Ngurratjuta Aboriginal Farms
JUST ADD WATER
A story about homelands agricultural enterprise,
kindly provided with permission by
Bob Jeffries, Resource Centre Manager, Ngurratjuta Association
Bruce Breaden was born on the country whitefellas call Tempe Downs station near Kings Canyon in Central Australia. As a young Indigenous kid growing up he worked as a ringer on the station, and 24 years ago, after a long fight, he was able to secure 55 hectares as a living area. He called it Wanmara. Today it’s a tidy homeland for Breadon’s extended family featuring sturdy homes in a desert setting. But the 81 year-old former Central Land Council Director wasn’t satisfied. He wanted his family to make a living from the place as well. “I want to leave something good for my kids and my grandkids when I’m gone,” he says.
Breadon went to the Ngurratjuta Association in Alice Springs for help and as a result, Wanmara is today one of four homelands involved with an agricultural project that is already developing real jobs and community income for Aboriginal Territorians. “Their aspiration is to live and work on their country, develop properties and try and earn some income from them,” explains Ngurratjuta’s Resource Centre manager Bob Jeffries. “All we did was provide them with the opportunity and built the first one. Then we got the commitment from the community.”
Ngurratjuta started in 1985 as an investment corporation from royalties associated with the sale of natural gas from the Mereenie gas field in Palm Valley. The royalties are designed for the Indigenous people effected by the development, with part delivered in individual royalties and half is invested by the Association in businesses the Glen Helen Resort and a part ownership in the Kings Canyon Resort, as well as properties in Alice Springs. Ngurratjuta’s Resource Centre provides housing maintenance and project assistance to the outstations in the Tempe Downs and Kings Canyon areas.
Peter Abbott, part of Breadon’s extended family, took charge of transforming Wanmara’s spinifex covered, semi-arid acreage into a market garden that produces vegies for the Alice Springs market. Abbott initiated trialled tomato’s, aided by Ian and Pat Hefferan, two professional market gardeners from Bourke contracted by Ngurratjuta. The couple advise all four of the homelands involved in the project.
Abbott is learning the agricultural trade in an area where fruit and veg proliferate in the desert sun.
Over at Arkanta, a property excised from Henbury station, twenty people are living on the isolated outstation. Ngurratjuta scrounged most of the infrastructure that’s gone into the community farm, including fence poles from the Camel Farm and recycled fencing and the water tank from another community. The effort culminated in the first shipment of 150 kg of zucchinis to Central Fruit and Vegetable in Alice. During the winter months we’ll put in collies and cabbages,” says Market gardener Bradley Breaden. “And then we’ll put in melons and pumpkins where the zucchinis were.”
The farms will have a ready market with Mo McCosker of Central Fruit and Vegetable please to take the lot. “If they’re producing to market standards, we’ll certainly purchase them,” says McCosker. “But we want it packed and graded properly and we’ll be helping them with learning about that.”
Another immediate market is available with the resort trade at Kings Canyon near Wonmara. “We’re talking to the Kings Canyon Resort and the chef has already given us his list of vegies he requires and we’re quite happy to put a few lines in to grow his needs. We’ll get a better price because it’ll go right to him,” explains Jeffries. Wanmara’s first commercial tomato crop has just been harvested.
The four outstations involved conform to a model established by Ngurratjuta. They are all small extended family groups where consensus can be reached in decision making as well as commitment to the project. It is a model that may not be suited to larger communities.
In terms of profit distribution, the communities want all costs and the wages taken out first. They want the next rotation of crops to go in taken out next, and any surplus will go into a community fund that Ngurrajuta will operate. “That means if they send $60 000 worth of goods to market and there’s $5000 surplus, that goes into the community benefit fund just for that community,” says Jeffries. “It’s all about improving their lifestyle and closing the gap.”
Six workers from each community receive CDEP ‘work for the dole’ wages for their work and time sheets are kept for any additional work in the garden over the growing season “So we’ve actually got a permanent workforce on four outstations of 24 people,” states Jeffries. “The goal is to see them come off CDEP into full time jobs on their country. In two years time we want to be income generating and self supporting.”
Already the organisers have seen a drift of youth back to these outstations from Alice Springs. Ngurratjuta believes that once an enterprise is proven to work for them, they will get involved. “The challenge,” according to Jeffries, “is engaging with people: recognising what they have as a resource, seeing how you can tap into it, and generating income. You start things off and let people take ownership of it because activity breeds activity.”