Embracing passion for Australia’s Aboriginal Culture and Heritage

— by Rebecca Renshaw

Barb Allan, Artback NT Aurora Intern, 2019

Barb Allan reflects on her time as an Artback NT Aurora intern last September …

An email confirming I’d been accepted into the Aurora Internship Program landed in my inbox the very same day I graduated with my double Bachelor degree from the University of Southern Queensland (USQ), and exactly one week after my 40th birthday. Aah, I remember it well …

After a great day snowboarding in the French alpine village of Morillon (my home for most of the last two decades) I was sipping Prosecco with my mates (oh, so fabulous at forty style!) to then find myself marching proudly in cap and gown across the stage at USQ’s Toowoomba campus the following week. Needless to say, that was one crazy week of travel and one epic week of celebrations! But without a doubt, the greatest feeling of elation I experienced that week came as I read the email from Aurora. I was going to be an intern!

The Aurora Internship Program places students and graduates from a range of academic backgrounds at Indigenous and Indigenous Sector organisations involved in Native Title, land rights, justice, social welfare, health, policy and/or community development. The Program provides an excellent opportunity for students and graduates to gain valuable insights and professional experience, while also contributing much needed assistance to often underfunded and under resourced organisations.

I learned about the Aurora Internship Program in the final year of my Bachelor of Arts (Writing and Society) and Bachelor of Business (Tourism Management). During my studies I developed a keen interest in and academic knowledge of culturally sustainable development. Living in France, I have access to some of the most incredible and in many cases World Heritage listed cultural sites and destinations. But I also feel great passion for Australia’s Aboriginal Culture and Heritage, a passion I was able to develop and inform during my studies. As my academic journey neared completion I realised I wanted an opportunity to engage more with Australian Indigenous affairs. I felt ready to apply and further develop my emerging business skills and academic knowledge, yet hoped to do this in pursuit of a career with an organisation having a real positive social impact in Australia. It was time to come home.

But where does a mature age, non-Indigenous Australian graduate with an interest in working in the Indigenous sector despite living on the other side of the globe for most of the past 20 years even begin?!

Well, when I was offered the opportunity to spend six weeks in the tropical Top End as an Aurora intern with Artback NT, it felt like the stars had aligned. My time with the not-for-profit arts development and touring organisation operating within the Northern Territory was a transformative experience. Likewise, the six weeks I spent exploring Darwin and its surrounds will forever be etched in my memory. I felt such a connection with the place, but was also made to feel very welcome by each member of the Artback NT team, whose passion and dedication to their work is truly inspiring.

The breadth and quality of programs facilitated by such a small team is impressive and it was quite eye-opening to experience the level of organisation required to achieve outcomes. I feel privileged to have been mentored by the Executive Officer (EO), contributing to and participating in a vast array of projects, from cataloguing and archiving, data entry and submission writing, to shadowing the Communications Manager, and at times even representing Artback NT at public workshops and meetings. Everything I experienced provided valuable insights into the Arts Sector and the important role it plays in connecting communities and creating pathways for cultural exchange.

A major highlight was being afforded the opportunity to take a leading role in developing an idea for Artback NT’s submission for Activate Darwin’s Transforming Public Spaces Challenge. Completing the submission and then learning it had been selected for funding provided such a great sense of achievement. I’d never worked on anything like that before, so it was a tremendous opportunity for learning that I will be forever grateful to EO Louise Partos. I also thoroughly enjoyed attending the Tourism NT brand launch and Strategy 2030 presentation on behalf of the Communications Manager, Rebecca Renshaw (Beck). It was an absolute pleasure to assist the Project Coordinator and Curator with the touring visual arts exhibition ‘We Eat, We Are’ where I actually travelled to Katherine with Beck and her son Harry for the opening. This was another wonderful experience and perfect opportunity to experience some of the stunning country.

Before returning to Darwin, we swam in the Katherine Hot Springs and also visited Edith Falls where we snorkelled among fish and turtles, all the while trying not to think about crocodiles! During my time in the Top End I day tripped to Litchfield National Park and spent an incredible weekend in Kakadu National Park, visiting Injalak Art Centre in Gunbalanya, the Ubirr and Nourlangie rock art sites, Maguk falls and Yellow Waters Billabong. Louise treated me to a lovely cruise and lunch on the Corroboree Billabong, as well as some fabulous nights out in Darwin!

I spent a truly memorable six weeks in Darwin and since completing my Aurora internship it’s almost like something is missing from my life. I feel somehow connected to this magical place with its rich arts scene, great coffee haunts, food to die for, many a cross-country mountain bike trail, beaches for miles, famous sunsets and simply laid-back vibe. And of course – Artback NT!

My experience as an Aurora intern really was fantastic. I am more motivated than ever to continue my quest to engage with Australian Indigenous affairs and the Indigenous Sector more broadly. I am now also seriously considering the possibility of a career in the Arts Sector. I loved every minute of my time at Artback NT and I think I would find it very satisfying to work in a similar organisation that clearly provides such meaningful opportunities for community development and cultural exchange on a larger scale. If you are studying or if you are a new graduate with a background in the social sciences, law, health or social welfare and you have an interest in Australian Indigenous affairs, then you should definitely consider applying to the Aurora Internship Program. It will change you for the better, forever!