Getting Yolŋu Into Business

In 2014 I wrote a major report call “Getting Yolŋu into Business”.

A copy of the 77 page report is available at vintage-pc-view-of-australian-aboriginals-skinning-a-1

The report covers a brief economic history of the Yolŋu people, looked at the many blockages, and the many things that are needed to be done to create a more level playing field for Yolŋu to get into business.

The document includes a number of appendixes including their economic words and concepts of the Yolŋu people show that Yolŋu have a rich economic language.

On Pages 26 to 29 of the above report we list over 50 different industries that could be up and running in many different locations across the north-east Arnhem Land were listed.

Yolŋu want businesses on their own lands so their young people have something other than welfare to look forward to. Despite what many people understand about Yolŋu culture Yolŋu people come for a long line of business people. Before the South Australian Government (SA) closed centuries old international Macassan trade in 1906 the whole Yolŋu economy was based on independent businesses.

This SA action decimated their traditional economic system. The Macassans once came for trepang and Yolŋu produced natural pearls and traded them into Asia through the Macassan traders. Today the natural pearling and the trepang industry is worth hundreds of millions of dollars across the world.

In 1972 the free range crocodile skin industry was also closed down by the Commonwealth government. This was mainly due to overshooting crocodiles by Balanda[1] crocodile hunter’s from Darwin. This was one of the last remaining industries that allowed many Yolŋu families and clans to be economically independent on their own homeland yirralka estates.

Today almost all these industries are in the hands of Balanda in Darwin. If Yolŋu still had these industries today they would be a powerful economic platform that would have grown much economic development over the last century.

Sadly the 100 years since then has pushed them away from businesses toward welfare and the mainstream Australia view of Aboriginal culture.  However Yolŋu want to get back into business like they had before.

We need some kick start industries. Not partnerships with big or little outside corporations that just pay another form of welfare call royalties or dividends. No the people need businesses that are in their hands and control. Where the harder they work the greater the return. Where all the other positive associations with having to run a business adds to their personal experience and corporate knowledge.

Business that change the conversation in Yolŋu families from when is the next government, royalty or dividend payment coming to what is it that our family has got that can be marketed to others out there who might be happy to pay for. Or how do we build up more of product or add value to what we are already trading. Businesses that give meaning and reason to a good education.

From the many conversations with Yolŋu people right across Arnhem Land it is obvious that there is a lot of interest from Yolŋu in these age-old industries plus some new ones.

 A way Forward

So Yolŋu can be in full control on any business development on their land we need industries where:

  1. A whole family or Home Land groups can be involved.
  2. The resource already exists on their yirralka estates.
  3. Market exists or can be developed.
  4. Yolŋu corporate knowledge of the product is good.
  5. Yolŋu skill level is high or can be built.
  6. Little capital input is needed.

At the moment I am having conversations with many Yolŋu clan and family elders over a large area of Arnhem Land. We can have the conversation with Yolŋu but we have no dollars to do this work.

Why Warriors is looking for partners to help us develop these industries with Yolŋu. If you feel lead to helping us then please contact us.

To read more, click here for the full report: Getting Yolngu into Business 

Donate online to “Getting Yolngu into Business”.

[1] Balanda:  Balanda comes from the word “Hollander”, from the Yolŋu contacts with people from former Dutch colonies in Asia; and is used to refer to European or English-speaking “Western” person or people.


Richard Trudgen for Why Warriors P/L © March 2014: up dated 161215

About Richard Trudgen

Richard was born in Orange NSW and trained as a fitter and turner. He moved to Arnhem Land in the NT in 1973 and became a community worker, learning to speak Djambarrpuyŋu. He’s now been working with Yolŋu people for over 40 years. He was the CEO of Aboriginal Resource and Development Services (ARDS) for 10 years during which time he developed discovery education methodology with Rev Dr Djiniyini Gondarra OAM and also established Yolŋu Radio in 2003. He is the author of Why Warriors Lie Down and Die and facilitates ‘Bridging the Gap’ seminars, and delivers corporate training. He is currently the CEO of Why Warriors Pty Ltd, a community development organisation that empowers Yolŋu and other First Nations people by providing access to information, and builds understanding between Indigenous peoples and the Dominant Culture. In 2015 he was a finalist for the NT Senior Australian of the Year Award.


Add your comment:

  1. Morgana

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  2. Saul francis Dalton

    Hello Richard, you may not remember me but you visited my house in the suburb of Tiwi in Darwin a few times in 2001 & 2003 or later..