Employment and Economic Advancement for Aboriginals in the Northern Territory, Perth, January 1969 

Harry (H.C.) Giese 

…The pastoral industry has been traditionally, and still is, the biggest single private employer of Aboriginals in the Northern Territory. The latest figure that I have for 1968 show that there were 918 men and 318 women, a total of 1,282 Aboriginals employed in the pastoral industry on some 200 stations. There were 37 part-Aboriginal men and 9 part-Aboriginal women employed on the stations who lived with the Aboriginal community and identified with them and received the same wages as Aboriginals.  

We have had a break-through following the decision of the Arbitration Commission in March 1966, and as from the first of December this year, award wages will be paid to Aboriginals in the pastoral industry. This does not solve all the problems. This is only one facet of a fairly complex problem. The payment of award wages is one thing. There is the question of accommodation; there is the question of the application of the slow-worker provision; there is the question of the employment of women as domestics, excluded at this stage from the provisions of the award. There is the question of the payment of award wages by employers who are not members of the [Northern Territory Pastoral Lessees’] Association and not a party to the decision, and the question of Aboriginals who are not also a party to the award because they are not members of the NAWU [North Australian Workers’ Union]. This means that some consideration has to be given to a common-rule application. These are matters which have been taken up and have been the subject of long discussions in the interim period while we have been phasing in the award conditions.  

The Government has responsibilities…in education in remote areas. It has also responsibilities to support the work of pastoral management in the development of welfare services, and this is being done by subsidies to nursing sisters…I hope that shortly there will be subsidies to welfare officers to work in these communities.  

What will happen later this year when the pastoral managements call for labour after seasonal stand-down? I do not know precisely… 

What is the long-term future?...Will the pastoral industry remain the biggest single private employer? I think in the short term, yes. In the long term there are some question marks. There is a revolution taking place in the pastoral industry, particularly in the northern areas where, with the introduction of exotic breeds, the development of tropical legumes, better animal husbandry practices and the intrusion of American capital, things are happening which 10 or 12 years ago did not seem possible. The establishment of export abattoirs at Katherine and Darwin has meant that there is a local market available, where previously cattle had to be taken out on the hoof. These things will undoubtedly influence the extent to which Aboriginals in the future will be employed. I feel that, with the improvement of Aboriginal skills, particularly in fields of yard-building and fence-building, and in training in animal husbandry practices, the level of employment in this industry will be maintained and the Aboriginals will share in what I believe to be a major economic development…They will share directly also in the results of the experimental work which has gone on. The Arnhem Land Reserve was not some years ago considered a particularly good area for cattle development, although two of the first stations to be established in the Northern Territory were established in Arnhem Land… the developments referred to will enable large tracts of Arnhem Land to be developed for pastoral activities, and we are working hard on that now.  

There has been a large growth in the past three years in the number of Aboriginals employed in award-type employment, about 600 in June 1968, including 130 in 6 Government departments and 85 in the Forestry Branch. 

The mining industry is the most important industry in the Northern Territory in terms of export income, but it has been a small employer of Aboriginals except at the fossicking and prospecting stages. At the moment we have about 35 Aboriginals employed in Nandjiwarra’s country by the Groote Eylandt Mining Company over a wide range of skills. There are a few employed in Tennant Creek; Yirrkala has a small group employed with Nabalco. There are about 50 or 60 Aboriginals who have set themselves up in small co-operative prospecting parties. There are a number of small Aboriginal groups in Central Australia around Barrow Creek, working small tin shows… 

I believe there are at least two ways in which in the future Aboriginals will share in the mineral explosion that is going to take place…by direct employment, as a result of better education and improved work skills, and indirectly by servicing these communities by the provision of vegetables, fruit, meat and so on. This is being done substantially at Yirrkala and…to a lesser extent at Groote Eylandt.  

The tourist industry is the third major industry in the Northern Territory, and once you get beyond this you just about exhaust the industrial development of the Territory. The tourist industry has been notoriously reluctant to use Aboriginals, except in ways which both Professor Berndt and I would regard as inimical to their advancement, but there are signs that this is changing. This is being brought about by the direct participation of the Aboriginal people themselves. A couple of Aboriginals have set themselves up in a small outdoor dining arrangement on the Jay Creek road at the entry to Standley Chasm. They serve about 400-500 meals a week to tourists that pass through. Yuendumu Council is talking of building a motel to cater for the tourists that are passing through the Granites, Tanami and to Kununurra. The people in the Petermann Ranges are talking of setting up conducted tours in that area.  

There is no question that the Aboriginal people now see the opportunity of becoming directly involved in their own reserves.  

  …How can we, with this sort of development that is occurring in the mining and pastoral industries, attract into the Northern Territory small industry which will still have a high labour component and which will offer employment opportunities for the increasing number of young Aboriginals who will be coming through our schools? 

…What about on the reserves? There is a form of employment training offered to Aboriginals on all missions and settlements, and at the present time there are 983 men and 449 women on settlements being given this…There are 690 men and 472 women on missions. They are engaged in a wide range of activities—construction; the building of their own houses; the building of their own service buildings; the maintenance of these buildings; the maintenance of electricity and water supplies and sewerage systems; teaching and nursing activities; self-employment in hunting and fishing and craft work; and economic-type projects through cattle and other livestock; pigs and poultry; market gardens; shops; timber mills and so on.  

Now this range of activities is provided as a form of training against the time when these communities will be able to be self-supporting or will attract various types of industrial undertakings which will provide some of the means for these communities to become self-supporting. The Government and the missions have been criticised because they have depressed wages for Aboriginals in these communities. I want to make clear that, except where there is a project which can be economic with a little assistance, the Government sees the sort of training which is being given as employment training against the day when there will be opportunities for full award employment in these areas. 

As the next stage…the Government has announced that from the pay week at the end of January this year, there will be substantial increases in the allowances that are paid. And these will be in most cases sufficient for the families to maintain themselves, with the progressive removal of the props which have been provided for them in kind. Such things as cafeterias and dining rooms will give way to Aboriginal women preparing food in various ways in their own homes. This development can only take place when there are the resources that you need in order to have a normal community: such things as self-contained houses, bakers’ shops and butchers’ shops and electricity, so that if people want electric refrigerators they can have them.  

It takes time in the Northern Territory situation, with the widespread and isolated Aboriginal communities, to develop these services. With the assistance of Europeans, staff members…  and missionaries, and with the full co-operation of Aboriginal people, these are now developing. Shops, butchers’ shops and bakers’ shops are being established and run by Aboriginals. In the long term, they will be run exclusively by Aboriginals.   

In looking at employment…you must necessarily have some concern for education and vocational training… for those of you who are interested, I recommend the reading of the Watts-Gallacher report of 1964, which gives the background of Aboriginal education and which indicates the broad philosophy of education which we now subscribe to in reference to special schools for Aboriginal children. There are about 88 per cent of Aboriginal children between 5 and 16 years of age in schools. In the last two years we have seen a major development in post-primary education. There is a movement of young Aboriginals into secondary education. At the moment we have 15 full-blood Aboriginals…at high school. There are substantial numbers of part-Aboriginal youngsters at high schools in and outside the Northern Territory…As a result of the establishment of Kormilda College, 24 young Aboriginals will go to first year high school in Darwin this year. They are drawn from all over the Territory. Age for grade they will match European youngsters… 

I want to say something about the economic development of reserves… The reserves were originally set aside for Aboriginals so that they could follow their traditional hunting habits…In the 1940s and 50s, with the growth in Aboriginal population, the purpose of reserves had to be reviewed. There is a full statement of on this by the Hon. Paul Hasluck…the policy is to develop…a wide range of economic projects…  

There are 15,000 cattle being run on Aboriginal reserves by missions and by Government. This is considered to be only a precursor to Aboriginals obtaining this land and taking over the cattle and developing their own projects. Timber mills have been established to provide the timber to build houses and other facilities, and these are seen only as interim arrangements…Fishing projects have been established, probably the most outstanding at Elcho Island. Co-operative stores have been set up and Aboriginals sit on the boards of directors…There are stores established to feed into the communities what a normal community accepts as its right. You can only do these things if you have adequate refrigeration, and it has taken some time for these communities, very largely through their own efforts, to obtain these things, although we have given them assistance in cash and kind…  

The Government has examined the question of royalties payable to an Aboriginal Benefits  Trust Fund in respect of those mining projects which could be developed on reserves, but were beyond the resources of the local community to develop…these are very substantial figures, the sort of royalties which will be paid to Nandjiwarra’s people at Groote Eylandt and into the Trust Fund…There will be, by 1975, 2.4 million dollars paid into the general Aboriginal Benefits Trust Fund, and 1.1 million to the Groote Eylandt Trust specifically for the use and benefit of local Aboriginals as a result of manganese mining on Groote… 

…There is provision for Aboriginals, and only Aboriginals, to take up land for agricultural and pastoral purposes on reserves…There is not much use having this without the wherewithal to do it, and the Trust Fund is one of the means that the Government saw whereby these areas could be developed…There is a provision in the Social Welfare Ordinance for the Director to make money available to people to provide tools of trade or machinery, plant, equipment, materials or livestock, for the purpose of carrying on any trade, business, calling, profession or undertaking. This provides the means, if the normal financial institutions are not prepared to back Aboriginal communities at this stage in the establishment of economic projects, for money to be provided…    


…There is no doubt in my mind that in the next 10 years there will be significant developments of reserve areas by the Aboriginal people themselves. This means that Government’s role and the role of missionaries will undergo some remarkable and significant changes. We will be looking for support from the Australian community for our programme. I want nurses, I want pre-school teachers [and other teachers] and carpenters and mechanics. I want farmers and stockmen to come to the Northern Territory to assist us in the advancement programme for Aboriginals. We still need, both in the mission field and in Government service, these sorts of people.  

We will need, however, in the next 10 years, a different group of people. We will need people who are not associated with Government. They could well be associated with church groups, but they won’t be directly employed by the church. They will come to the Territory with a high range of skills, managerial and technical, and will help the Aboriginal people to develop the resources on their reserves. It is the role of the Government to see that these people are available.  

We want business managers to take over the shops and garages, to build and manage at this stage the motels that will be established, to set up the butchers’ shops and the bakers’ shops and to help young Aboriginals to become entrepreneurs in these areas.  

This is the challenge of the Northern Territory at this time. I wonder if the rest of Australia is prepared to take it up?