For five glorious weeks during the recent Winter break, I volunteered as an Aurora intern in the tropics of Far North Queensland. As a program primarily run for university students, the ‘Aurora Native Title Internship’ program offers internships with various organisations that focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander affairs. Internships are offered nationwide, and I was lucky enough to be placed in Cairns with the Cape York Institute (CYI).
CYI is an Indigenous-owned and run organisation that helps Indigenous communities in Cape York in three main areas: welfare reform; policy and research; and leadership. During my internship, I worked on policy and research with the Environment and Natural Resource Management team. For the first week or so, I did research for an Indigenous business side forum in Cairns that was being run as part of the 2014 G20 Conference. Following that, I was given a fascinating project to focus on regarding Indigenous land and sea ranger programs.
Indigenous ranger programs offer tangible social, cultural and environmental benefits to Traditional Owners in Cape York. With many Indigenous groups having recently reclaimed their land through native title, ranger work is a chance to get out on Country and protect their spiritual heartland. Employment in these programs offer economic stability for rangers and their families. Traditional Owners are also best placed to offer environmental outcomes, given their detailed knowledge of their own Country and use of traditional land and sea management practices in conjunction with modern science. Whilst most of my time was spent in the office doing research and writing up a paper on the topic, I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity to visit Indigenous communities in Cape York. Through community and ranger consultations, I could see the practical impact of my research and gather first-hand evidence on the effectiveness of ranger programs. I was very humbled to be welcomed so warmly onto traditional land and learn about different clans’ cultural connection to their land.
During my trip, I spent three days with the Yuku-Baja-Muliku Rangers on their Country at Archer Point and Annan River and at their office in Cooktown. Their dedication to the program and to ensuring a sustainable future for their land was inspirational. Amongst their many projects, they have set up a Junior Ranger program in the local schools to teach children about caring for the environment as well as traditional cultural practices. This is a project in both environmental management and reconciliation, with Indigenous and non-Indigenous children participating in the program and taking their lessons home to their parents. For the final few days of my trip, I went bush camping with the Juunjuwarra Rangers on a chainsaw training course. The rangers showed me their Country, swapped stories by the campfire and jokingly told me about a crocodile called Esme that lived nearby who liked interns. After three days in the bush without running water or electricity, the only reason that I was glad to return to Cairns was for a hot shower and clean clothes.
Weekends were also packed full of exciting experiences, whether it was snorkeling on the Great Barrier Reef, hiking around World Heritage national parks or tasting exotic tropical fruits in the local fruit markets. I met so many wonderful people that made my time in Cairns extra special, including both housemates in my share house and other Aurora interns around town. We enthusiastically joined in on the Cairns Ukulele Festival (yes, a ukulele festival) for a world-record ukulele attempt and free aquatic zumba classes on the Esplanade (Cairns’ version of a beach). As most of my share house friends were overseas travellers, we even cooked up an “authentic” Aussie BBQ with camel burgers and kangaroo sausages. My Aurora internship was an absolutely phenomenal experience. I learnt lots about Indigenous ranger programs, developed new skills to use in the workplace and loved every moment. I would encourage all of you to look into applying for Aurora over this coming summer break, as it has been one of the most valuable experiences of my university life.