Please note, this article contains the name of someone who has passed away.

Red dust spirals around cattle horns as desert flies land on the tips of worn, broad-rim hats that shade the faces of Aboriginal men and women in cattle yards of the Kimberley.

Aboriginal people are reclaiming power in the Kimberley pastoral industry, working to reap the benefits of economic development through Aboriginal-controlled organisations that empower people, culture and country.

One of the nation’s leading advocates for Indigenous self-determination, Mr Wayne Bergmann is a Visiting Industry Fellow at Queensland’s Griffith University.

Mr Bergmann, supported by the Indigenous Research Unit, is working with Professor Ciaran O’Faircheallaigh from the School of Government and International Relations to break stigma and reshape ideas surrounding economic development on Aboriginal land.

The pair are composing three joint papers which will discuss both good and poor Native Title agreements, the cost of poor Native Title agreements to the Australian community and a case study of the Kimberley Agriculture and Pastoral Company (KAPCO).

KAPCO is an Aboriginal owned and operated company that oversees four cattle stations in the Kimberley: Mt Anderson, Myroodah Luluigui, Frazier Downs and Bohemia Downs.

Mr Bergmann, former Chairman of KAPCO, said the company is moving towards a new Indigenous business model.

“KAPCO aims to push social change through contract and employment opportunities in these regions, where there has been very little before,” Mr Bergmann said.

“It’s about Aboriginal people, against the odds, coming together and having united power and self-determination.”

The company works to ensure the safety and security of the communities running the pastoral properties and works closely with Traditional Owners and shareholders.

Funding the company was a large responsibility. Loans were secured from the Marra Worra Worra Aboriginal Corporation, Indigenous Business Australia and the Commonwealth Bank.

“The hard-yards put in by the Commonwealth Bank to understand the business case was an exception,” Mr Bergmann said.

“This model and the way it operates can be replicated across Australia for Indigenous groups.”

With healthy country and livestock, financial capital, advertising, and stable and strong leadership, KAPCO created a formula for profit whilst empowering Aboriginal business and cultural connection.

“It is challenging but with good management and good support, there is opportunity.”

Mr Bergmann also acknowledges the support and strength of one of KAPCO’s founding directors, the late Ningali Lawford-Wolf.

“I want to acknowledge she was one of the founding directors, someone who brought Aboriginal people together to take control of our own financial destinies.”

KAPCO now oversees almost 750,000 hectares of country, with 25,000 head of cattle and has the capital capacity to grow the business to 40,000. 

By Rachael Knowles