being done, rather than what one sees at university, where anthropology often seems too theoretical and not ‘real’. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity and can see myself working in a comparable field. Connecting my studies and my internship, I could imagine working in migrant politics and conducting research there. Maybe even as a consulting anthropologist.

So, in conclusion, if you are planning on studying, currently are studying or have already graduated with an anthropological degree, I would recommend looking into an internship with Aurora. Even if you aren’t studying in Australia and don’t know much about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, this internship will give you an insight into real Australian culture and personally, I am certain it will somehow have an impact on my future studies or my career.

If you are interested in the internship I have done or the general field of native title, be sure to check out http://auroraproject.com.au/about-internship-program for any enquires and more information. Applications for the winter 2019 round will be open online via the website from 4 through 29 March 2019.