Examining Indigenous sea sites in Darwin

22 August 2012

With her Bachelor of Arts degree drawing to a close, anthropology and English major Eleanor June Smith jumped at the chance to undertake an internship in Darwin, where she was able to examine the significance of Indigenous sea sites.

Eleanor June Smith
"I felt like the work I was doing was tangibly useful",
says Eleanor June Smith of her Darwin internship experience.

In her own words…

During the past six weeks I have been in Darwin undertaking an internship through a placement program named the Aurora Project, which places anthropology, law and some social sciences students and graduates in internships with Native Title Representative Bodies. In my last semester of my Bachelor of Arts, an anthropology and english major, I heard about the Aurora Project placement program in a lecture, and thought I would give it a go. Wanting to work in connection with local Indigenous affairs, I was keen to give my studies and interests professional context through an internship. The Aurora Project aims to increase awareness of jobs in Indigenous affairs, with a focus on Native Title, and also to provide help to under-resourced Indigenous organizations. It provides interns with experience, and the organizations with assistance, in a reciprocal exchange.

After turning up in Darwin with little idea of what to expect, I was pretty chuffed with what I got. The internship was at an organization called the Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority(AAPA), and consisted of office based research into sacred Aboriginal sea sites. AAPA is a statutory body established to protect all sacred sites under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act and as such, it, among other things, registers sacred sites on land and sea, allowing the protection of these sites and the prosecution of any individuals or organizations who desecrate them. My task at AAPA, however, was to gather base information for a three-year review to be provided to the Northern Territory government on the potential cultural and social impacts of seabed mining. Having just handed in my last essay, and never having done professional work in my 'field' before, my tummy did a little flip as I baulked at the realness of the task.

There were four of us Aurora interns working on different aspects of the project, anthropological and legal, and we banded together to share our leads and work. I read and researched zealously. The people at AAPA were welcoming and friendly, and I felt like the work I was doing was tangibly useful. It was fascinating work, looking into the sacred sites and dreaming tracks that crisscross saltwater country, forming the nexus of a complex system of belief, which permeates all aspects of life for saltwater peoples. I was drawing together information from both AAPA's database and external documents into one collated report outlining current written information on the significance of sea sites.

Added to that, Darwin was an experience in itself, full of hazards and friendly people. Going to the beach - you might encounter a crocodile, yes, but more likely you'll have a chat to someone about their dog, and they'll turn out to be your next-door neighbour, and know your childhood friend from 'down South'. And on Territory Day, the only day of the year when fireworks are legal, the reigning chaos of crackers only spurs on everyone's enthusiasm. I went swing dancing, ate laksa at the markets, slept in a swag under the stars, and swam in waterholes three days walking distance from the nearest town, surrounded by zinging bush.

I met other Aurora interns in Darwin, some legal, some social sciences, working on projects as diverse as trauma healing and policy analysis. Having completed university, I need to turn my nose to seeking a job that I care about and believe in, and the placement has given me a great grounding for that. It has provided a real context and knowledge of the type of work one can do as an anthropologist.

Applications are now open for the Summer 2012/13 round of internships, closing on 31st August. You can apply through the website:

Contact: Kate Mayor

Phone: 02 9351 2208 0434 561 056

Email: 583b4715421d0c212e43714a09551d5d2b6f502a3e690630