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Anindilyakwa Land Council

ANINDILYAKWA WORK TO SAFEGUARD FUTURE

Indigenous clans from one of the most isolated communities in Australia are taking control of their own lives by driving a swag of exciting economic development projects on their traditional land.

The 2000 Traditional Owners on Groote Eylandt, an archipelago off the north-east coast of Arnhem Land, are determined to safeguard their future when the world-class Gemco manganese mine closes in about a decade.

Economists have worked out that the Anindilyakwa Land Council, which represents the 14 clans, has to increase its Future Fund from $250 million today to $650 million to earn enough interest to maintain important social and cultural programs.

The land council has formed a company, Group Holdings Aboriginal Corporation, to oversee the wealth-creating initiatives, which include a seafood export industry, a six-star eco-lodge, a mine, commercial harbours, renewable energy farms and a timber milling operation.

Traditional Owners are engaging with private enterprise to take part in one of the most diverse and ambitious Indigenous-driven economic development programs in Australian history.

“We’re open for business,” says land council chief executive Mark Hewitt.

BARGE SERVICE

The 28-metre front-loading barge Centaur is running from Darwin to Groote Eylandt, Winchelsea Island and surrounding communities to service multiple projects.

The barge will be essential to service Winchelsea mining operations but is proving to be a popular asset in transporting general cargo.

“We completely stripped the boat and brought it back as good as new,” says Mr Hewitt.

“We’re very pleased with the Centaur – it went through a bad storm as the last cyclone came in and handled the conditions very well.”

Traditional Owner Alvester Lalara, who has a coxswain’s qualification and used to drive the smaller Chelsea 1 crew transfer vessel, is a deckhand on the Centaur.

“He helped refit the new barge,” says Mr Hewitt. “He’s a very valuable member of the team and is being trained up for higher duties. We’re all very proud of him.”

Darwin Tug & Line Services managed the refit of Centaur, which was carried out at the NT Marine Facility, and have been awarded the contract to manage its operation.

Company general manager Peter West says the barge refit was a “massive undertaking”.

“We’re very pleased with the result,” he says. “It’s a magic little boat.”

Mr West says Centaur is ideal for carrying heavy equipment in the shallow waters between Groote Eylandt and Winchelsea.

“That’s not easy,” he says.

Stringent guidelines and marine regulations were followed throughout the refit resulting in a strong, reliable vessel extremely suitable for Group Holdings Aboriginal Corporation’s projects.

BASE CAMP

A $7.5 million logistics base is being built at Little Paradise on the Groote mainland to support mining, aquaculture, tourism and timber milling.

The base will have six buildings, including two accommodation units for 16 workers, an industrial-sized kitchen, a heavy diesel workshop and offices.

It will be powered by a micro-solar farm.

A team of professional chefs will be brought in to train Indigenous cooks and produce about 1200 hot meals a day in the large kitchen for distribution among Traditional Owners as part of a nutrition program.

The base camp was designed by Darwin-based architect Wayne Gabbert and is being built by Territory family-owned business Hawkins and Clements.

Under an innovative program with the Department of Corrections called Sentenced to a Job, two jobs have been created for Groote Traditional Owners to work on the construction of the buildings.

SEAFOOD HATCHERY

A French-born Australian marine scientist, Dr Val Thépot, has been brought in as aquaculture coordinator for Groote Aqua Aboriginal Corporation to establish a multispecies hatchery, nursery and growing facility.

The focus will at first be on the production of rock lobster and sea cucumber – and investigating the commercial potential of other high-end seafood.

“It’s very exciting,” Val says. “We are still at the design stage but hope to start operations by the middle or towards the end of this year.”

Preparatory work includes assessing the health of the wild rock lobster population to ensure harvesting is sustainable.

Val says there are different species of fish, crustacean, molluscs and seaweed in the sea surrounding Groote that probably have commercial value.

“We’ll use an environmental approach to seafood production where we will use organisms from different, complementing trophic levels  – such as carnivores, herbivores and seaweed – and intelligent system design to simultaneously increase the amount of seafood produced while reducing the facility’s environmental impact.”

He is even keen to grow samphire, a succulent plant that can be grown on saline soils normally unfit for agriculture.

“It’s very tasty, nutritious and in demand,” says Val.

The rock lobster and sea cucumber projects are complemented by trials in growing black lip oysters by the Anindilyakwa Land & Sea Rangers and the Territory Government’s Fisheries Division.

Val says seafood farming has the potential to become a big and sustainable industry on Groote Eylandt.

“The aquaculture potential in the Groote archipelago is mind-blowing.”

The Anindilyakwa Land Council has secured visas for a team of tropical rock lobster farming experts from the Indonesian island of Lombok.

According to archaeological evidence, fishermen from Indonesia, mainly Macassans, sailed on the trade winds to Groote and Arnhem Land every year for nine centuries to harvest sea cucumber until they were banned by the Australian Government in 1907.

“This project is the perfect opportunity for Groote Eylandt Traditional Owners to renew the well-established commercial and cultural ties with our Indonesian neighbours,” says Val.

The seafood industry being developed on Groote Eylandt includes the deployment of special pontoons, which will be anchored to the muddy sea floor and used to hold traps designed  to catch lobster puerulus carried on currents running for thousands of kilometres from the Indo-Pacific to Northern Australia.

The pontoons, which were made by Darwin-based Keil Maritime, will be fitted with GPS and beacons.

Tasmanian Seafoods, which operates the NT Marine Facility in Darwin and is building a state-of-the-art sea cucumber hatchery in Berry Springs, is also working with Traditional Owners to develop the technology for the sea cucumber hatcheries.

COMMUNITY CAR SERVICE CENTRE

Groote’s first Traditional Owner-owned car service centre will be built on the junction of Rowell Highway and Bataluma Bay, near Alyangula. It will service community vehicles at cost price.

“The community has wanted a service complex for a long time,” says Mr Hewitt.

The centre will have several hoists and Traditional Owners will be taken on as apprentice mechanics.

“There is a lot of mechanical talent in the community. We’ll target young local Indigenous people as mechanics.”

The service complex will include several other small, clan-owned businesses, such as a car wash, tyre change, spare parts store and panel beating workshop.

But the ambition doesn’t stop there.

“We’ll look at a dealership down the track,” says Mr Hewitt.

DARWIN OFFICE

Private investors and government officials don’t have to fly to Groote to talk business with the representatives of Groote Traditional Owners.

The Anindilyakwa Land Council and Group Holdings Aboriginal Corporation have opened a shared 250 square metre office in the Charles Darwin Centre.

“We wanted an office that people can reach easily,” says Mr Hewitt. “It’s here that our talks with private investors take place.”

The following Groote developments are being project managed by Jason Miezio, a civil engineer and project director with Territory-based construction company Sitzler.

The income from this will allow us to continue to protect our culture and support our community forever.

JETTY CONSTRUCTION

Jetties at Little Paradise and Winchelsea are planned to be expanded to provide all-weather harbour facilities for multiple users.

Two quarries are being developed to provide the rock.

WINCHELSEA MINE UPDATE

Final banking feasibility studies are due to be completed by end of financial year 2021/22, detailed environmental impact assessments are in full swing and due to be completed by October 2022, and mining operations are planned to commence at the end of 2023.

“This is a game-changer,” says senior Traditional Owner Tony Wurramarrba, chair of the Anindilyakwa Land Council: “The income from this will allow us to continue to protect our culture and support our community forever.”

TIMBER OPERATION

Traditional Owners want to use timber harvested from mining land clearing on both Gemco and Winchelsea mine leases for Groote housing construction, such as roof trusses and decking, and furniture production..

TOURISM

Group Holdings is exploring the viability of building a world-class eco-lodge on a clifftop above Bartalumba Bay.

“The lodge will be very special,” says Mr Hewitt.

Groote is a relatively pristine environment – many animals now rare on the Australian mainland are still common on the archipelago – and has much to offer tourists, including excellent fishing and cultural exchanges.

It also has beautiful little-known rock art – depicting fine details of the Macassan trepang trader vessels.

An estimated 30,000 Macassans a year sailed to Northern Australia to harvest trepang, which they dried and sold to Manila and eventually traded with Chinese buyers, who consider it a delicacy.

They stayed annually for about six months – in synchrony with the trade winds – and exchanged technology, language and ceremonies with Indigenous people.

STAFF QUARTERS

A residential village is also planned to be built for extra staff, mainly health workers, as a consequence of the land council’s six local decision-making agreements with the Northern Territory Government.

BOARDING SCHOOL

A boarding school is being built on Bickerton Island.

“This will help kids to stand in both worlds for their future,” says Mr Wurramarrba.

Only 20 percent of Groote children enrolled in school actually attend – and many, if not most, children aren’t even enrolled.

The independent school will hold up to 50 students from age eight and have a bilingual curriculum.

Students will board with house parents Monday to Friday – a model used with great success at the college on the Tiwi Islands – and go home at weekends if they wish.

ALTERNATIVE TO SENTENCING

Traditional Owners are establishing a bush camp as an alternative to prison in the isolated, uninhabited far north of the main island.

The camp will employ professional staff and be overseen by the Justice Advisory Group, which includes islanders who have been to prison.

At-risk youth will be taught the discipline of work and be immersed in their traditional culture.

Mr Wurramarrba says: “These are not bad kids. They are kids who need our support and guidance.

“We want our young people to stay on country for rehabilitation, not be sent to the mainland for prison.”