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How the Pilbara's Bung family found the good life through financial freedom

Tom Zaunmayr -

For Nyiyaparli woman Sue Bung there are few moments in life better than heading out to secret family spots to catch mud crab, salmon and mangrove jack for dinner.

Her passion for her ngurra in the Pilbara is evident in the way she talks of being out bush, and of flying over it while travelling to the region's remote mining operations.

Ms Bung and her family have an independent life now, one she is fiercely proud of, but this was not always the case.

Like many children of to stolen generation parents, Ms Bung's formative years were spent moving between Aboriginal reserves in WA's northwest. In adulthood she found herself living off Centrelink payments in a public home.

"We wanted to do something with our lives instead of just waiting and not doing anything" - Sue Bung

Then in 2011 fate came knocking in the form of Fortescue Metals Group's Billion Opportunities program designed to provide sustainable opportunities for Aboriginal business.

Ms Bung, her brother, Bruce, and sister, Frances, were among those who saw a chance to raise themselves up by latching on to the unprecedented wealth coming out of their lands in the form of WA's iron ore industry.

"We thought we would give it a try so we put together our paperwork and business and went out to Cloubreak to see (Andrew) Forrest," Ms Bung said.

"My brother known Mr Forrest and his family when he was a kid at Minderoo Station, he used to look after him as a little kid around Onslow area.

"We wanted to do something with our lives instead of just waiting and not doing anything."

Out of that desire Barrooghumba was formed and became the first business enlisted under the Billion Opportunities program.

The company is a 50/50 joint venture between the Bungs' Nyiyaparli Engineering and Mine Maintenance Services and Western Plant Hire.

Barrooghumba - meaning burning fire spinifex - specialises in plant hire and maintenance for Fortescue's Christmas Creek and Cloudbreak operations.

"We saw it as a great opportunity to assist NEMMS to provide capability and equipment to Fortescue," WPH executive general manager Luke Mateljan said.

"Initially as you start off in any relationship there's an element there where everyone hopes everything goes well but you need to establish trust with the people you are working with.

"As time went on... it became clear it was going to become a really good partnership over the long term."

Fast-forward one decade and the Bungs are a perfect example of the "living the dream" mentality shared by thousands of Pilbara residents.

"When you go and get to spend that time with Sue, Bruce and Frances... you really gain an appreciation of how important this land is" - Luke Mateljan

They have their own home where big meals shared by the extended family are a regular feature, take every opportunity they can to go mud-crabbing and have children who are starting to make their own way in the world.

"Going from living in a government house to buying your own house is a big achievement you know; you feel really proud of yourself and you are feeding your family," Ms Bung said.

"You get your own business and you are striving and achieving things for all your family."

And for Mr Mateljan the partnership has been far from a one-way learning experience.

"There is so much history in the Pilbara and stories to tell you never get to see, and getting to spend time with the Bungs one-on-one you do get an understanding of how important that area is to them," he said.

"When you go and get to spend that time with Sue, Bruce and Frances... you really gain an appreciation of how important this land is.

"They have had a real focus on building financial independence for themselves so they are not reliant on anyone else for their own financial stability, and they have been successful in doing that."

Mr Mateljan said the partnership would be enduring for years to come, with the focus now turning to purchasing heavy mobile equipment.

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