The Katherine-based Jawoyn Association, which covers about 12 communities across land nearly the size of Tasmania, is forging ahead with a swag of economic development initiatives, ranging from a construction company to hotels, from an industrial laundry to a renowned tourist operation.
“Jawoyn are strong people,” says John Berto, who has overseen extraordinary economic growth since he took over as the association’s chief executive seven years ago. “Everything we do is to create wealth, jobs and training for Jawoyn.”
The Jawoyn Association was involved only in tourism immediately following the hand back of traditional land, including Nitmiluk Gorge, in 1989. It now has six companies and has grown from 62 staff to nearly 220, making it Katherine’s largest employer outside of government
Jawoyn Contracting, which owns millions of dollars worth of equipment, is made up of two divisions – general contracting, including renovations, maintenance and repairs, and civil construction.
A third division is about to be set up to build houses. Jawoyn Construction has just won a contract to build a duplex at Manyallaluk.
“We’ll do a good job and that should lead to much bigger contracts,” says Mr Berto. “We want long term contracts so that we can have sustainable employment.
“We know that we have to be competitive. We won’t win contracts just because we’re an Aboriginal organisation. And that’s how we want it to be.”
Jawoyn people built three staff houses and are about to start building five more on homelands.
“We’ve got a team of qualified builders and have just taken on two apprentices.”
Michael Peckham is a qualified Indigenous builder.
Jawoyn Contracting, which can work on projects from $2-5 million, has a housing repair and maintenance contract for Barunga, Beswick and Manyallaluk. The contract supports 14 jobs.
The company is developing a new homeland on the edge of Katherine.
The Jawoyn Association bought a half share in Werner Sarny’s Travel North in 1995, bought the other half 10 years later and then set up Nitmiluk Tours, which runs all the tourist operations at the gorge, plus the fivestar Cicada Lodge.
“We invested a lot of money and it’s paid off – the business is doing very well,” says Mr Berto.
Nitmiluk Tours runs everything from boat trips through the gorge to dinner cruises, from helicopter rides to canoe hire.
The association has bought the three-star Beagle Hotel in Katherine to add to its accommodation offerings and uses it as a training base for Cicada Lodge.
“Jawoyn people are trained in lots of jobs, such as housekeeping, kitchen hands, gardening and general maintenance,” Mr Berto says.
The association has bought a block of land next door to the Beagle and plans to build an industrial laundry, which will handle all the laundry from the hotel and the Cicada, plus take in work from outside.
At the moment, all laundry is contracted out at a cost of $200,000 a year.
The new laundry will create five jobs.
COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM
The Jawoyn Association has formed a joint venture with Nyirrunggulung Rise to run the CDP in five communities – Bulman, Barunga, Beswick, Manyallaluk and Binjari – for 570 CDP participants, who do a wide range of work, including running an op shop.
Regular Federal Government funding reviews find that the joint venture is achieving great outcomes.
Jawoyn IT, a joint venture with Emerge IT, has won a $1 million, three-year computer maintenance contract at RAAF Tindal. “Our aim is to one day train Jawoyn in IT,” says Mr Berto.
The Jawoyn Association has an attractive portfolio of properties, including the Pandanus office complex, the Beagle Hotel and an eight-hectare block of land in Katherine’s Emungalan Road, which will be used as the HQ for Jawoyn Contracting. The association also owns its own headquarters and has bought the block of land next door.
The Jawoyn Rangers offer companies the opportunity to offset their carbon liabilities through their involvement in the Jawoyn Fire Project.
The project is Australian Government approved and offers carbon credits for reducing wildfires through strategic, controlled savanna burning. The carbon project’s benefits reach far and wide.
The project reduces harmful emissions, protects important wildlife and delivers significant social, cultural and economic benefits to Indigenous Australians.