Robert Jampijinpa Robertson’s vision for a Yuendumu-owned and operated transport and vehicle recovery service is one step closer to reality.
Xtra Mile, the social enterprise he started, began running chartered bus services in June.
The milestone followed two years of planning with the Central Land Council’s community development team and volunteers of Community First Development, a com-munity development and research organisation.
“Members were coming and asking if we can take them to Lajamanu, Papunya and all those places, and that’s when I started to think we need to start a bus service or something for our people to get to places they want to go,” Mr Robertson said.
Yuendumu residents have long endured expensive and infrequent transport services, and people traveling to Alice Springs are often stranded for days, missing work and school.
Mr Robertson successfully pitched the social and employment benefits of his bright idea to the community committee of the Granites Mine Affected Area Aboriginal Corporation in May 2019.
Later that year, the committee allocated almost $98,000 to set up a social enterprise and buy two Toyota coaster buses, and almost $27,000 for two remote transport services consultants.
In 2020 it contributed just over $164,000 towards the company’s first year of operations, enabling it to run a charter bus service and establish trust with its customers.
Xtra Mile aims to offer a regular and reliable bus service to the whole community, with return trips between Yuendumu and Alice Springs costing around $160.
Mr Robertson named the company in memory of the travel his family used to undertake by foot.
“In the logo is a little boy being carried by his father,” he said.
“My father used to carry me on his shoulder when I used to get tired, so he had extra load on. He would carry a spear and me on top of all the stuff he was carrying. Extra mile.”
Mr Robertson sourced an additional $250,000 from the Aboriginals Benefit Account, allowing Xtra Mile to employ a social enterprise worker for two years.
Xtra Mile set up shop in an office rented from the Yuendumu Women’s Centre.
The centre also provided secure parking for the buses, and the Wanta Aboriginal Corporation is helping with human resources, governance and financial systems.
Xtra Mile aims to generate enough income to cover a third of its operating costs in its first year.
It is also training and employing locals.
Four Yapa drivers completed commercial passenger vehicle training in Yuendumu, passed their theory exam, medical assessment and got a police certificate.
Two more drivers will undertake the driver knowledge test and a medical assessment in Alice Springs before attending the second Drive Safe NT training in Yuendumu in September.
The company hopes four more drivers will upgrade to a light rigid vehicle license class.
Mr Robertson is proud of what he and the community have achieved so far.
“I think the whole thing is great training and jobs for our mob in the desert, and to strengthen your own business and help people understand what things are possible,” he said.