Pilbara Futures

10 Jun 2011

ILC Case Studies in Land Management and Economic Development

It is a great pleasure to be here today 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 the Traditional Owners of the country on whose land we are meeting today.

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 prioritised training and employment outcomes and sustainable economic development. Unfortunately for Indigenous people, there is a belief in some sectors that acquisition of land is the only outcome which is required. The ILC has a different view.

The ILC Board, and indeed many other Indigenous organizations and communities, take a more holistic view of land ownership and land management and believe that the need to protect culturally or environmentally significant areas is not mutually exclusive from the need to create sustainable economic outcomes. An example of this are the concerns that many Indigenous people in Northern Queensland hold about moves to protect wild rivers, without properly consulting them about what effect this could have on socio-economic development opportunities. Given that we are meeting here in the Pilbara, I have chosen to present a local case study from the region which reflects the ILC’s approach to assisting Indigenous economic development through land management projects.

I will also present a case study from the Northern Territory which provides a good example of how ILC land management projects can build the capacity of Indigenous landowners and communities so they can take part in more larger scale projects to foster sustainable economic development on their land. The two case studies, Pilbara Indigenous Management Support Services, or PIMSS as we call it, and Waliburru Station, both focus on the socio-economic benefits being delivered through long-term land management project.


The PIMSS project aims to increase the profitability and sustainability of Indigenous pastoral businesses in the Pilbara and Gascoyne/Murchison Regions of Western Australia. PIMSS focuses on training, business and financial restructuring, and the establishment of pastoral business systems and procedures. PIMSS has negotiated subleases resolving significant issues on several Indigenous-held pastoral leases. The subleases have lead to significant returns in infrastructure development, debt repayment, and improved cattle welfare and environmental health.

Pastoral stations involved include in the Pilbara region: Peedamulla, Ullawarra, Mt Welcome, Mt Divide, Walagunya and Robertson Range, Kangan, Pippingarra, Strelley (including Lallah Rookh and Carlindie),Coongan; and in the Gascoyne/Murchison region: Belele, Buttah, Mulgul, and Windidda. In 2008-09, 73 people were trained in pastoral station management through PIMSS, while 13 people representing four Indigenous corporations undertook training as mentors. An employment-based training program is being developed for eight trainees at Peedamulla Station.

It must be remembered that Land Management Projects also deliver significant Cultural and Social Benefits to participants. These benefits include improved social networks incorporating PIMSS properties, government agencies and private enterprise, including pastoral businesses in the Pilbara and Gascoyne/Murchison regions. Another example is Mount Divide Station where a designated area for Irrungadji Group Association Inc to conduct cultural and social activities was built. PIMSS has also been successful in negotiating closer working relationships with mainstream Pilbara pastoral properties; It has also assisted in the provision of new infrastructure on Indigenous-owned properties, herd management, bio security, animal husbandry, compliance of landholders with the National Livestock Identification System, and the development of an Indigenous Pastoral Trainee Program. Collaboration and joint funding between Government agencies and the private sector has been an important part of the PIMSS project.

The ILC is contributing $600,000 over three years while DAFWA is providing $800,000 and Rio Tinto Iron Ore some $700,000. In 2008-09 Rio Tinto donated two four-bedroom demountables to Peedamulla Station to accommodate eight pastoral trainees; DEEWR is providing $118,000 over two years for training and, along with IL and DAFWA funding, training is being provided in governance, planning, financial management, herd health, and marketing. Properties participating in PIMSS are receiving improved benefits from their land. My next case study shows how a community can plan for even greater sustainable economic development on their 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 and environmental needs. The ILC has signed a grazing licence agreement on Waliburru with Traditional Owners and the Northern Land Council, which enables the training and employment of people living at Minyerri community, located on the station. In 1995, Hodgson Downs was granted to Alawa 1 Aboriginal Land Trust under the NT Land Rights Act. The historical connection with pastoralism was a key driver for people to acquire the 323,000 hectare station, but their enthusiasm also stemmed from their desire 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 Minyerri, has now established essential infrastructure, including over 375km of new fencing, sheds, water points, access roads and a homestead precinct including staff and visitor accommodation and a training centre. Last year, the Waliburru Indigenous 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 want that to grow 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 significant 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 Minyerri Rangers, and now there is the capacity to implement a cooperative set of 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 Traditional Owners are taking on the capacity building tasks that will support them taking control of their business by 2018. This model of using land sustainably to create a new enterprise to provide new training and employment opportunities while at the same building the capacity of the community, is also being adopted at Gunbalanya.


The case studies I have just outlined are just two examples of the diversity of the 159 land management projects the ILC has underway across Australia, that are delivering long term, socio-economic benefits to Indigenous communities and groups. While land management projects may be geographically different, and offer different opportunities to communities, they share significant common factors. They are about developing a sustainable Indigenous economic base on Indigenous-held land. They are about developing Indigenous capacity, self-reliance and pride. They are about providing increased employment, training and skills development opportunities. They are also about protecting the environment and maintaining Aboriginal culture.

The ILC believes these are critical elements if land ownership and land management projects are to deliver long-term befits to Indigenous people. This work is not easy and we face many challenges. Those challenges include issues of governance and capacity development, training and employment, infrastructure and ongoing support to name a few. But, we should never let those challenges overwhelm us. The work we are all doing to maintain and strengthen culture, connection to country and economic development through employment and training, 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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