Why the NIAA Regional Network?
The NIAA Regional Network undertakes quite different work to the National Office in Canberra. While the National Office focuses on policy and program development, in the regional network we focus on the delivery and evaluation of programs. It gave me a 360-degree view of the policymaking process from the conceptual stage through to the evaluation stage after a program has been completed. It also provides an appreciation for the power of good policy – you can see the difference first hand in the communities we are here to serve.
How does the regional rotation work?
I am based in Nhulunbuy working in the East and Central Arnhem Land engagement team. We are responsible for engaging stakeholders and community members across a diverse range of remote Aboriginal communities and homelands across an area roughly the size of Switzerland.
Throughout my rotation, my team has given me the opportunity to see every aspect of the team’s work. I have been doing a varied range of work from work in communities to undertake research projects, assisting in the management of grant funding and traveling with visiting delegations as they undertake their work across Arnhem Land.
I have also had the opportunity to work with my colleagues in the West Arnhem team based in Darwin and our Government Engagement Coordinators and Indigenous Engagement Officers based in the community. Some of the best experiences I have had in this rotation have been working on the ground with our in-community colleagues who are familiar with the people, places and cultural traditions of the community they live in.
Best aspects of the regional rotation thus far?
I had the opportunity to spend almost a fortnight in a community called Maningrida. While I had been to communities before Maningrida, it made a difference being able to spend a longer period there building relationships and getting a deeper understanding of the community. Being able to see below the surface, I could see the details of how fundamental Aboriginal culture is too remote communities and the everyday lives and challenges of people living in them.
What has been most challenging?
Living in a remote area has its challenges. Nhulunbuy is physically isolated. We are about 14 hours’ drive from Darwin and that road is impassable for a few months a year. In reality, flying is the only way in or out.
Things like easy access to shops and specialty foods that we take for granted in cities are hard to get out here and expensive if you can get them. I have found you also have to put in more effort to build a support network than you would in a city though it is a great way to meet people in your new temporary home.
However, the office here has made me feel very welcome and have done their best to make my transition to Nhulunbuy as smooth as possible. Being a small town, I cannot even go shopping without bumping into a colleague – they are always down for a chat inside or outside work!
The most surprising part?
The diversity of the communities in our region. Each one has different language groups, clans, and dynamics. They are certainly not homogenous – each one has their own characteristics and, of course, their own stunning landscape as a backdrop! Over my time here, I have become familiar enough that I can adjust my style to reflect the different nature of each community to build the relationships we need to undertake our work.
Advice to current students?
Be open to new experiences! For someone with an international relations/economics background, working in the remote Northern Territory might not seem like an obvious decision on the surface. However, the experiences of working with people from all walks of life on some critical issues for remote communities has been so eye-opening and beneficial!