Alex Gyles wins Robin Jeffrey Politics Honours Prize

Alex Gyles was awarded the Robin Jeffery Politics Honours Prize for the best final result in the Politics and International Relations Honours Program. He's penned this post about his experiences at the Institute for Human Security and Social Change.

Photo by Kristian Laemmle-Ruff.

My involvement with the Institute of Human Security and Social Change began in my honours year at La Trobe University. I did a year with the Institute and learned a huge amount, it challenged me and set me up for the future, sending me on a trajectory where I landed my ideal job.

After doing an Aurora internship with Yamatji Marlpa Aboriginal Corporation in anthropology, I was keen to write on Aboriginal controlled development using money paid to Traditional Owners and their communities under the Land Rights and Native Title Acts. As I was looking around for a supervisor in politics/international development, I came across Chris Roche, director of the Institute, who was about to begin an evaluation of the Central Land Council’s (CLC) Community Development Units (CDU) program, which happened to be one the leading examples of Aboriginal controlled development using resources from Aboriginal owned land. Chris took me on, coaching me as my honours supervisor and bringing me on at the Institute as a research assistant.

With the Institute, I traveled to Alice Springs supporting but mostly learning from Chris Roche and James Ensor as theyersity.pdf undertook the evaluation. Participating in this enabled me to get a good insight into the CDUs processes and practices and the challenges faced in the remote landscape. With permission I decided to use the CDUs program as a case study in my thesis and the Institute and Aurora internship program were invaluable in supporting me to make an internship with the CDU happen to support this. This internship helped me gain further knowledge and experience of the Units work and the context in which it practiced.

As an intern, I worked on developing a reporting and monitoring template to capture the Units employment and training outcomes to build an evidence base which could be used to influence better practice in the field and gain buy in from other actors. The internship also gave me quality on the ground experience, with the Unit taking me out on bush trips as they facilitated meetings with Aboriginal governance groups where projects were planned and funded. The political insights I gained in these meetings were invaluable to my thesis.

After the internship I knuckled down on the thesis, receiving very valuable support from the Institute which encouraged me to tilt the weight of my paper from theory to a focus on practice on the ground.  I was challenged to not only critique existing practice or arguments and look to the published positions of scholars to back my argument, but to look for examples of good practice in the field and use it to fill identified gaps in the literature. From this angle I was able to bring new material to the table and argue for and propose tangible policy change. After all the hard work I received a high distinction for my paper and was awarded the Robin Jeffery Politics Honours Prize for the best final result in the Politics and International Relations Honours Program.

Upon submitting my thesis I scored a job with the CDU. I now live in Alice Springs and work in remote communities in the south west region of Central Australia. The job is challenging and highly rewarding, and I continue to learn and develop my skills as I work alongside Aboriginal people to support social change in the region.

Being part of the Institute challenged me to write an original thesis and supported me to build relationships in the industry, both of which enabled me to land my ideal job. I thank the Institute for its invaluable support and encourage those that are concerned with social change and keen to work in the industry to get involved with the Institute where possible.

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