Indigenous Small Enterprise in Northern Australia: A Case Study of the Warai. (Global Perspective)

Article excerpt

Introduction

There is substantial evidence that although there are a variety of responses to the disruption of indigenous economic systems, the imposition of a dominant form of economic and cultural behavior frequently is opposed (Ellana et al. 1988). Rather, the most usual response to such an imposition is to be found in the integration of market-based and subsistence-based behaviors and a consequent adaptation of associated social and institutional systems.

It is important to note that subsistence-based economic systems generally have experienced the most difficulty integrating and becoming involved in the production side of goods and services within a market-oriented economy. On the other hand, individual members of such a subsistence-based economy have demonstrated a desire to become active consumers of the wider range of goods and services made available by market-based economic systems.

Involvement in organizations concerned with the production of goods and services is likely to be of most interest to indigenous Australians, where the underlying methods of production have remained similar between production for subsistence and production for market exchange or cash (Ellana et al. 1988). For example, indigenous peoples within remote communities have been closely associated historically with pastoral enterprises.

This paper presents the results of an investigation into opportunities and constraints to a small pastoral enterprise and cattle holding facility by the Warai, an indigenous clan in Northern Australia attempting to start up an economic enterprise on land granted to them, as traditional owners under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976.

Background to Establishment of the Warai Pastoral Enterprise

The Finniss River Land Trust Area granted to the indigenous traditional owners, the Maranunngu, Kungarakany, and the Warai under the Aboriginal Land Rights (Northern Territory) Act 1976, and its relative geographical location can be seen in Figure 1. The Finniss River Land Trust Area has been divided into areas one, two, three, four, and five. Areas one and two have been granted to the Maranunggu. Areas three, four, and five have been granted to the Warai and Kungarakany clans. The Warai pastoral enterprise is located on approximately 20 square kilometers in area five, 100 kilometers south of Darwin.

This research presents the results of information collected using a structured questionnaire based on the recommendations of Dodd (1993) and Stafford-Smith et al. (1994). The information collected enables a critical evaluation of the economic research and assessment processes followed in establishing the first Warai economic enterprise. As a result of information collected in this study, a number of proposals may be advanced in relation to future directions for improving the commercial potential of indigenous business enterprises.

The Warai pastoral enterprise is owned by the Warai association, which is in turn managed by the traditional owners of the land. The Warai clan is estimated to consist of approximately 70 people aged 18 years and over and a further 50 aged less than 18 years of age (Dixon 1998). While the main priority for the Warai was to establish on their own country, the second and fairly immediate priority was to establish an economic base. The Warai initially thought that they would raise cattle on areas of land granted to them within the Finniss River Land Trust area.

Figure 2 shows the numbers of live cattle exports from Darwin by destination over the period from 1993-98. The diagram shows a rapid growth in live-cattle numbers exported through Darwin before the onset of the Asian financial crisis in late 1997. Indonesia had been the most important export destination since 1996, when 59 percent of live-cattle exports shipped through the Port of Darwin were destined for that country. The Asian crisis resulted in a sharp decrease to nine percent in 1998. …