Seenying Lau

Native Title
Summer 2018

When I applied for the Aurora Internship Program, I had already completed my undergraduate degree and I was awaiting an admission into the Honours program in anthropology. I was at a point in my career where it was necessary to ascertain some guiding principles moving forward. I began to ask myself questions about my future in anthropology: What kind of anthropologist will I become? Where is my field? What will be my subject of investigation? Is anthropology a science, an art or a technical profession in the capacity of an expert, or a combination of these? What are my potentials and how far can I take my career without compromising on my family life? Some of those questions are complex, to which answers are not readily available within the confines of the classroom. One must therefore, venture a little further to seek the answers to her own questions. The Aurora internship was a good way for me to reconcile the many passions and dreams, which are so often inspired during my education with recalcitrant realities.

Coming from a background in International Development, developing countries became my immediate field of study as an anthropology student. The way my Degree was structured provided little room to explore other fields of anthropological enquiries such as native title or Indigenous studies in general. Yet, a lot has been said about the demands for anthropologists in native title. My placement with South Australian Native Title Services (SANTS) was, thus an extension of my formal education, supplementing what I was lacking in knowledge and experience. It was an opportunity for me to understand what work and processes are involved in the production of an expert report, what kind of references are conventionally used and how do anthropologists preserve their independence as the expert, while mediating their working relationships with solicitors in a claim process. To be able to observe the nuances of “speaking” and “doing” native title anthropology was in my view, important to my learning experience at SANTS. These nuances are an integral part of effective communication and professional maturity, which the university is unable to teach because they are indeed, difficult to illustrate or convey in words. It was only through participation in tasks and in dialogues during my internship was I able to identify certain common expression in native title, without which, my understanding of the subject would not be complete.

During the course of my internship, I have amongst other things, enjoyed my journey with the ancestors of the Murray River, through Tindale’s handwritten notes in a time gone past, as well as tracing Schurmann’s missionary journey from Adelaide to Port Lincoln, during a time most confronted by frontier violence between the Indigenous people and European settlers. Some of these stories came to life as we drove past familiar townships on our way to a conference in the Murraylands. Although six weeks was admittedly an insignificant amount of time in any attempt to master a trade, I am nevertheless, much more enlightened than I was before.