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Female-owned Indigenous company taking on the "big boys" in oil and gas

Brendan Foster -

First Nations women entrepreneurs are few and far between in the oil and gas industry, but proud Woppaburra woman Nikky Barney-Irvine has set about to change that.

In 2019, Ms Barney-Irvine started up Bunbara – an Aboriginal and female owned pipe, valve, fitting, studbolt, gasket and service provider company with her business partner Pamela Baldwin.

Despite the challenges and barriers of starting a company in a male-dominated industry, Ms Barney-Irvine was determined to make it a success.

"There are not a lot of females in our industry that own their own businesses, especially in the oil and gas industry," she told National Indigenous Times.

"I knew what the government was doing and I knew what industry was doing to push more First nations businesses to give them more procurement opportunities, so I thought let's try it.

"I knew it would be hard, but we were given some opportunities by some companies and from there they saw what we could do and it just got bigger and bigger."

Ms Barney-Irvine said while several companies didn't take her seriously at the start, she literally pounded on doors to drum up business.

Last year the Perth-based business turned over millions and now employs 10 staff.

"We had to constantly go in and knock on doors to let people know we are here," she said.

"What helped us the most was during COVID we started emailing companies we were trying to get into and simply asking if they were doing ok.

"After a while we started getting messages back from these people saying they needed something so things started to pick up."

Ms Barney-Irvine said as part of the business' commitment was to empower First Nations communities it offers scholarships to Indigenous university students.

She said the company had also recently started sponsoring athletes or sporting clubs that couldn't afford equipment.

"We mainly do sponsorships at the moment with QUT (Queensland University of Technology) but we want to start to do other universities," she said.

"Then we started getting contacted by sporting groups saying 'can you help us? we can't afford the kit for the players to go out on the team'.

"That's the whole reason we did the business, because we wanted to be able to give back."

The managing director of Bunbara said it was important that First Nations women entrepreneurs were becoming more prominent in the business world.

"We have always been the ones that have led but we've never been seen in the business area, so it really is about time we started leading more and been seen a bit more," she said.

"It also helps a lot of the young ones coming though going, 'you know what, I know I'm Black and I know I'm female, but I can do this. I think that empowers them a lot more."

And her advice for any First Nations women wanting to get into business: don't give up.

"Unfortunately, it's a lot harder for us and it takes a lot more effort but keep going," she said.

"Find some women you can talk to because sometimes you just want to go into a corner and cry because of the way you're been treated but keep fighting.

"You've just got to fight those people and prove that you can do it."

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