July 13, 2013
We have just arrived at Whale Song, a small campground on Cape Leveque, after spending 5 days at Kooljaman – an eco-resort proudly owned by the aboriginal communities of Djarindjin and One Arm Point. More on Whale Song later as I want to share what I learned from Brian Lee. Brian is an aboriginal leader and traditional owner of the land in the area. His Tagalong tour took us into the pristine aboriginal native title land around Hunter’s Creek.
Kooljaman is the Bardi aboriginal name for Cape Leveque, 220km north of Broome at the tip of the Dampier Peninsular.
I was privileged to have a conversation with Brian and listen to a small part of the history of Kooljaman. Hearing his perspective on why the resort and surrounding communities have been such a success was like a teaching about 2 local communities taking the lead and standing on their own 2 feet. Brian was clearly proud of the leadership role that he and others have played over the past 15 years to ensure that all decisions about the running of Kooljaman are owned by the aboriginal communities. He pointed out that Kooljaman has not been reliant on handouts to survive and thrive as a business. Some years ago the decision was made by the Kooljaman board to recruit outside assistance to manage and run the business side of things. When talking about the future of Kooljaman, it sounded like the aim is for the local aboriginal communities to take on the management and running of the whole facility. Sadly, stories like Kooljaman are rarely told in mainstream Australia. I don’t want to dwell on politics and mindset that breeds policies of intervention, simply because there are stories within Australia and all over the world that show we are making progress. Last year I was honored to be part of the 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference in Vancouver and immerse myself in many of these stories. Each story was like a unique teaching and I remember feeling inspired and hopeful when reading through them. I worked alongside Chris Corrigan and Steven Wright and, as facilitators, our task was to draw out success stories from the 700+ delegates – a mix of indigenous and non-indigenous leaders from community, government and the private sector from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. These success stories were about indigenous communities pursuing and realising their own economic development. The stories showed that full participation in decision making promotes ownership and a sense of belonging to community and culture. Many stories pointed to successful models of governance, education and training programs that build capacity. Examples of partnerships between indigenous communities, government and the private sector were in many of the stories. Listening to Brian talk about Kooljaman reminded me of many of the stories shared in Vancouver.
An information/knowledge repository – The Indigenous Housing Gateway – was set up to store and share the stories and lessons learned from the 2012 World Indigenous Housing Conference. It’s full of the stories I have referred to.
In 2007 the United Nations Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was adopted. This declaration sets a standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples. And it is a standard, that sadly, many member countries like Australia have failed to translate into policies that support more aborginal communities to thrive. As I listened to Brian talking about Kooljaman, and the story of ownership by the Djarindjin and One Arm Point communities, I was heartened to hear a success story coming from within my own country. I didn’t get a chance to discover all the success factors and why it’s worked, but clearly something has and we all need to learn from it. As we travel across the top end of Australia, I will be looking for more opportunities to learn from people like Brian and witness communities like Djarindjin and One Arm Point. Like most Australians, I know little about aboriginal history and the complexity of issues that they face in community life. This trip is my chance to continue my education. Geoff