Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils, a 50 percent Indigenous-owned business, recently became the first Australian organisation to be awarded the United Nations Equator Prize.

An awards program from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Equator Initiative, the UN Equator Prize recognises outstanding local community and Indigenous Peoples’ initiatives that advance innovative, nature-based development solutions to lessen the effects of and adapt to climate change.

Dutjahn Sandalwood Oils was among the 22 local and Indigenous community winners announced in late September by the UNDP.

Established in 2017, the Kalgoorlie-based Sandalwood oil distillation business supports the remote Kutkabubba Aboriginal Corporation through the purchase of wood and shareholder distributions.

This support provides work and funding for the community to allow them to invest in community projects that generate employment.

Dutjahn also sources their oil-wood from two other sustainable, long-term avenues including a ten-year supply agreement between the Dutjahn Custodians and the WA Government that provides 100 tonnes of wild wood per annum.

The WA Sandalwaood Plantations also currently manages over 13,000 hectares of sandalwood plantations, which began harvesting in 2015 and will continue over the next 25 years.

At a belated celebration night for the award win last week, WA Minister for Forestry Dave Kelly said in a speech that the economic development of Aboriginal communities is a priority for the Government.

“As a State Government we take the issue of Aboriginal economic development very seriously, it’s not something that one Minister might show an interest in, it’s something that Mark McGowan, as the Premier, wants to be a priority for the whole of our State Government,” he said.

Minister Kelly also recognised the significance of Indigenous people being celebrated by the UN on a global scale.

“From the State Government’s point of view, I want to congratulate everybody that’s involved.

“I’m really excited and pleased that … we’re here tonight, celebrating what [Dutjahn has] achieved at the UN.”

Minister Kelly said he hopes the success of Dutjahn can be used an example of what is possible for the success of Indigenous enterprises.

“I hope that we can take … what Dutjahn has achieved, and what will happen in the future, as a bit of a role model, as a bit of an example [of] what, as a State Government, we can do in other areas of Aboriginal economic development,” Minister Kelly said.

“We all know there’s so much that needs to be done, Aboriginal people have for too long been excluded from what you might call the mainstream West Australian economy.”

“As a state … we want to make a difference in that area, and we want to see Aboriginal people flourish culturally, socially but importantly economically.”

Dutjahn Director, Darren Farmer, said on the night that the process of creating this enterprise has been one of resilience and determination from his people.

“In my time I’ve seen many Government Ministers come and go and we kept on the vision and kept going with the dream, because we believed if we had a dream of what we wanted to do in this particular industry … there was nothing stopping us,” Mr Farmer said.

Mr Farmer said Indigenous people take the responsibility of looking after Country seriously, and believes this enterprise succeeds in upholding that mission.

“For us it’s about Country, and Country is very important to us. How we look after country and how we look after land is a responsibility that’s passed on through generations,” he said.

“We are cultural people, but we are also entrepreneurs, we believe that if there’s a dream, and a will there’s a way and we have been through so many trials, personally, collectively as a family, as a group but we didn’t let that stop us.

“It’s with that passion and perseverance and drive that we stand here tonight … if we can leave that legacy for our mob as an example to others across the board then that’s what we want to leave here.”

By Sarah Mozley