Indigenous station owners grow their business skills

cows grazing at Twin Hill Station, Northern Territory, Australia

Twin Hill Aboriginal Corporation is a cattle business supported by strong members and traditional owners, the Rak Mak Mak Marranunggu.

Twin Hill Station, 130kms south-west of Darwin, Northern Territory: Twin Hill Station is a successful Indigenous cattle business owned and run by its members who are the traditional owners, the Mak Mak Marranunggu of the Delissaville, Wagait, Larrakia Aboriginal Land Trust. The station comprises 375 square kilometres of land on the edge of Litchfield National Park, an hour south-west of Darwin. The nutritious dry-season grasses earn the corporation most of its $1.3 million annual revenue — through agistment of cattle destined for short-haul transport export through Darwin.

It is a sustainable business that depends on careful attention to the stock, water, grassed paddocks, fire management and feral animals and plants as well as respect for the cultural significance of the land and the native flora and fauna. The station staff use their skills in low-stress stock handling to keep the cattle as relaxed as possible before they go to market. And the corporation invests in environmental management programs such as controlling Mimosa pigra and other weeds to ensure there will always be plentiful grazing.

Dr Linda Ford, a director of Twin Hill Aboriginal Corporation, describes how the corporation manages to juggle all those factors:

The directors, members, staff and Mak Mak family are very proud to promote Indigenous governance. We continue to explore cultural boundaries, adapting a both-ways approach to operate the business to ensure we continue to contribute to the wellbeing and the social and economic development of the people and country.

The Twin Hill approach has been to remain open to opportunities and to make good use of provisions in the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 that support the growth and development of businesses. For example they have:

  • produced policy and strategy documents including a natural resource management plan, which inspired their recent survey of mammals
  • appointed a new station manager, with help from ORIC recruitment assistance, bookkeeper and administration support officer
  • supported members and staff to undertake training such as Certificate II in Agriculture, NT Indigenous Cattlemen’s Workshop, business development and—of course—corporate governance.

In May 2017, Dr Ford and her daughter Emily Ford (a member of the corporation) both graduated with a Certificate IV in Business (Governance). It was a first for ORIC, to have a mother/daughter pair graduate together. For Linda, the course was a validation of all her hard work—‘It reaffirmed that we’re on the right track.’ For Emily, it was a deepening of the understanding she’d gained the year before, in ORIC’s three-day Introduction to Corporate Governance (ICG). In one session of the ICG, her thoughts had been: ‘Oh… that’s how meetings are supposed to run.’

Now that both ladies have completed the Certificate IV in Business (Governance), they are in a great position to make further improvements to the operation of Twin Hill Aboriginal Corporation. Linda is excelling in her leadership role as a member of the board, and perhaps one day Emily will consider a leadership role in the corporation. Quite possibly, however, Emily is destined to apply her governance skills further afield. Having learned what is involved in running a corporation—diligence, hard work and integrity—she recently ran for a seat on the Darwin City Council.

In any case, these station owners along with other members and the Mak Mak family of Twin Hill have strong leadership, a transparent governance structure, sound business processes and a willingness to work collaboratively to strengthen and expand the business.

Images courtesy of Twin Hill Aboriginal Corporation