Article – Indigenous pastoralists unite in bid to woo China

6 June 2014
Ginny Stein
ABC News
In northern Australia, Aboriginal landowners are looking to China to help revive their pastoral industry.
Ten of Australia’s largest Aboriginal pastoral stations are joining forces in the hope of winning foreign investment and creating jobs.
“We do have a vision and it’s the same vision of running a profitable cattle station and we just need that support towards getting it to that stage,” said Anthony Watson, a senior Aboriginal elder.
“Having a partnership to come in will help us see our dream come true.”
The Aboriginal Pastoral Co-op aims to pool resources between stations to produce better cattle and employ more Indigenous workers, and it is looking to China to fund its expansion plans
Wayne Bergmann, the chief executive officer of the Indigenous development trust KRED, has been the driving force behind the project.
“As we went through and assessed the viability of collectively working together, a block of Kimberley pastoral stations, it occurred to us that this could actually work,” he said.
Uniting of stations ‘a game-changer’
On the banks of the Fitzroy River, a legal decision 18 years in the making last week gave Aboriginal leaders further hope.
A native title claim over 26,000 square kilometres, between Derby and Broome and including the lower Fitzroy River, was handed down in favour of the Nyikina Mangala people.
One station, Mount Anderson, is at the centre of the claim. Already owned outright by an Aboriginal corporation, and with no debt, it has been struggling to survive.
“It’s the game-changer in how you connect all these pastoral stations together,” Mr Bergmann said.
“Having exclusive possession on it, also gives us a level of control about where the main players who can determine how that land is going to be utilised for the best interest of our group.”
When Mr Bergman went looking for backers, he went beyond Australian shores to what he believes are the continent’s newest explorers.
“They are doing business here in exploring for minerals, oil and gas in this region. Why not reinforce the relationship in a business venture with traditional owners, Aboriginal people in this region?” he said.
Early negotiations made clear that ownership of land and employment of Aboriginal people were non-negotiable matters.
“Our principle is, as traditional owners we cant lose the land,” Mr Bergmann said.
“So it is absolutely fundamental we create a model where the land is not at stake.”
Area ‘already very famous’ with Chinese investors
The Aboriginal Pastoral Co-op is working close with Chinese consortium ASF Group to bring foreign investors in.
ASF Group’s chair and director Min Yang flew out from Hong Kong to be part of the Nyikina Mangala’s historic day.
With legal structures close to finalised, it will soon be time to bring in the investors, and Ms Yang believes they will come quickly.
“I think it is not very hard to achieve because firstly this area is already very famous in China,” she said.
“Because of the movie ‘Australia’, you know. Every time I tell them, that’s the area, you know there are already a lot of cattle there and so they sort of feel very familiar.
“The other thing, which is mostly important, is this location is close to China.”
Courtesy of ABC News