Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Growing Business in Arnhem Land

Ashley McKertich (Right) giving his speech to Warrane residents

Business mentor and company director Ashley McKertich spoke to Warrane residents on March 20 about his experiences assisting the redevelopment of a Northern Territory Aboriginal community.

Ashley, who was the former CEO and Director of Zenbuu Pty Ltd, a web service that seeks to help owners and operators of small and medium sized businesses grow, said he was asked to use his skills to help reinvigorate the community of Ngukurr, located on the Roper River in south east Arnhem Land.

He said that at present the community of 2000 people only has one business – a general store. The only other local institutions were a credit union, a school, a hospital, a rarely used “college” and some government buildings.

“The community faces many challenges,” Ashley said. “The area has a 93 percent unemployment rate and 47 percent of the population is aged under 20 years, compared with a national average of 27 percent.

“Average household income is $210, compared to a national average of $425, but you need to keep in mind that each household houses an average of 15 people.

“Only 7 per cent of the community has achieved an education level equivalent to the HSC.”

Ashley has been working on an economic development plan for the region, but he explained that the task was very challenging.

On the positive side, Ngkurr has been identified as one of 26 indigenous growth towns with the aim of closing the gap between the community and other areas by 2018.

One of the key projects being planned is turning the area into a tourism centre, featuring a local “lost city rock formation” similar to the Bungle Bungles. Plans included the development of a new take-away food shop and the development of 53 homes.

However it now appeared that the Federal Government plans only to renovate existing dwellings rather than building new ones.

Ashley said among the biggest challenges in the community is to end the high rate of school truancy and to change the community’s welfare mentality. He said much of the community had been living on welfare for several generations.

But despite the challenges, he said he remains optimistic and suggested that residents might consider organising a work camp to help repair the community’s church.

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]