The Aurora Internship Program: Finbar Piper

During summer 2017/18, after the first year of my JD, I undertook a six week internship through the Aurora Internship Program with Reconciliation Australia (RA), based in Old Parliament House in Canberra. RA works through partnership to deliver reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australia. Its partners are numerous and diverse, from schools, to companies, to governments, demonstrating that no one is immune from the responsibility to strive for empathy, equality, understanding, and acceptance, regardless of where they work, live, or study.

While I took an interest in Aboriginal history, politics and social studies during the course of my undergraduate, I did not grow up in Australia, and consequently entered into this internship without significant prior contextual understanding of the sector. Six weeks later, there is no doubt I still have much to learn. However, the internship provided a solid grasp of the key players, the battles won, the steps taken, and the progress lost – a taste of the experiences of those who have been fighting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander self-determination over the last two hundred years.

The concert on Parliament House lawns to commemorate the ten year anniversary of Kevin Rudd’s Apology. Photo by Finbar Piper.

My colleagues were by far the greatest resource I had access to, sharing their wealth of experience freely, and communicating the nuance required to navigate such a fraught history. For such a small team, RA’s work carries a serious clout. While I was there, they surpassed the 1000th organisation to develop a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). My supervisors, Tom and Simone, made themselves readily available for all my questions. Through the RA staff I learnt a great deal, not only about reconciliation and the sector, but also about organizational culture, workplace relationships, and leadership. On top of this, the whole team was very welcoming, and I adopted their rituals – coffee, trivia, and OPH drinks – quickly.

My allocated work was educational and rewarding. RA were in the process of building a new RAP tool, which is yet to be publicly announced, but will likely improve RA’s output immensely. I was tasked with researching and preparing discussion papers on employment and procurement – strategies for partners to implement that could both deliver reconciliation and potentially improve profit margins. I also wrote correspondence on behalf of the CEO, collated RAP data for use in the online RAP builder, tagged along to meetings with partners and sector groups, and reviewed research questions to be used in the biennial reconciliation barometer.

Reconciliation Australia’s office is located in Old Parliament House, which has been turned into a museum. This was the Cabinet meeting room. Photo by Finbar Piper.

A clear highlight during my time with RA was the Indigenous economic showcase and the Closing the Gap address, which occurred at Parliament House during my last week. The showcase embodied the research I’d be conducting over the previous month, so I found it highly engaging, and was filled with prominent sector actors and activists. While the Closing the Gap address marked the failure to deliver significant positive change, it was incredible to see the Indigenous leaders I’d only ever read about, at such a pivotal moment – ten years after the Apology. Another highlight was the Apology concert, on Parliament House lawns, where I watched artists such as Archie Roach and the Preatures for free.

The location of the office alone gave rise to unique opportunities that I know I will never forget. One morning, just five minutes walk from my desk, I watched Julian Burnside QC appeal a refugee case in the High Court. Several afternoons were spent in the House of Reps at question time, listening to the Prime Minister dodge zingers, and dual-national MPs bemoan the Constitution. I found plenty to do in Canberra over the six weeks.

I would highly recommend a placement at Reconciliation Australia, you can apply through the Aurora Internship Program here:

Photo by Finbar Piper.

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