Louise Thorlund

Social Science
Social Welfare services
Summer 2014

I applied to an internship through the Aurora Native Title Internship Program after having completed a Master degree in Development Studies followed by a Master degree in Indigenous studies, from the University of the New South Wales.

After having been shortlisted for an interview with the Aurora Placement team, I was asked to list 5 preferences of host organizations for a potential placement. Coming from a more political/social sciences background, my initial preferences were within political organizations, most of which were located in urban areas. I still remember the part of the interview after listing these preferences and then getting the question:‘How about a placement with the CSSU Safe House in a remote and at times quite volatile community working with women facing domestic violence? Just have a think about it. It would be a very different but great experience!’So I considered it. However, it did not really take me that long to answer once the seed had been planted in my head. Having a degree in Indigenous Studies with courses in community work without having actually been in a remote community, this placement really made sense. So I said yes!

Wadeye is a remote community, approximately 400 km’s of Darwin, with a population of around 3000 people. The roads are closed during wet season which adds further to the feeling of remoteness. It is one of the biggest Aboriginal communities in Australia, and has since the NTER in 2007 followed by the 2011 Stronger Futures legislation, been among the prescribed communities in the NT with income management, alcohol ban and a strong focus on school attendance among many other measures.

The Safe House in Wadeye is run by Children’s Services Support Unit (CSSU) INC., that also runs the Creche in Wadeye, and several other children and family centres and services in the NT and WA. The Safe House opened in 2011, and provides 24/7 crisis accommodation and support for women who experience domestic or community violence. It also offers women the opportunity to come during the day to have a rest and a break from the often very challenging situations they live in.

I have felt fortunate to be introduced to a variety of tasks whilst on placement, both practical day-to-day tasks and in-depth projects: sorting out food packs, making inventory lists of equipment supplies, cooking meals for the women and children staying overnight, writing grant applications, casework with families, researching and documenting relevant service programs in the community as well as attending inter-agency meetings with other organizations and service providers in Wadeye. Our manager also arranged several informal meetings in the first couples of weeks with the different organisations and service providers, that the Safe House collaborates with: Wadeye Health Clinic, NT Child Protection, Centrelink, The North Australian Aboriginal Family Violence Legal Service, Thamarrur Regional Authority Aborginal Corporation, Night Patrol, NT Police and the North Australia Aborigial Justice Agency among others.

Wadeye is full of contradictions which I actually fell in love with while being there: you will meet poverty, community tension, disempowerment, conflicts and fights, anger and violence. But also you will encounter resilience, humour, pride, strength, loving families and a unique local history connecting the community. You will also meet many driven people working here and that is another inspiring element. Wadeye gets under your skin; as another person said to me, there is really no grey areas here, it is either black or white and if you like it, it is difficult to leave without feeling somewhat attached to the place and the people you have met here.

Through the six weeks here, I have been deeply moved and inspired by the women I have worked with in the Safe House. I feel thankful for the opportunity. Grateful that the women in Wadeye allowed me to have an insight in the many daily barriers they face: the lack of services in a remote community, phone calls with authorities in English when the mother tongue is Murinnhpatha, having to deal with a Western system when the world in Wadeye is so very different and still, the women do this every day.

It has been hard work but also truly rewarding and I am very grateful that I ended up in precisely this placement. As one engaged in the more academic path of social issues, I have found a renewed interest in social work through this. So I am really happy that this placement opportunity was proposed to me during my interview.

This placement is a very full-on experience and it requires a mature person who can work independently. However, I must say that Aurora really provided a good support service, and it made me feel comfortable knowing that I could always call them in case I needed to.

Applications for a placement with the Aurora Internship Program are open every year and March and August for winter and summer rounds via the Aurora website at auroraproject.com.au