I applied for the Aurora Internship Program after hearing about it from a former intern. The opportunity immediately sounded like a great experience. I am interested in pursuing a career in the cultural heritage sector of archaeology and am a firm believer that native title and cultural heritage go hand in hand. The opportunity to gain real world experience in a field that I am interested and enthusiastic about was too enticing to pass up. It is rare that one gets a chance to work in a field like this before graduating, and the knowledge and insight will be invaluable to my future. University often does not prepare students for the environment of an office and working “9-5”. The internship taught me more than just about native title, I also learned valuable workplace skills, and how to conduct oneself in a professional environment.
The people at Queensland South Native Title Services (QSNTS) were all hardworking, dedicated people. They face many challenging issues on a daily basis that strain their patience and enthusiasm, but every challenge is met head on. They are all definitely people to be admired, and I have a lot of respect for the work they do. It was a pleasure to not just work with them, but learn from them. Although the internship was only 6 weeks, I learned a lot about the processes and laws involved in native title. The lengthy research processes can sometimes feel strenuous, but when you realise what you are working for, the recognition of Aboriginal peoples’ rights to their lands, it is well worth it. The genealogical work was interesting and challenging. This is the main type of work I undertook during my placement. It involved the search of historical documents, including birth certificates and newspaper articles, through to writing letters to claimants about the information we had gathered. The records kept by early colonists are detailed and fascinating to read and study. They provided great insight into how early settlers and Aboriginal people we both living. The Aboriginal stories and languages recorded are links to the past that many of the current generation of indigenous people have lost. It is nice to be able to share with them the stories of their people and families. The genealogy work also involved visits to the State Archives and libraries to gather information for native title claims. There is a wealth of information about Queensland’s rich history at these sites. It was great to be able to go there and sort through original documents. I also helped transcribe interviews and historical documents, time consuming work but interesting, and from it I developed new skills.
The native title work was also difficult when trying to understand the politics within the system. Not everyone has the best intentions and it was sometimes difficult to tell who was in the right. The system is designed to favour written or historical proof over Aboriginal stories, something that I do not always agree with. However, sometimes this system showed that people didn’t always tell truth, which was disheartening. It really helped to ground my understanding of working with Indigenous cultures, and the ethical and political considerations of this. The Native Title Act is tricky to navigate and for those who are contemplating a career in this field I would highly recommend this internship. It is easy to be disillusioned by the politics of native title, but as I said earlier, we must remember why we do it. The work performed by QSNTS is achieving a lot of great things.
The biggest struggle for me personally was balancing work, university and the internship. I began my Honours on the same day as the internship, and was working weekends to support my living expenses. Although I live and did the internship in Brisbane, I was often exhausted due to the amount I had taken on. I would recommend that anyone undertaking this internship bear in mind that it requires a lot of hard work. It is easy to say now, on the other side that I survived but at the time, I found it difficult. The Aurora Placements team and QSNTS staff were however, understanding at every turn, allowing me to leave early and only work four days a week to manage all three of my commitments. I appreciate it greatly.
The hardest part of the internship was leaving before I had completed all the necessary work. Native title projects last for years and I won’t see the outcomes for the claims I worked on. Hopefully they are resolved in a manner that is in favour of the claimant groups whose families I got to know so well through my research. Overall, the internship was an invaluable experience. I enjoyed every part of it, even the bits that were at times boring. I highly recommend this to any students interested in pursuing a career in research or native title work.