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A groundbreaking agreement between a global resources company and go-ahead Aboriginal organisations will provide up to 50 jobs for Indigenous workers.

The labour supply, training and development contract has been signed with Rio Tinto, which operates the bauxite mine near Nhulunbuy and is rehabilitating decommissioned refinery and tailings sites.

The principle agreement with the Traditional Owner groups is underpinned by a secondary contract between NEALAC and Rio Tinto to deliver the work.

The aim is to increase the Yolngu workforce by helping develop skills and knowledge.

NEALAC chief executive Damien Djerrkura says a well-trained local workforce is vital as the community prepares for the closure of the mine later this decade.

“This is a historic agreement with all predominant local Indigenous businesses working together towards one common goal,” he says.

“We’re all family at the end of the day – we have common goals – so it’s good to see all Indigenous organisations working so well together.”

The contract covers various areas of Rio Tinto’s work on site, including rehabilitation and revegetation of land, mining support services, care and maintenance support of the residue disposal area, environmental monitoring and grounds maintenance.

James Low, General Manager Rio Tinto Gove Closure, says” “We’ve had passionate people working on our internal Yolngu training programs for many years. But we know that Yolngu businesses, led by Yolngu leaders, are the future of the Gove Peninsula.

“These contracts give them control of indigenous training and development on our site moving forward, which they can use to grow their workforce and develop the skillsets required beyond mining.”

Gumatj Corporation chief executive Klaus Helms says: “I have always had a vision of unity between NEAL and ourselves. This is the first step into making it a reality.

“The Gumatj board of directors are proud to be part of this agreement and have always said it is the Yolngu who will lead the way to make this happen.

“We thank RioTinto for making this possible under the agreement.”

Yolngu will transition to work through NEAL’s Djama program.

Djama, which means “work”, is a successful training program for Indigenous jobseekers.

“It’s a flexible program that takes into account cultural obligations,” says Mr Djerrkura. “We put them through inductions, PPE, mentoring, transportation and pre-employment medicals.

He says the Rio contract is recognition that the program is working.

NEALAC, which represents the 26 clans of North East Arnhem Land, is fulfilling its mission to empower Aboriginal people through economic independence in many other ways.

“Employers can now take on one of our people and have a good look at attendance and work ethics before deciding whether to commit to full time employment which is mutually beneficial.

“There is a big, untapped labour source out there. But training and transitional support is the key.” The organisation has started a corporate services business specialising in helping Indigenous businesses and agencies maintain good governance.


“We help them navigate the governance process, help them understand what is expected of them so that they follow their own rules,” says Mr Djerrkura. NEALAC has several other business arms, including:

• Transport and community services, which will provide employment for Yolgnu by offering a free Homelands bus service, and maintenance and cleaning services for Homelands residents.

• Arboreal services: removal of diseased, dangerous and damaged trees of all sizes in residential and commercial properties; workers take pride in minimising any damage to gardens and landscaping.

• Horticultural services: tree and shrub trimming when seasonally appropriate by horticulturist-trained staff.

• Land management: rehabilitation, consultation, weed mapping and surveying, pest management and controls, flora and fauna surveying and reports, and bushfire management.

• Civil earthworks: capabilities include road construction and maintenance, drainage works, and general civil works for building and subdivisions.

NEALAC, which is governed by 26 board members who represent each clan across North East Arnhem Land, was born out of YBE and is fully Indigenous owned. It has been operating successfully for more than 50 years.

NEALAC and its board uses profits not just to pay a dividend to each clan but also invests in community benefit projects, such as education and training, business skill development, funerals and cultural ceremonies.

The business had humble beginnings in 1968 as the Yirrkala Brickworks, which supplied the bricks for Gove District Hospital.

Its philosophy is summed in Yolngu: nayanju wangany (collaboration), which includes bringing together ngapaki (European) disciplines and traditional knowledge, and nathilyun nhama (looking to the future).


The North East Arnhem Land Aboriginal Corporation has bought Gove Rentals and Mechanics, which operates a car hire service, smash repairs and mechanical workshop.

The sale included residential and commercial properties.

“It’s a major purchase,” says Mr Djerrkura. “The acquisition ensures longevity for the corporation post-mining and will provide more employment opportunities for local Yolngu workers, including traineeships and apprenticeships.”

He says NEALAC’s use of the repairs, maintenance and car hire services is all complementary to managing the fleet and will keep money within the corporation rather than outsourcing.

The purchase will be used to seek opportunities to expand into other transportation services across North-East Arnhem Land.

Gove Rentals and Mechanics was owned by Dave and Tanya Neenan.