Putting Theory into Practice | An Aurora Intern’s Experience

Cape York Partnership (CYP) collaborates with the Aurora Education Foundation to provide motivated university students with full time internships. CYP is focussed on empowering the people of Cape York through building capability.

Harry Cattell is a university student within the Juris Doctor program at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology. Through an Aurora intern opportunity, he underwent an internship with Cape York Partnership's Policy team.

We spoke with Harry about his experience working with Cape York Partnership, his plans for the future and his aspirations for Indigenous affairs.

How did your internship with CYP come about?

I was referred to CYP through the Aurora program. Aurora places students from across Australia in First Nations Organisations. Their purpose is to facilitate personal and professional development of interns whilst creating value for, and valuable relationships within, the Indigenous sector.

I was actually due to intern early last year and again mid-year. However, With COVID rearing its viral, spike protein covered head in 2021 plans were halted. I was offered to do the internship remotely, but being someone who loves place-based learning and making inter-personal connections in person I requested to hold off. Luckily CYP very generously accommodated this. Prue, CYP’s wonderful, inspiring and quirkily hilarious Head of Policy and I were put in touch and February 2022 it was!

Aurora are an amazing organisation who do incredible work in catalysing opportunities and relationships across so many organisations. I am very grateful for the care they have provided me throughout the process and for making it possible.

Why did you come to CYP?

To be honest, as I generally try to be, I was extremely keen to intern anywhere. All the organisations that Aurora have relationships with are truly incredible and leaders in their field and practice areas. They placed me with CYP and I trusted their judgement.

After a strenuous few years of studying and living in a restricted Melbourne I was extremely keen to spend some time interstate while expanding and contextualising my study. To be candid I was keen to try and bring as much value as I could to whatever organisation would have me.

When the connection was made with CYP there was no guarantee to it working out. So, what attracted me to the opportunity here? Initially coming from a BA majoring in Australian Indigenous Studies I was very familiar with the work of Noel Pearson as one of the great advocates of our time. To work within the institute he created and still directs, I realised, would provide me with insights and knowledge not likely found elsewhere. Beyond this, the diverse work of CYP across many different fields, done in the interests of First Nations empowerment makes the organisation not only unique, but ambitious and successful in its endeavours. I realised what a privilege it would be to have exposure to the leadership, people, space and work that make up the partnership and it was obviously a hard, hopefully humble, ‘yes, thank you so much’ from myself.

What attracted you to taking up the internship?

There were a few reasons for my wanting to intern.

The first was simply a desire to learn more from an Indigenous organisation whilst hopefully adding some value at the same time.

I’ve been lucky enough to have been provided opportunities by First Nations Organisations, People and Communities the past. I’ve also been lucky enough to have had an education in which I’ve been able to expand on my skills, most recently in the legal context. These experiences caused the realisation that there is an enormous deficit in legal education. Specifically, unis don’t educate people about the intersection between First Nations People and the law.

Personally, I was looking to begin understanding how in a practical sense, my learning might be used in the interest of advancing First Nations sovereignty and power through genuine initiatives and projects.

The funny thing is I didn’t know the next thing about policy before coming here. Cape York Institute, where I was placed manages policy for the partnership. What I have been taught is exactly how to apply what I have learned to policy and reforms that build capacity on an individual and collective level for the people of Cape York. Exactly what institutional legal learning left me hungry for.

To be frank, the last reason was, I was keen for an adventure. Work in Cairns, in a completely different field, alongside new people could not have been a bad Idea. Happily, my time here more than confirmed this.

What have you worked on while you’re here?

As mentioned I was thrown perhaps haphazardly by Prue into the policy team, reeking of inexperience. I was pretty concerned about how I was going to contribute, but arriving with an absorbent attitude has allowed me to have a great time.

I have been working alongside an incredible Senior Policy advisor Claudine Wiesner. We have been researching both child safety and alcohol and other substance policy. Our focus has been on why harms and those related to substance misuse continue in the Cape despite great achievements in development, self-determination and land rights.

During this work I have been generously provided insight by stakeholders and community organisations, alongside CYP, into their tenacious and determined work. These entities work in the interest of providing the Nations of the Cape safety and people the best opportunity to live fulfilled valuable lives. Claudine and I have been focussing on increasing CYP’s and hopefully in turn Cape York’s understanding of how certain behaviour can severely impact individuals and families’ lives. Understandings, that will assist policy and reform development, ensure support of governments, and most crucially enhance lived experiences across the Cape.

What was the highlight of your time here?

There has been so many!

The whole working experience has been a delightful, challenging time. I have been able to drop myself into some beautiful freshwater spots around Cairns in my spare time.

A truly special experience was being welcomed onto Wik Country by the people and Council of Aurukun. Claudine and I travelled to Aurukun to try and contextualise some of the research we had undertaken. Mayor Tamwoy and the Family Responsibilities Commissioners all generously made space in their busy schedules to discuss with us the strengths and challenges existing in Aurukun at present. And critically, how these governance organisations work tirelessly for their people.

All in all being so warmly welcomed into an Indigenous founded and governed organisation, being trusted with meaningful work and being made to feel valued has been such a highlight. Not something I will soon forget.

What’s the biggest learning you have taken away?

Cairns locals are fiercely protective of secret swimming spots.

Nah, it's pretty difficult to try and articulate the learnings that I have been provided here. I’ll keep it personal and say that working in new spaces, particularly in certain sectors is complex and challenging. And so it should be. Mistakes are inevitable. I’m gradually learning to accept that reality and remain genuine, have a laugh, reflect and do better each time I show up.

What are your plans for the future?

One of our policy advisors, Tess, who was up from Sydney for a strategy day, thought I was utterly ridiculous when I told her my future plans were to not have too many. “What kind of walking millennial law student contradiction are you pretending to be?” her expression read.

Keep having fun is the main plan, have a few adventures along the way. Live and work in places that make me happy and hopefully continue valuably contributing to organisations or initiatives that are making other people happy too.

     We continuously witness First Nations and People strive for further power, beyond that already achieved. I don’t really hope, but know we will see organisations like CYP and others in Cape York shaping the agenda for ‘Indigenous affairs’ into the future.

Where do you hope to see Indigenous affairs in ten years?

First Nations across Australia have provided a clear mandate as to what is demanded and required with the Uluru Statement of the Heart and calls for Treaties. Recognition of the unceded Sovereignty of Indigenous Nations, in line with Australia’s signing of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, has been overdue since colonisation of Australia began. That would be a good start.

Regardless, we continuously witness First Nations and People strive for further power, beyond that already achieved. I don’t really hope, but know we will see organisations like CYP and others in Cape York shaping the agenda for ‘Indigenous Affairs’ into the future.

Beyond that, I’ll stick to a specific area that I would love to see change. This is how we teach the law and other western epistemologies. If the sovereignty of First Nations is to be recognised in Australia the legal system has to reflect this. Thankfully, this change has very slowly but not adequately begun.

From my experience studying law, the academic institution has not progressed far enough and continues to contribute to unjust outcomes. Legal education will need to recognise the importance of the myriad legal systems that have existed here since time immemorial and begin respecting these through incorporation into course work. This should be coupled with better cultural competency training of future legal practitioners and law makers. The positive influence this would have on Indigenous intersections with the justice system has been long been discussed. It's time for universities to respond, and government to provide adequate funding for this kind of learning. Thankfully, there are plenty of opportunities to seek teachings outside of classrooms, as offered by CYP and demonstrated by my recent experience.


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