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Family Based Economic Self-Sufficiency


Interaction with capital for many indigenous families in remote NT has been predominantly as welfare or royalty recipients. The social consequences of this passive relationship with capital are well documents. Further the majority of labour that indigenous people from these areas engage in has been state funded services.


Many of the skills and behaviours required for the successful operation of a family business are taken for granted by those who have them but are either not present or not recognised in families without a history of successfully managing and growing capital. This is true regardless of cultural background; there are economically empowered and dis-empowered families in all cultures.


A fundamental cultural shift, although cliché, is often represented as derived from the difference between agrarian and hunter-gatherer culture are the skills associated with managing surplus and shortages. This was an initial assumption of Rod Baker, arriving as an agricultural scientist in Arnhem Land nearly 20 years ago, but both experience and the work of many like Bruce Pascoe have significantly shifted this understanding. Intergenerational trauma and associated socioeconomics should not be confused with culture. This difference is essential in the skills required to maintain a working capital base to run any business. These skills must be learnt, explicitly or implicitly, for families to be empowered in contemporary culture at large, let alone in running small businesses.


The decision-making priorities required to maintain a working capital is a good example of skills required for economic self-sufficiency. Numerous studies have shown that children who can delay gratification will be more successful in later life. These children usually have behaviour strategies, such as distracting themselves from their immediate desires, that allow them to make decision based on longer term goals over short term desires. These skills are generally modelled and taught by parents as families perpetuate their own sub-culture but adults can also learn these skills and behaviour changes.


The list of particular skills is long and diverse and includes the various financial literacy and numeracy skills, bookkeeping, planning, managing and delivering business activities to meet customer expectations and insight into marketplace. At the personal level there is a range of communication skills, the ability to priorities personal demands and obligations to both maintain respectful family relations and give required time and energy to the business.


The different families of east Arnhem Land exhibit a wide range of aptitudes with regard to the skills required for small business. The difference behaviours will not change by simply describing them; it will require support and modelling over long periods of time. Long-term mentor relationships are an important mechanism for achieving family based economic self-sufficiency. Ongoing strategically targeted education and training programs build local business capacity.


The model used by Cultivate NT enables numerous levels of involvement and families can grow their business from having their land leased for harvest through participation by cultivating seedling to increase production, harvesting produce and post harvest production and processing. The more individuals and families put into the process the more economic returns they receive. This model allows families to find their feet in the industry at a pace suitable to their capacity while receiving support from an organisation and people committed to their families becoming economically self sufficient.


Yolngu individuals and society function well when power resides at the family level. When it is at the whole area or clan level tensions and sometimes disagreement occurs between family groups. Alternatively initiatives at the individual level are undermined by family demands when a family does not share aspirations. As with mainstream culture, it is when families act together that Yolngu culture is at its most productive.

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