Cattle country: Developing the pastoral estate

Aboriginal stockmen are reclaiming an important place in the Central Australian pastoral industry.

Cooperation between traditional owners, pastoralists and government departments in recent years has helped lead to greater understanding between the parties, but also more economic opportunities for Aboriginal people in Central Australia.

In some cases, Aboriginal Land Trusts have been life savers for pastoralists trying to cope with drought.

Drought has hit pastoralists hard and grazing licences on land trusts have helped give them a reprieve as many of the trusts have had little or no grazing on them for many years.

A Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2003 between the CLC, the Northern Territory Government and the Indigenous Land Corporation to develop the Aboriginal pastoral industry through the Indigenous Pastoral Program, has offered access to skilled personnel with experience in the NT pastoral industry, allowed more projects to be started and relationships with pastoralists to be built.

In 2005 another Memorandum of Understanding for the Indigenous Pastoral Program was signed between the CLC, the NLC, the Department of Primary Industry, Fisheries and Mining, the NT Cattleman’s Association and the Department of Workplace relations and is due to run until 2010.

The CLC has been involved in negotiations for grazing licences or development on Hooker Creek, Angarapa, Haasts Bluff, Mungkarta Aboriginal land trusts.

Funding from the Indigenous Land Corporation has helped provide for infrastructure where necessary and the Department of Business, Industry and Resource Development has provided technical advice and support.

The partnership between the department and the CLC has allowed more resources to be committed to helping Aboriginal pastoralists manage their properties as they move to running cattle on their land.

Agreements with pastoralists have seen Aboriginal employment, fencing, bores and other infrastructure added to Aboriginal land in return for cattle to be run on that country, bringing benefits to both parties.

The CLC plays the vital role within the Indigenous Pastoral Program of evaluating communities and properties that can benefit from the scheme while CLC staff travel throughout the land council region assisting with musters and advising on running cattle.

Staff from the CLC’s land management section also assist with natural resource audits and the protection of sensitive environmental or cultural sites and provide planning and management support for new and existing pastoral enterprises.

That includes restructuring existing operations, support for directors and help to access training.

Three main models are used to get Aboriginal land back in production and Aboriginal people back in work in the pastoral industry.

One sees a manager, a management board including traditional owners and industry experts taking charge of an Aboriginal-owned pastoral property. Another involves the granting of a grazing license to a pastoralist for Aboriginal land in return for the improvement of infrastructure and the employment of traditional owners. A third is the development of small family blocks carrying lower numbers of cattle.

The CLC assists these families by helping access funding for improvements on the property, with mustering and accessing equipment. It takes a lot of hard work to achieve long-term success but the indigenous pastoral program is showing that with good faith and cooperation between key parties of the pastoral industry there can be growth, jobs and development the indigenous and non-indigenous sectors.