Matilda Hurst

Native Title
Summer 2016

Just after completing my Bachelor’s degree in Justice and Society from Flinders University I was a graduate in limbo. Luckily through Flinders University I found the Aurora Internship Program and was fortunate enough to earn a 5-week placement at The South Australian Native Title Services (SANTS) who provide native title services to greater South Australia. SANTS is a national leader in pursuing native title interests so not only was I a ball of nerves starting my placement here I also didn’t expect my time to be spent doing much more than basic administrative support duties. How wrong I was! My time at SANTS was one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had both professionally and personally, I was trusted with work that went above and beyond my expectations and none of which would have been possible without Aurora. So firstly, a big thank you to Aurora for providing me with the opportunity to expand and enhance my knowledge, skills and professional relationships in a field I have been passionate about since I was a high school student in Darwin.

My 5-week placement at SANTS had me assisting with work ranging from proof reading and summarising to having a hand in a major submissions and extensive family trees. I was granted the opportunity to work with and learn from the community and corporate development manager, the senior lawyer and both the junior and senior anthropologist. Needless to say this is an incredibly rare and a large leap for a recent graduate.

A bulk of my internship saw me working on two considerably large tasks, one an internal document that involved mapping SANTS work, targets and achievements to the principles found in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. The other which took up the majority of my time as it required much more extensive research and analysis was assisting in the creation of SANTS first Reconciliation Action Plan. Being trusted with this type of work obviously blew my expectations out of the water and with the direction and support of my supervisor, I was able to not only get started but hand up a draft of the plan before my placement ended.

Like a lot of Aurora interns I also had the opportunity to attend an on-country trip, this trip was to Port Lincoln. Although I would not consider myself someone with a phobia of flying on small planes (like the one we had to and from Port Lincoln), I would better describe myself simply as a person who would rather hold the tail of a shark to get across the ocean. However, despite this minor hiccup I would have to say that this trip was the highlight of my internship at SANTS, not only because I had never been to Port Lincoln before and it was beautiful but also because I got to experience and witness what hands on field work involves.

The purpose of the trip was to meet with clients and assist in delegating an issue regarding sacred land as well as to discuss the progress of a current claim that SANTS is pursuing for this particular aboriginal group that they represent. The clients were so open minded about having an intern there that knew very little about their case, they talked to me from the time I landed to the time I left about their dreaming and their country and how important respect for one another is. This was truly an eye opening experience for me, although I grew up in Darwin and believe I have a rather high standard of cultural awareness and understanding it is a completely different experience to sit down with these people and listen to them talk about their lives and their land.

Although the process of pursuing a claim and proving connection to country in a court of law is a long and tedious process, it took me all of two minutes to feel and understand their strong connection to country. This is one of the reasons why I think SANTS is a national leader in pursuing native title interest with such positive outcomes, they care so much and they work so diligently to prove what we already know.

Since my time at SANTS I have had an interview for a SAPOL position that without the experience of this placement I highly doubt I would have been considered for. And although I may not be successful in the role that I am pursuing the positive feedback I received from the interview panel about my knowledge of Aboriginal affairs and my new found professional working skills developed through such an incredible organisation that is clearly over worked and under resourced can only be credited to my time at SANTS and more specifically to my supervisors.

Although no new determinations were handed down whilst I was at SANTS, I learnt so much about the process that is taken to reach a determination and the extensive process which is carried out after a determination is made to continue to support and encourage Aboriginal groups. I now have a much better understanding of not only native title law and processes but all the work that goes in before and after having native title recognised.

For students or recent graduates thinking about applying for the Aurora Internship Program, I urge you to do so, however, I don’t intend on sugar coating the entire experience, this is hard work. These organisations are over worked and under resourced and therefore they are busy and they work really hard and you will be expected to do the same. But, if you have a passion for Aboriginal affairs whether that be in the legal, social science or anthropological scope then the Program is for you. It will provide you with professional skills you didn’t know you were capable of, it will advance the knowledge and skills you already have to a much higher standard but most of all it will touch you on a personal level that is invaluable.


The Aurora Internship Program offers internships in both the winter and the summer university breaks for between 4-6 weeks. If you would like to learn more about the the Program, check out their website:  Applications for the summer 2016/17 round of internships are now open through 26 August.