Lara McArthur-Dowty

Social Science
Arts and Culture
Winter 2015

I left Melbourne University with my Bachelor of Arts degree in my hand and a bunch of enthusiasm, yet still unsure how to approach the big scary job market. While I loved the depth of knowledge and the critical thinking skills I gained during my degree in Australian Indigenous Studies and Media and Communications, it took me a long time to realise that my academic focused Bachelors degree wasn’t enough to prepare me for the workforce. I needed to pair my knowledge with practical experience through volunteering and internships. Even once I began searching for experience, unlike some of my friends studying Commerce and Science, I found it difficult to find internships relevant to my path of interest (in Indigenous affairs).  When I heard about the Aurora Internship Program in my Australian Indigenous studies capstone, I jumped at the opportunity, applying in the hopes of finding more direction and satisfying my thirst for vocational experience. 

The Aurora Internship Program provides internships and partnerships connecting interns to organisations associated with the broader Indigenous sector all across the country. It caters for Indigenous Studies students, Legal Studies students, students of Anthropology, some Business students and some other Social Science students.  With such a huge network of organisations in all different fields of Indigenous affairs, the Program is kind of like one huge match making service, pairing those in need of experience, with organisations in need of workers and aid. 

I was lucky enough to be accepted into the Program and an unfortunate illness with one of the confirmed interns meant that I had the chance to complete two placements in the winter 2015 round. With both of these placements being in vastly different organisations in opposite corners of Australia, I not only got a great insight into the breadth of the Program, but also more broadly into the field of Indigenous affairs.

My first placement was with a small but fantastic program in the Office of Aboriginal Affairs Victoria called Right People for Country (RPfC). I was immediately welcomed and incorporated as a member of intimate team at RPfC by my two supervisors. With a week overlap between the lovely previous Aurora intern and myself, I was lucky enough to receive guidance and insight into the work of an Aurora intern at RPfC. 

Almost immediately after commencing and seeing into the work for RPfC, I developed a huge amount of respect for my supervisors. RPfC is run and staffed by two power women, who never ceased to amaze me with their ability to take on so many tasks, deliver outcomes and gain so much respect from clients and fellow organisations.  

RPfC empowers, provides support and negotiating skills to Indigenous Traditional Owners to reach their own agreements, rather than Governments  making decisions for them. Most of the projects that RPfC was working on during my placement were about facilitating Traditional Owner groups in Victoria to come to agreements about the boundaries between different Victorian Traditional Owner groups. 

The placement was in my home state, situated only 20 minutes walk from my Melbourne abode. This meant I was able to gain vocational experience, and while understanding the background to the land that I had grown up on. With RPfC working across rural Australia, I had the rare and extraordinary opportunity to attend intrastate meetings and meet Traditional Owners from the land I was living on. 

During the placement, I was given a huge array of tasks, which surpassed the expectations I had of my role being simply administrative.  My supervisors tailored the tasks they gave me to be relevant to my degree and skillset, while providing me invaluable feedback and support to help me improve my work. I was asked to write a Communication strategy, draft media releases, assist with budgeting design flyers and diagrams. I also had the opportunity to attend meetings with lawyers, facilitators, and staff from Heritage. 

One of the highlights of my placement, was attending two meetings between Traditional Owner groups on Country. At these meetings I was given the privilege of witnessing negotiations between Traditional Owners first-hand. We stayed overnight on Country, sharing meals and stories with the Traditional Owners. Witnessing the strength of relationships and respect between my supervisors and the Traditional Owners in a social and work context was a truly humbling experience. 

Throughout my internship, my supervisors would debrief on meetings with me, consulting me for my feedback and treating me as an equal fellow staff member. They truly incorporated me into their intimate team. I left with a profound respect for the rogram seeing firsthand the significance, effectiveness and appreciation for their work. 

My second Aurora placement was slightly more off my beaten track, up in the tropical tip of Australia - Darwin. I was welcomed into the workplace of the largest art touring body in the Territory, Artback NT, with work spanning across the arts – including Visual Arts, Theatre and Dance. The combination of novel environment and the different work of Artback NT, made this internship a perfect complement to my placement at RPfC.  

The Artback NT team was a lot larger than the intimate team at RPfC (with 8 staff members across the country) yet, as typical of non-for profit organisations, the staff members still had an enormous workload.  This made for two significant differences from my previous internship – I was given a larger and more diverse workload. The huge array of projects and ambition of each of the staff members was truly impressive.  As they were understaffed, I had the exciting opportunity to able to help all staff members with a diversity of projects across the arts. This gave me insight into the work of a Media and Communications officer, Performing Arts Touring Officer, Visual Arts Officer, Executive Officer and Bookkeeper. My tasks ranged from administrative (organizing accommodation, catering and huge deliveries of artwork) to writing grants, operating Artback NT’s twitter account, meeting musicians performers and dancers to planning and trouble shooting for an entirely new project. The staff generously consulted me on my interests and aspirations of the future, selecting tasks that were relevant to me, or would provide me relevant vocational skills. 

During my placement I was lucky enough to witness and assist with two exciting dance and theatre developments. As part of the projects I organised and observed workshops, sat in on ABC interviews and met with the performers, and attended the intimate performances. It was a wonderful opportunity to observe and assist one of Artback NT’s projects as it came into fruition. Through these developments I was able to see the respect for the work of Artback NT within the Territory and the art sector. 

During my placement not only did I fall for my host organisation Artback NT, I also fell for Darwin. I was completely taken by this city where I could find mangoes on the ground, crocs in all swimming holes, beaches barely touched by tourists. I felt I had access to an entirely different version of Australia. The people are from everywhere, or going everywhere, and even the seasons are entirely different from the Australia that I had grown up with. I spent the days out of my internship with my exploring shoes on, trying to get a feel for Darwin life, a process which was aided by the Artback NT team, as fellow staff members were constantly filling up my diary with galleries to visit, shows to check out and Darwin ‘must sees’. The Executive officer also took a step above, generously taking me on Territory weekend adventures to jumping croc cruises and wildlife parks and welcoming me to stay for two weeks of my placement in her tropical abode. 

I was welcomed in and made to feel a valuable member of the Artback NT team. I was given such fascinating projects in areas I was passionate about, and worked alongside such dedicated and interesting staff during my placement that I left Darwin with a love for the organisation and a zest for life up North. 

I feel truly privileged to have interned for both RPfC and Artback NT, and my internships with these organisations only solidified my respect for the amazing work that they do. 

The Aurora Internship Program has provided me with invaluable vocational experience and direction, confidence to enter the workplace and support (with continuous job offers sent to Aurora alumni), a fantastic array of contacts. I highly recommend applying for an internship to anyone who is interested