ILC Partnerships in Land Management

30 Nov 2010

ILC Partnerships in Land Management

3rd National Land and Sea Management Conference

Broken Hill, NSW, Wednesday 3 November 2010

It is a great pleasure to be here this morning and I would like to thank organisers for the opportunity to address this session.

I am a Yamatji woman from Western Australia and, out of respect for cultural protocols. I recognise and thank Traditional Owners of the country on whose land we are meeting today in Broken Hill.

We must never forget that the Traditional Owners have had responsibility for looking after this country for thousands of years and I pay my respects to current day descendents. As the Chairperson of the Indigenous Land Corporation I am proud that the ILC is a major sponsor this National Land and Sea Management Conference.

As many of you here today would know, the ILC is an Australian Government independent statutory authority established to provide social, cultural, economic and environmental benefits to Indigenous people by assisting them to acquire land and manage Indigenous-held land. In acquiring land and managing Indigenous-held land the ILC Board has made it clear that these areas of general benefits – social, cultural, environmental and economic – have key factors which link them – that is, the ability of land to also provide training that will facilitate employment outcomes and in doing so encourage sustainable economic development. Unfortunately, there is a belief in some sectors that the acquisition of land by itself is the only outcome which is required. The ILC does not agree with this view.

The ILC Board, and indeed many other Indigenous organisations and communities, takes a more holistic view of land ownership and land management, and believes that sustainable economic outcomes are not mutually exclusive from the need to protect culturally or environmentally significant areas. The ILC is involved in many exciting projects across the nation. In just the last couple of weeks you would have seen the announcement that the ILC is in the process of acquiring the Ayers Rock resort at Yulara for $300 million. This is the largest land acquisition and land management project the ILC has initiated since it was created in 1995. The acquisition of Ayers Rock Resort by the ILC is a huge step and a massive challenge. But, unless we are prepared to take huge steps and challenge ourselves as a nation, we will fail to make real progress in Closing the Gap in Indigenous disadvantage. Indigenous people want to be part of Australia’s continuing economic development. This can only happen if Indigenous people have opportunities to actively participate in the economy. That means training that leads to real jobs, now and for future generations.

The ILC and its partners have a long-standing commitment to both sustainable Indigenous economic development and the Australian tourism industry. Following the acquisition, the ILC will establish a National Indigenous Tourism Training Academy at Ayers Rock Resort. At present, just a handful of the 670 staff at the Resort are Indigenous. This is not acceptable. The ILC is aiming to have 200 Indigenous people employed at the Resort by the end of 2015, with the number of Indigenous staff reaching 340, or more than 50% of total Resort staffing, by the end of 2018. The establishment of the tourism academy at the Resort will see 200 Indigenous people in training each year from 2013. After five years of operation, it is anticipated that 500 Indigenous trainees will graduate from the academy with around half of them gaining employment at the Resort and the remainder being placed in other jobs in the tourism, hospitality and other industries across Australia.

The needs of International and Australian visitors, to be able to enjoy a memorable and quality tourism experience when they visit Uluru and surrounding attractions, will remain paramount and undiminished by this ground-breaking sale. The economic development opportunity for Central Australian Indigenous communities posed by this sale is huge. The ILC and its partners Wana Unkatja, the Australian tourism industry and the Australian and NT governments, all have a stake in ensuring the long-term success of the Ayres Rock Resort at this landmark location in the centre of Australia. That is the future – and now to the present. In my presentation today, I will present several case studies which reflect the ILC’s practical approach to assisting Indigenous economic development through land management projects that seek to balance protection and production. These case studies focus on the socio-economic benefits being delivered through long-term land management projects which, in turn, are developing sustainable businesses. I have included an overview of ILC projects in Brewarrina in NSW, at Miniyerri and Fish River in the Top End and look at existing and future key collaborations which can deliver benefits across large regional areas.


The ILC bought Merriman Station near Brewarrina in late 2006 so local Indigenous community organisation Canbac could run an Indigenous shearing training school to secure Indigenous jobs in the pastoral industry. Brewarrina is a town steeped in sheep history, but in recent years the region lost 95 per cent of its stock in the worst drought in 100 years-then floods saw it declared a disaster area. I am sure the irony of that is not lost on anyone here. However, I am pleased to say that the rain has revitalised the country and now confidence in the sheep industry is returning and job prospects are up.

As producers look to rebuild their flocks the Merriman Shearing School is getting young Indigenous people ready for work. The ILC has built 10-bed shearers’ quarters as well as an amenities block with kitchen and dining and recreation room. The shearing shed and manager’s house has been refurbished and water points added to handle a larger flock. The project is supported by a major contract with Fletcher International, Australia’s largest sheep production company, to shear 27,000 sheep in 2010. Merriman’s trainees live at the station, earning full wages while they receive accredited training under the watchful eyes of Indigenous trainers and mentors who have had a long association with the shearing and pastoral industry.

The first trainees in 2009 were snapped up by employers across the region and up to 20 young Indigenous people will qualify as shearers in 2010. I think this partnership between the ILC, Canbac and a leading industry player is a great example of the benefits that can accrue not only to Indigenous people, but also to the wider community when we break down barriers and provide real training that guarantees employment.


I am proud to announce that he ILC has recently played a major role in the acquisition of Fish River Station on the Daly River in the Northern Territory. Fish River is Australia’s newest conservation reserve and will provide new jobs and business opportunities for its Traditional Owners.

The180,000 hectare property 150 kilometres south of Darwin, was purchased through a partnership with the National Reserves System, and conservation not-for-profit groups The Nature Conservancy, Pew Environment Group and Greening Australia. Fish River Station protects long stretches of the Daly River, with fresh and saltwater crocodiles, billabongs fringed by savanna woodland and pockets of rainforest. Its wetlands are a stronghold for the pig-nosed turtle and habitat for another seven freshwater turtle species and a huge diversity of fish, from barramundi to the threatened freshwater sawfish and the critically endangered spear-toothed shark. Fish River is now part of the National Reserve System.

Fish River also helps build Ecolink, the conservation corridor which will connect Port Augusta in South Australia to the Top End, giving native species room to adapt in the face of a changing climate, fire and drought. The purchase will lead to new jobs for Indigenous rangers controlling weeds and feral animals, caring for threatened species and managing fire and opportunities and for Traditional Owners to establish ecotourism businesses.

The Indigenous Land Corporation will initially manage the property and support Traditional Owners to build on their extensive knowledge of the area so they can take over the lead management role within a few years. This is a great partnership with Traditional Owners, the ILC, Australian Government agencies, the Northern Territory and the major conservation non-profits The Nature Conservancy, Pew Environment Group and Greening Australia – all working together for a conservation outcome and new opportunities for Indigenous communities. The partners will contribute ongoing management funding and employ Indigenous Rangers and work with Traditional Owners to develop enterprises that complement and help protect the significant biodiversity values of the property.


At Waliburru Station in the NT, formerly known as Hodgson Downs, the ILC has assisted the local Minyerri community, Traditional Owners and Rangers to develop a new pastoral enterprise which is successfully marrying economic, cultural, social and environmental needs. At the request of Traditional owners, the ILC signed a six-year grazing licence agreement on Waliburru in 2007, with an option to extend the agreement to 2018, to help bring the land back into production and to train and employ young people living at the Minyerri community, which is located on the station. In 1995, Hodgson Downs was granted to Alawa 1 Aboriginal Land Trust under the NT Land Rights Act. Historical connections with pastoralism was a key driver for people to acquire the 323,000 hectare station, but their enthusiasm also stemmed from their need to protect and maintain the land’s cultural landscape. Over the years the station’s infrastructure had become rundown and only a small cattle herd had been maintained to supply meat to the local community.

The ILC, employing people from Miniyerri, has now established essential infrastructure, including over 375km of new fencing, yards, sheds, dams, water points, access roads and a homestead precinct including staff and visitor accommodation and a training centre. In 2008-09 the Waliburru workforce had risen to 25 and the property was carrying over 10,000 head of cattle. While the project is about economic development and training, community members strongly support their ranger program, and see that as growing as the station develops. The clearances for station infrastructure were facilitated by senior Traditional Owners working with an Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority (NT) anthropologist. This work resulted in the protection of sacred country, and perhaps as importantly, the transfer of important cultural knowledge from senior custodians to younger custodians. Traditional owners have also formulated a land management plan with the Miniyerri Rangers, and now there is the capacity to implement cooperative arrangements for weed, feral animal and fire management with rangers and stockmen working together.

A key part of the project is the succession arrangements that are incorporated into the Waliburru Development Plan, where the ILC is assisting Traditional Owners to develop their capacity with the aim of taking control of their business by 2018. This model of using land to create a sustainable enterprise to provide accredited training and jobs, at the same time building the capacity of the community, is also being adopted at Gunbalanya, on the Oenpelli flood plain.


My final case study in this presentation has many parts but it focuses on one key word – ‘collaboration’. In today’s world, no one agency has the physical and financial resources to support large-scale, regional projects on its own, so collaboration becomes a key consideration if sustainable socio-economic benefits are to be achieved on Indigenous land. An example of how collaborations are shaping much of the ILC’s land management work is the NT Ranger Project. This is a joint initiative between key Northern Territory and Australian Government agencies, the Northern Land Council, the Central Land Council and the ILC to address invasive weed, fire and feral animal issues, animal disease monitoring and degraded site rehabilitation while building local Indigenous landholders’ capacity through training and job creation.

The project involves a number of NT Indigenous communities with a focus on natural resource management training. Utilising the skills acquired through this training, some Indigenous land management groups established under the strategy have now developed their own enterprises. This has included winning contracts for environmental management work for the NT Government and other government agencies and Indigenous people have derived full or part-time contract employment from these enterprise activities. Looking into the crystal ball, the next big challenge for Indigenous communities is the carbon collaboration and what role they will play as Australia moves towards a greener future. There are enormous opportunities within the new green economy to close the gap and reduce the dependence of Indigenous communities on government assistance through creation of jobs, income and sustainable change.

We must minimise the risk arising from the impacts of a changing climate and ensure that regional, rural and remote Indigenous communities are ready to face these impacts by adapting to changes as they occur. In doing that we must maximise the opportunities that may present themselves from the green economy in jobs and small business development as well as community-wide projects that will result from changes to regulations, legislation and above all, technologies.

The opportunities are many but carbon abatement, carbon sequestration, biomaterial processing, forestry, water management, waste and recycling and renewable energy are just some of opportunities which come easily to mind.

It is a huge challenge but at the same time it presents an exciting possible future for indigenous people living on the Rangelands.


The case studies I have outlined are but a few examples of the diversity of the more than150 land management projects the ILC has underway across Australia, that aim to deliver sustainable benefits to Indigenous communities and groups. While land management projects may be geographically different, and offer different opportunities to communities, they share four common factors in that they seek to:

  1. Develop a sustainable Indigenous economic base on Indigenous-held land.
  2. Develop Indigenous capacity, self-reliance and pride. 
  3. Provide training and skills development opportunities and creating jobs. 
  4. Protect cultural and environmental values.

The ILC believes these are critical elements if land ownership and land management projects are to deliver sustainable benefits to Indigenous people. This work is not easy and Indigenous Australians face many challenges, including building strong governance, developing capacity, providing accredited training and building the infrastructure necessary to develop enterprises and create jobs.

But, we should never let those challenges overwhelm us. The ILC believes there are no quick-fix solutions and that, to assist in developing Indigenous capacity and thereby achieve lasting outcomes, there must be long term commitment. That is why some of the agreements the ILC has entered into with Indigenous communities and Traditional Owners have a span of 15 years or more. The work we are all doing to maintain and strengthen culture, connection to country and sustainable economic development through training and job creation , is vital to this generation and generations to come.

In closing, I would like to thank everyone who is working with Indigenous people to build a brighter and more sustainable future.

Thank you.

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