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Sky's no limit for Djarindjin

[supplied by ORIC]

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Djarindjin Airport has completed over 10,000 helicopter refuels in the last 7 years. (Photo: Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation (DAC))

From 1 February 2022, Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation runs the only independent, Aboriginal-owned airport in Australia.

Djarindjin, Western Australia: Another helicopter lands at Djarindjin Airport and 19 passengers head for the air-conditioned terminal nearby. Meanwhile, the chopper’s engine roars and its rotors spin as the ground crew begin their 10th ‘hot fuelling’ for the day; a tricky and specialised task that involves refilling the aircraft’s tank without shutting it down. It requires a highly trained team to get it right every time.

The airport’s owner, Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation (DAC), has invested heavily in developing these skills within their own community and the all-local team from across the Dampier Peninsula are widely recognised as experienced, world class operators. In the last 7 years they have pumped almost 14 million litres of jet fuel into more than 10 thousand helicopters. In no time, the pilot and passengers are back on board and headed towards their final destination in the oil and gas operations of the Browse Basin, 400 kilometres to the north west.

When DAC borrowed $6 million to open Djarindjin airport a decade ago, some saw the large scale of the venture as high-risk. For the board, the potential reward of empowerment and self-sufficiency for the next generation was too valuable an opportunity to pass up—and when they put a resolution to the vote, the members agreed.

Hard work and careful planning saw the $6 million loan repaid in just 6 years, so as DAC's chief executive officer (CEO) Nathan McIvor explains, it's now time to leave the nest.

"DAC is thankful for the partnerships it formed with Broome International Airport and Peninsula Airport Management Services over the past 10 years. They helped us with the initial loan and then provided operational and management expertise with a 30% share of the profits. Now it's time to move toward self-reliance and self-management where 100% of the profit can be used to benefit members."

With that in mind, DAC has created a subsidiary company, Djarindjin Airport Pty Ltd (DAPL) and loaned it a million dollars to get up and running from 1 February 2022.

 

Making the most of Country

The township of Djarindjin is in Goollargoon country, just off the Cape Leveque road of the Dampier Peninsula in Western Australia’s north-west. The local Bardi and Jawi population are saltwater people who were granted native title in 2005.

 

Families of the 400 or so inhabitants were once part of the Lombadina Catholic Mission who made the decision to establish their own community during the homeland movement of the 1980s.

DAC was established in 1985 to support a sustainable future for the community; one that allows everyone to care for Country and thrive together.

 

The region is dotted with jaw-dropping country and the corporation is making the most of the unique geography.

The corporation owns a roadhouse that provides food and 24-hour fuel services for cars travelling to and from Broome, 190 kilometres to the south. A new ‘camping with custodians’ campground and caravan park is scheduled to open in time for the dry season of 2022—and will be promoted and bookable through the roadhouse.

 

Supporting adult learning

Having established revenue streams, Djarindjin can return to its real focus: the community. The corporation operates a safehouse, aged care program, men’s shed, community resource centre, municipal program, community store, and programs for early childhood and parenting, and youth and community service outreach. They’re also one of only 4 organisations across the country participating in the pilot Choosing Your Way program, which cultivates adults’ literacy, learning, numeracy and digital skills.

 

As Nathan says, it's just what adult community members need. "The program works out where our people currently sit and then makes a self-paced learning plan to develop their skills. It also involves working with employers to identify job opportunities that will allow people to use their new skills in the workplace. It’s really exciting."

 

Recognition for rural development

In recognition of the positive contribution Djarindjin has made to the development of regional Western Australia, the corporation was presented with a community achievement award at a ceremony in Perth in October 2021.

Getting vaccinated

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a significant impact on tourism and travel-based organisations across the country. Aware of the risks, Djarindjin—both the corporation and the community—has in place protective measures in place. Nathan said "We’re currently sitting at a 90% double vaccination rate in Djarindjin, and currently, no one is allowed in—even family from outside the Dampier Peninsula—without a permit from DAC and evidence of vaccination. This will remain in force for the foreseeable future."

 

Stepping stones for tomorrow’s children

Djarindjin’s vision for the future is to be financially sustainable, with a clear plan that will enable their future generations to be empowered with self-determination. The board has resolved to focus on:

  • strong and equitable leadership

  • accountable governance

  • improving the quality of life within the community

  • caring for culture and Country, and

  • supporting initiatives that will provide employment and training opportunities for the clan.

 

Nathan said "We all want to see the best for our community, not just for today but for decades to come. What we achieve over the next few years will be the stepping-stones for tomorrow’s children. Djarindjin has been going strong now for over 35 years and we are looking forward to seeing what progress is possible in the next 35."

The board is rightly proud: "We did this; it belongs to us. We own it, we operate it and we decide what we will do with the profits. We control our financial destiny and we are proud to say, 'We did it.'"

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