The CLC’s community development unit have been working with the residents and traditional owners of Papunya since 2012. Most of this collaboration has been around the community lease money income stream that began to flow that year as a result of the Australian Government’s earlier policy to compulsorily acquire five year leases over Aboriginal communities in the CLC region during the NT Emergency Response, better known as the intervention. The compensation paid to Aboriginal Land Trusts for the compulsory acquisition was administered by the CLC. Depending on instructions, it either distributed these one-off compensations funds known as five year lease money to individuals or invested them in community development projects. Around this time, Papunya also began to receive what is known as section 19 lease money for blocks in the community, a significant ongoing income source.

The CLC’s community development unit conducted consultations and planning sessions with the community between March 2013 and December 2015 to develop governance arrangements, such as a community development working group, and determine what community benefit programs and projects the community would like to allocate their funds to. The community chose a working group to prioritise and plan community benefit projects and at a community meeting in March 2014 it decided to delegate the power to the working group to authorise expenditure on completed project plans.

After establishing these governance arrangements Papunya decided to allocate its initial five year lease money and a small amount of its section 19 lease money income to undertake community benefit projects with the support of the community development unit. From 2012 to 2016 the community allocated $817,450 to 12 community benefit projects. Projects included upgrades to community sporting facilities, improvements to the community store and community transport for health and cultural activities. The community development unit also consulted with residents and traditional owners about compensation income known as the Surprise Well oil affected areas money in 2015 and 2016. The community allocated less than $100,000 of this income to a Papunya-based Aboriginal corporation.

Community members acknowledge that they have found project governance challenging. The working group has managed competing interests by funding smaller, less sustainable initiatives with some low-capacity project partners and found it difficult to implement more significant community benefit projects. Between 2016 and 2019 traditional owners decided to distribute most of their lease money to individuals rather than allocate it to projects.

Matched funds trial

At a community meeting in October 2020, however, they changed tack. Traditional owners decided to allocate 80 per cent of their community lease income (around $80,000 per year) for the next three years to community benefit projects and to distribute only the remaining 20 per cent to individuals. The reason for this reversal was a matched funds trial that sees the income the community allocates to community projects matched dollar-for-dollar by the National Indigenous Australians Agency, thus doubling Papunya’s yearly income for community development projects for three years.  

Lynda Lechleitner

Community members confirmed that the trial was the incentive they needed to allocate most of their lease income to community development projects.

“There was a diagram and [CLC staff] explained it. I think it’s good from the government to give us that money…because in our case it’s a lot of money…we looked at it and we actually seen that it was a lot of money because we got it yearly for three years,” working group member Lynda Lechleitner, (pictured right) said.

The community reserved its decision about how to allocate its lease income beyond 2023 until it finds out if the matched funds initiative will continue.

It also increased, diversified and rejuvenated the membership of its working group. The group that prioritises, plans and allocate funding to projects now includes several younger people and reflects significant recent changes in Papunya that have seen new younger leaders such as Ms Lechleitner emerge.

She described the new dynamic as “the community actually being more open-minded and listening to others”.

“Now there is not just one person speaking. It’s a collective. There are a lot more people thinking ‘that will be a good idea’ or ‘that won’t be a good idea’. You get more discussions,” she said.

Working group members now have strong ideas about the future development of their community and want to take full advantage of the opportunity to plan projects with the increased income available through the trial.

As they are thinking about the bigger picture and take control of their own development, they realise their income may be limited, but that it is an important opportunity to improve living conditions.

Working group member Terrence Abbott would “like to see a lot of changes with this community”.

“I have been a ranger here since 2010. I was the first one to put my hand up back then. I’d like to see opportunities with tourism [and] fixing up our outstation so we can create employment for our young people,” he said.

Ms Lechleitner, who has lived in Papunya all her life and became a CLC delegate at the last council election, hopes that the community development program will empower her community.

“I’ve only just started getting into the politics side of it. It’s more or less trying to give people a voice and an understanding of what direction they can spend their money in, as a community leader, to better this community. It’s taken a long time for the community to get to where they are now, to tell [the government] what they want as a community.”

The community development unit will support the group to prioritise and plan projects with its increased income, starting with a visioning process.

“My vision is to get a healthier community where everyone can speak up and be stronger for the community,”  Ms Lechleitner said.