Saturday, 28 March, 2015

Knowing that my academic record leaves something to be desired, I submitted my internship application for Aurora’s Internship Program minutes before the deadline. I had no more optimism than captured in that motto: you’ve gotta be in it to win it. But I’m proud to say I’m one of the 37 successful interns from 102 anthropology applicants for the summer 2014/15 round – despite my less-than-stellar GPA – and I’m now fast approaching the end of my five-week internship at the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) in Broome.

Being book-smart and top of your class isn’t enough in this field (though it’s certainly no disadvantage; seven Rhodes scholars have emerged from the alumni’s ranks since the Program’s inception in 2004). It can at times be frustratingly slow and difficult, while the under-resourced nature of these organisations means that everything is on a tight deadline and the pay scale doesn’t reflect the demanding nature of the work. It takes a special blend of patience, commitment and humility.

Most of the work I’ve done at the KLC has been standard menial intern tasks: filing, data entry, printing and binding. The silver lining – aside from the sheer availability of opportunities for interns as enthusiastic, unpaid labour – is that your work contributes to the bigger picture. I’ve sorted and recorded artefacts as part of a bigger project to return them to country, and the following week the effort was praised. I’ve printed and bound genealogies of local Aboriginal groups, and studied these to create reference charts of direct descendants. I’m now examining old fieldnotes to help determine how much anthropological work remains to be done on a particular native title claim. I’m attending community meetings.

It’s hot and isolated up here, but most challenging for me is the knowledge that as a young woman, no matter how well qualified, it will always be a struggle to be taken seriously in a professional context outside the office. Aboriginal cultures are economies of knowledge built on hierarchical divisions of age and gender; the logic in communities is that a young woman will generally be far less authoritative than an older man. In my short time on placement, I’ve seen a couple of young women challenged on those grounds. It comes with the territory and they take it on the chin. Inside the office it’s a different story; there’s a great sense of teamwork.

Part of this might be attributable to Broome itself. People here joke about ‘the Broome bubble’ as a weather phenomenon. Although it’s wet season now, it’s only rained a couple of times since I’ve been here. Most of the forecasted rain dances around us as though we were under an umbrella. However, ‘the Broome bubble’ is more than meteorology. The ‘locals’ I’ve met have actually only been here a matter of months or maybe a couple of years at most and still call somewhere else home. It’s a transient place with the population in flux and a palpable carpe diem vibe. Friendships form quickly. Weekends involve activities from fishing and camping to cliff jumping and tide riding (yeah, that’s a thing – and I don’t mean surfing). This makes for a great internship experience, with everyone quick to extend the same hospitality they received on arrival. People say that when they visit home, their lives in Broome seem so foreign and removed that they almost find themselves wondering whether their imagining of the town is just that.

Being here has been real for me. Studying anthropology at uni, it can feel like the discipline is labouring to overcome its sometimes shameful colonial and imperial legacy and legitimate its place in the world. My internship showed me that there is a valid place for classical anthropological fieldwork and ethnography in an applied setting, and I have no doubt that a career in native title anthropology would be a challenging and rewarding way to earn a living.