Charlotte Rose Mellis

Four Generations Launch Indigenous Business in Outback Australia

February 1, 2022

Since 2017, BEWILDER have delivered remote business training with Labarganyan, Wagiman, Malak Malak and Kamu people - the Traditional landowners of Fish River, Northern Territory.

At what some would call 3am, a simmering hum of all existence takes the wild into a trance-like meditation. The galaxies look over us like spilt glitter on a blanket of purple velvet. Billion year old stars shoot graciously across the sky. Time stands still. Indeed, it no longer exists. We realise then, that we don't believe in magic...We have uncovered the superbness of reality.

In 2017, the Elders of Labarganyan Country and Traditional Owners of Fish River, Northern Territory invited me to spend time together on their homelands. Our days were spent exploring wild ecosystems, captivated by sacred cultural sites and devouring the freshest fish and killa (steak) off the fire with our hands.

The honour of this experience was all thanks to Phillipine Parling, the matriarchal leader of her family group who requested to work together, which was kindly coordinated by Paul Jenkins of ILSC. I had by chance met Phillipine and made friends with her family during Nature's Leading Women, a 5-day business workshop I had the privilege of facilitating with the team at Global Sisters in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy in 2016. During the running of the initial program, I vowed to create tangible economic results with herself and a handful of female leaders from across Asia Pacific in the years to come.

Fast forward to 2022, and despite a global pandemic, in the Northern Territory we managed to successfully complete 4 programs. An ecotourism scoping phase, in which 4 young women of Labarganyan country gained work experience while Elders and stakeholders came together to form a strategic plan. From wild buffaloes to blistering heat, we developed resilience toward the spectacular yet often harsh conditions of the outback.

In 2018 with the support of major partner, the Indigenous Land & Sea Corporation, I returned to Labu (Fish River) with Jesika Ellul, Studio QALBI landscape architect and BEWILDER Project Liaison, to facilitate our first BEWILDER Eco Incubator (Skills & Training Business Program). The outcomes included cultural knowledge gathering (Ngengi'wumerri language, medicinal plants, hunting/foraging techniques and seasonal behaviour), in addition to clarifying the priorities and interests of the community in terms of potential regenerative economic business pursuits. This self-discovery process was woven into our enterprise curriculum partner, Global Sisters, "My Big Idea" workshop. Facilitating this problem solving methodology in such a wild, off-grid environment with pen and paper was profound.

Based upon the visions of Elders and the younger guardians of Labarganyan country, we formalised a plan for the next phase of training and education. For the many micro-enterprise ideas held by the women, it was necessary for a central culture organisation to be developed. It was deemed critical that a physical house for business was needed to compliment a comprehensive business plan. Therefore we locked in the Construction, Landscape Regeneration and Business programs for just prior to wet season, October 2019.

Fast forward to the most extreme bush fire season on record in the Northern Territory, Jesika Ellul and I returned with Construction & Landscaping Officer, Olaf to establish the wooden deck and native gardens surrounding the newly branded Wungeniwurr Culture Centre together with Labu team. During the three week project, women of 3 generations gained practical skills for employable ranger roles and trades, such as welding, the use of power drills and general timber construction techniques. A composting system was established, with 40+ varieties of native trees planted thoughtfully for shade and edible foods. We took much deserved breaks for fishing in the billabongs and cooling off at Fish River crossing. Being mindful of the cunning crocs upstream of course.

By the last day of our program, we had physically built the shell of the Wungeniwurr Culture Centre business, and simultaneously developed the brand identity, internal governance, financial operations and a viable marketing strategy. We were all exhausted and deeply satisfied by the last day, as the first drops of rain began to fall - signalling the beginning of "Kudede" monsoon season.

Did you know?

  • Labarganyan Country (Fish River in Northern Territory, Australia) is 178,116 hectares of wilderness land for conservation
  • There are 13 ecological seasons each year, identified within the Ngan'gi (sometimes Ngengi) culture to signify harvest and hunting times
  • On the banks of the mighty Daly River, where the perennial flow connects outback Australia to the Timor Sea
  • Fish River Gorge National Park is often accessible only by helicopter during Kudede monsoon season, with off-road 4WD access to the remote wilderness during dry season.

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Four Generations Launch Indigenous Business in Outback Australia