Before undertaking my internship via the Aurora Native Title Internship Program, I have worked as a professional electrical engineer for 3 and ½ years in Perth. Out of a genuine interest in Indigenous affairs and passion for Aboriginal self-determination, I wanted to work with and learn from Indigenous people and communities. Hence, I quit my engineering job last year and moved to Darwin, where I am undertaking a Bachelor of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advocacy studies at Charles Darwin University. During my studies, I was particularly keen on working for one of the land councils in the Northern Territory (NT) and hence, was doubly delighted when I got selected as a social science intern at the Northern Land Council (NLC) in Darwin. Through my internship, I gained invaluable work experience in Indigenous affairs and also an awareness of the diversity among Aboriginal people by working with Research Officers, Policy Makers and Managers and other staff from Aboriginal backgrounds.
During my internship at the NLC, I was offered really interesting and varied projects. My initial project involved undertaking an audit of Governance Training providers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. My actual work involved undertaking desktop based survey to identify training providers and evaluating their suitability to provide training to Indigenous organisations’ board members from traditional communities in northern Australia.
I was also awarded a project to prepare Policy Briefs for a combined Executive Council Members meeting between the NLC and Central Land Council (CLC) in Alice Springs. I was asked to choose a policy area of interest to me and prepare a policy brief presenting the issue, its background, current policy position of the government(s), NLC (representing the Traditional Owners) and any other relevant stakeholders, and present policy options for NLC with its the advantages and disadvantages. I prepared policy briefs on Seabed Mining and Hydraulic Fracturing (Fracking), for which I had to read the Northern Territory Government’s current policy position on seabed mining and fracking, responses from the various Traditional Owners, minerals industry and environmental groups to the government’s policies, to get an understanding of the various stakeholders’ perspectives on the issues. It was a really good learning opportunity for me as I was able to understand the highly contested area of mining policy (seabed mining in this case) and fracking on Aboriginal lands.
During my internship I attended a meeting between NLC staff and a Traditional Owner representing her sea country, in relation to the implications of the Blue Mud Bay court case outcome. I heard first-hand account of the concerns of the Traditional Owner regarding illegal fishing on her traditional waters and the logistical challenges of patrolling the remote NT coastline. I also attended Full Council meeting of the NLC, which was attended by the 80 Council Members from the different regions covered by the NLC’s jurisdiction, the Chief Minister of the NT, the Federal Government Minister for Indigenous Affairs and other senior bureaucrats. At the meetings, the Aboriginal council members raised a number of critical issues such as illegal fishing and camping on Aboriginal lands and waters, bad roads in communities, education in remote schools, land and sea management programs, etc. To be part of such a meeting and hear a first-hand account of the issues from Aboriginal people directly affected by them provided me with an invaluable exposure to Indigenous affairs in our country.
As part of professional development, I attended a Mediation and Dispute Resolution training for 2 days. The training covered mediation processes and policies, the role of mediators, setting personal and professional boundaries, working with different groups, handling aggressive individuals, working in cross-cultural settings, etc. As part of the training, we played role plays with case studies of issues typically faced by NLC staffs – it was fun and stressful too. After the training, I was able to understand the challenges faced by staffs at the NLC and other land councils in mediating and negotiating with Traditional Owners. I also understood that there can be a lot of tension during some of the consultation and negotiation meetings. Hence, the training gave me an insight into what to expect if I worked in Indigenous affairs and how to prepare myself for those negotiations. The training also served as a good opportunity to network with staffs from Anthropology, Mining and Joint Management teams.
One of my best memories of my internship and of the NLC is the office Christmas party with a dress up theme. I dressed up as an Elf in red and green (with big ears), while others had dressed up as dons, pirates, cops and even The Sapphires!
It was a very rewarding and fulfilling experience and I would like to publically acknowledge my gratitude to the Northern Land Council for their commitment in supporting the Aurora Internship Program by hosting interns. I found all the staff at the NLC, particularly my supervisors, to be very welcoming and supportive and I feel indebted to them. I would recommend the Aurora internship program to university students and recent graduates looking for some real work experience in Indigenous affairs.