Rosi Aryal

Native Title
Winter 2010

The Aurora Internship Program is a rare and rewarding opportunity for students and graduates to understand history and anthropology as they are practised in the native title system. The program allows you to foster your commitment to social justice while applying your training in social science to some of the most critical issues shaping Australia today.

Perhaps one of the cruellest ironies of the native title system is the immense amount of work required to ‘prove’ native title; compounded by the fact that the onus of this proof is on the claimants. As an Aurora intern, you can be placed at any one of the under‐resourced and under‐funded Native Title Representative Bodies (NTRBs) or other Indigenous organisations around Australia working in policy, advocacy, land rights and human rights. The primary emphasis of your work will be defined by the various needs of your host organisation, and you will make the most out of your internship if you approach it with an open mind, minimum expectations, and a willingness to help wherever required.

I was placed with the friendly research team at NTSCORP in Redfern, where I read, summarised and digitalised numerous reports relating to one particular claim in the Sydney region. Reading this material opened my eyes to Sydney’s Aboriginal history, and to the often dramatic debates that are generated when this history is put under the microscopic lens of historical and genealogical research (for instance, in the differing interpretations of an individual’s or an entire family’s identity and cultural orientation).

Indeed, I found the historical perspective central to native title research to be one of the most rewarding aspects of the internship. In order to prove native title, claimants must in effect prove that they have been maintaining an “unbroken” connection to land during (and, in heavily settled areas, despite of) the colonial invasion and ongoing settlement of Australia. As relationships to country are intrinsically bound up with social relationships, the Sydney‐based claim on which I focussed involved detailed examination and cross‐examination of personal histories, familial cultural affiliations, and changes in kinship and marriage patterns over time. In this way, I saw how native title research combines classical anthropological research with a more critical awareness of the way in which legal and popular discourses of ‘tradition’ inform Aboriginal claims to land.