Stories To Learn From

Dr. Anne Poelina (L) and Lucy Marshall OAM

Dr Anne Poelina, a Fellow of the Peter Cullen Water & Environment Trust (2011), talks about why it is important to share stories so Aboriginal experience and knowledge can be included in land and water management decisions. She talks about the importance of a cooperative way to develop Australia's multiple economies.

A Nyikina woman, Dr Poelina contributes a significant voice promoting partnership of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal interests in the future ethical development of areas rich in cultural, agricultural, mineral and ecological resources.

Read her paper 'Stories to Learn From', published in RipRap, Edition 36, 2013

Jobs for Indigenous People in the West Kimberley

What does the future West Kimberley labour market look like, and where, in terms ofnumbers and composition, are Indigenous workers likely to fit?


In considering such questions, Altman [2006. ‘The future of Indigenous Australia’, Arena Magazine, 84 (August–September): 8–10] has suggested four policy choices:

1. maintain the status quo in poor economic outcomes (the experience to date); 
2. encourage people to move and acquire mainstream work (the current policy approach);
3. build an economic base at remote communities (only partially attempted to date and CDEP dependent); 
4. or focus on underwriting Indigenous livelihoods and recognising new forms of property (also CDEP-linked and requiring recognition of new forms of property).


Ecotrust Australia

Added 8 February 2013: Ecotrust Australia has decided to wind down operations
for the time being as of 31 July, 2012. Please read the statement here.

Ecotrust is a new enterprising non-profit organisation that seeks to make a breakthrough contribution in the areas of conservation, social finance and community development in Northern Australia. We have a specific focus in regional and remote areas, with a particular emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

It is our belief that old thinking won’t fix new problems. A tremendous opportunity is emerging to rethink how development gets done, in some cases whether development occurs at all, and in all cases how to ensure that positive benefits are long-lasting, and ideally permanent.


Ecotrust Australia’s purpose is to promote Reliable Prosperity in Northern Australia. We seek to offer tools and resources to Indigenous and other community-based organisations to facilitate positive change at the intersection of cultural resilience, ecosystem conservation, economic opportunity and community vitality. Drawing inspiration from the highly successful Ecotrust models in Canada and the United States of America, Ecotrust Australia will broker expertise in the areas of knowledge systems and social finance to underpin an Indigenous-led vision for cultural and environmental conservation and development in Australia’s north.


Ecotrust Australia will have a specific focus in regional and remote Australia, with a particular emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Australia.

The work of Ecotrust Australia will support endeavours that:

Economic futures for Northern Australia

Northern Australia, from the Kimberley to Cape York, has reached an important
juncture in its economic development.

Across much of this area resource exploration and development is running at a
frenzied pace while simultaneously natural and cultural heritage values are being
recognised through such processes as National Heritage (Kimberley) and World
Heritage (Cape York) assessment.

The challenge we face is how to chart a sustainable path between resource
exploitation and recognition of the incredible natural and cultural values of the
region – while still delivering economic opportunities for communities in Northern


Sustainable Livelihoods On Country

Nyikina Mangala Mardoowarra (Fitzroy River WA)
Sustainable Livelihoods on Country Case Study
A. Poelina RN, MPHTM, MEd, MA, PhD and
I. Perdrisat BPhysEd , Med, MPHTM, MA
Warloongarriy….songs all got meaning. Every time we sing that song
we teach the kids about the country, how it was made.
(Darby Nangkiriny, Nyikina Mangala Ancestor)

1. INTRODUCTION (NMAC Report April 2011 )

The Nyikina Mangala people are Traditional Owners of the land from the lower Fitzroy River to the Great Sandy Desert and associated river system and coastal waters in the West Kimberley region of Western Australia. Nyikina people are river people and Mangala people are from the desert.

From the 1870’s Nyikina people were decimated when their country was taken over by force. Mangala people were herded into the river country to join Nyikina people as slaves for the pastoral industry. There is an extensive account of local history told by Nyikina Mangala Elders in their own way (Poelina 2009, Marshall 1984 & Marshall 2004). Nyikina Mangala people have spent a long time living and working together and have inter-married forming a single society in some remote communities.

As well as the initial aggression, the social policies introduced by successive Australian governments and institutions are largely responsible for determining the changed socio-economic circumstances and impacts on the wellbeing for these peoples over the past one hundred and thirty years. The result has been reduced life choices and outcomes for Aboriginal people living in the West Kimberley region of Australia.

In Australia, Aboriginal affairs remains polarised around the left and the right of western politics whereby the considerations of the necessity to sustain the connections between people and land are subsumed by the competitive imperatives of a commodity capitalist economy. Contemporary local, state and national evidence overwhelmingly highlights governments concerns for the powerful commercial and political interests. This means that there is an essential disconnect between Aboriginal philosophies and knowledge’s for sustainability of the natural resource base and the incessant need of commodity capitalism to exploit the resources of country for short term monetary gain.

While there are many citizens who see the need for a paradigm shift in approaches to Aboriginal affairs, to reduce the socio-economic disadvantage of our people, theyare in the minority. In the meantime, the Nyikina Mangala people are attempting to develop new and innovative ways of living that are based on our cultural prescriptions for sustaining the natural world, humanity and human relationships. We are doing this through returning to country and living in a good way.

Living with extreme socio-economic disadvantage has become the norm for many Aboriginal people in the West Kimberley region. There is little or no acknowledgement from governments to connect the impacts of settler colonial incursions into this country, and the continuing disregard of the people and culture, with the present disadvantaged circumstances of the people. Our experience over the past thirty years identifies the clear need for Aboriginal people to determine our own needs in relation to improving our quality and continuity of life as well as our aspirations for the common good. To this end, effective responses to overcoming disadvantage must include building cultural capital to nurture the liyan (life spirit) of our people.

Over the past thirty years Nyikina Mangala Traditional Owners have built a steady momentum towards sustainable livelihoods on country. During this time riverside communities; Jarlmadangah Burru Aboriginal Corporation (JBAC) Looma, Pandanus Park, Bidan, Balginjirr, Oongkalkada continue to see the return of many Aboriginal people to country.
This return to country has been in response to the deepening crisis in lifestyles that has resulted from being confined to areas that people are not familiar with, the loss of traditional occupations including the supporting, regulating, provisioning, custodial and spiritual links with country. Nyikina Mangala Elders made the decision to develop new and sustainable ways of living, based on the philosophical and cultural precepts of which they are authoritative, to put their knowledge about the ethical ways to live in relationship to country into practice.
As this report outlines the results have been far beyond expectations and the developing practices of the Nyikina Mangala, representative of other similar movements, promises to be a template for further developments in ways of living ethically and sustainably with country across Australia.

The culture and conservation activities being undertaken by Nyikina Mangala people are presented as the start of building a model of sustainable development because it is ‘development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of the future generation to meet their needs’ (Jacobs 2002:4). There is a need to build baseline data for ecosystems services by valuing the landscape, cultural assets, and water resources. Baseline data will provide benchmarks for valuing environmental, social, cultural and economic relationships to land and water quality and sustainability. This is not just for the Nyikina Mangala but it is a prescription for all humanity, to find ways to live that are sustaining for all of creation.


Protecting the Kimberley would boost economy


National Heritage listing for the Kimberley would create local jobs and benefit the region’s economy, according to new research we have released.

With Federal Environment Minister Tony Burke due to make a decision about National Heritage listing by mid-year, our research shows a strong Heritage listing for the Kimberley could deliver more local and ongoing jobs than mining. (See here also)
While mining is the biggest contributor to the Kimberley’s ‘gross regional product’, our research shows the mining industry is the eleventh largest employer in the region, providing only 500 jobs.

“Mining in the Kimberley is controlled by national and international companies, so the profits don’t stay in the region and the workforce is largely fly-in fly-out workers, not local employees,” said our Economic Adviser Simon O’Connor.

“In fact, mining is a much less important employer in the Kimberley than retail trade, accommodation and food – industries that will grow as more people visit the Kimberley to experience the region’s outstanding natural and cultural values. 

“The Kimberley’s values are a direct result of centuries of Indigenous care and management of the land.

“In contrast to the money made from mining, which mostly leaves the region to generate wealth elsewhere, retail trade and tourism generate local wealth.

“These results are echoed across WA, where resource development is failing to deliver on its promise of economic opportunity for local communities.  The Pilbara has generated billions in wealth over decades, but this has not resulted in economic development for the Indigenous people of the region. 

“National Heritage listing will help protect the globally unique values of the Kimberley from inappropriate development and will help the tourism, retail, food and accommodation sectors to grow supporting real jobs for locals.”