I am in Halls Creek this morning with Charlie and Louise. It’s a small town in the East Kimberley, eight hours drive from Broome. It has an airport so we were able to dispense with the road trip.
It was established by Europeans in the late 19th century after Charlie Hall found an 870 gram gold nugget.
Harold Mitchell has been involved in the cattle industry in the Kimberleys for the past 10 years. Photo: Jason Wishart
But of course, it is also the home of the five Indigenous nations who have lived here forever.
Regular readers know that I have been involved in the cattle industry in the Kimberleys for the past 10 years and the purpose of my trip is to celebrate a decade of hard work by many on this land.
The Aboriginal people call the Wolf Creek crater Kandimalai. Photo: Glenn Campbell
During this time, we’ve become very close to the Indigenous people and their problems and opportunities. Ten years ago, Halls Creek, and its neighbouring town Fitzroy Crossing – two hours away – had the highest rate of fetal alcohol syndrome in the world.
Grog is a curse. I can say that because as many readers know I stopped drinking alcohol when I was 23.
But through the “ban the booze” drive of the Elders, including senior Bunuba woman June Oscar AO, who is now a Commissioner for Social Justice, most newborn babies are healthy and the towns are safer for everyone.
The Prime Minister recently admitted that national policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had let us down. True, but it’s a different story here where the Elders have taken control and negotiated arrangements with the non-Aboriginal community.
Senior Bunuba woman June Oscar AO is now a Commissioner for Social Justice. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Our property is a case study. In fact, we own three properties ourselves and have a co-operative arrangement with four others, owned by local Indigenous people. Our deal is that we assist them with their capital needs to improve their vast area of land, we use and pay for their workforce across the total 3.5 million-acre operation and we pay for agistment of our cattle on their land.
And it couldn’t have happened without mutual respect. My partners Haydn and Jane Sale, two great Australians, led the operation with sensitivity and gained the trust of the local Aboriginal leaders who have travelled five hours to join the celebrations.
Carlton footballer Sam Petrevski-Seton is from Falls Creek. Photo: Michael Dodge
They include Robin Yeeda and his family from the Lamboo lands and Wayne Wallaby from the Yiyilli community that own and operate Louisa Downs Station and Carranya Station, which includes significant sacred sites. Wayne Gordon of Margaret River Station is also attending plus the Lawfords from Bohemia Downs Station.
These families are strong leaders who build community spirit and foster respect at every level. They make sure that the children are educated.
Illustration: Cathy Wilcox
As I sit in Halls Creek just a stone’s throw from the Wolf Creek crater Louise says, “Isn’t that where they made the movie?”. The Aboriginal people call the crater Kandimalai and it has a significant place in their dreaming. But for the modern Europeans, it is the site of a horror film.
There’s the problem right there.
The centralist bureaucratic approach of Canberra, and state governments, isn’t working. We need much more respect and support for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders who are making a real difference in their communities.
I have been fortunate enough to witness the communities first hand and I am grateful for the friendship and respect they have offered me.
Last Sunday I was at the football in Melbourne watching Carlton defeat Essendon. Someone pointed out the outstanding Indigenous athlete wearing Chris Judd’s No.5.
He’s Sam Petrevski-Seton and he is from Halls Creek. Now that’s a success story.So here are a few lessons I have learned from my time in the cattle business in the Kimberleys.
There are two things that are needed to help overcome the problems plaguing remote Indigenous communities – the empowerment of the women and the education of the children.
June Oscar is a fine example of the effects of empowered women. So is a group of women just across the desert who asked the government for a mobile dialysis unit so people suffering kidney disease could remain on their land. Their request was denied on the grounds that it was too expensive and too difficult to administer. But the women would not be denied. They set to work selling their paintings. When they reached $1,000,000 they bought the unit and ran the operation themselves.
The Indigenous people of Australia have an enormous capacity to control their own lives if only we will let them and work with them – not for them.
I’ve got to go now and kick a footy and check out the local lads for the mighty Blues.