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Back on the road: 
The resourcefulness and resilience of the Kiwirrkurra community

It may seem a moon ago now, but as roads were flooded and access to many communities severed, stories emerged of how a team from Kiwirrkurra seized the moment to shine.


It had been seven weeks since heavy haulage had reached Kiwirrkurra, and the community was almost out of water, food, and other key supplies.


After seeing the state of the roads near their community and being aware that the roads team from the Shire of Laverton could not help, it was time to act.


David Brown, Ngaanyatjarra CDP Engagement Officer, has been part of a team that has delivered water to the community for years and believed his team could get the job done.


Before commencing the work, David informed DFES of their plans to fix the road as long as The Shire of East Pilbara was prepared to accept (and fund!) the proposal. 


Ten minutes later, they had a green light! Steve from the Shire was more than happy to engage the Kiwirrkurra community and Ngaanyatjarra staff in road repairs so that trucks could travel to Kiwirrkurra with urgent food and water for the community.


The first job was to inspect washouts from the flood and place caution drums around the most dangerous washouts.


David contacted another worker, Mr Simon Brown, and advised him of the situation and whether he could assist. 


“Simon was at my door in no time, keen to get going,” recalls David Brown.


He also brought along Kiwirrkurra jobseeker Joseph West, who was keen to assist. 


“After inspecting the stretch of road and placing drums to warn traffic, a plan of action was put into place to prepare the grader on Sunday and repair the road on Monday, allowing the road to be open again ahead of a food delivery on Wednesday,” David said.

Early Monday morning, Simon was at my door, keen to move.


“We headed off towards the WA/ NT border. After 70 kilometres, we came across our first washout at Mt Winparku; we removed the caution drums, placing one at each end of the work site to warn incoming traffic that the grader was engaged in repairing the road,” David said.


After a long day, the task was completed, and all three washout locations were repaired. 


“It was so satisfying for us to be able to say that the road would be open for Wednesday’s much-needed store truck delivery,”


“Our store managers, Sammi and Steve, along with the rest of the community, were so happy to see the truck roll in on Wednesday morning after six weeks of road closures from the heavy rains,” remembers David.


While this may seem like a story about the resourcefulness of the group of workers who identified an opportunity, proposed a plan, and fixed a problem, it’s also testimony to the resilience of every member of the Kiwirrkurra community who kept on working away despite the isolation and uncertainty caused by the road closures. 


After the successful remediation and reopening of this stretch of road, David is now training his team for possible future collaborations with the Shire on this stretch of road from Kiwirrkurra to the NT border.


What a sensational outcome for the Kiwirrkurra community and Ngaanyatjarra staff who worked together to obtain a significant result for the community.


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By Natasha Perkins 31 May, 2024
Thomas Williams had only recently been appointed CEO of 鶹ֱ after 17 years with the organisation when one of our community members stopped him in his tracks. Nancy Tjungupi Carnegie is an artist and preserver of bush medicine. Nancy was born near Patjarr at a place called Pandaltjarra where she lived a traditional life into early adulthood. She is a prolific painter and avid hunter, often leaving Patjarr on foot to pursue tinka (goanna) in the remote Pila Nature Reserve. Nancy is currently the chairperson for Patjarr community and represents Patjarr’s interests as a director with Warakurna Artists. As Thomas visited communities in the Ngaanyatjarra group, he met with Nancy. “Nancy predominantly speaks in the Ngaanyatjarra dialect with an occasional English word, so I generally communicate with her through a translator. On this occasion, Angelica McLean was with me and helping us to have a conversation together,” Thomas recalls. “Nancy was kindly congratulating me on my appointment, but it was one word that was familiar to me that stopped me in my tracks and caused me to ask Angelica to get Nancy to repeat what she had just said,” “I heard the words SILOS,” “My first thought was, ‘How does she even know this word as a woman living on these lands for many years’” “Angelica repeated what Nancy had said: ‘Now you have the opportunity to remove the silos - do it’,” Thomas said. It wasn’t an ultimatum, but it was undoubtedly a strong invitation. Even Nancy, removed from the politics and machinations of an Aboriginal Corporation, could spot something evident to her: silos within an organisation are a recipe for dysfunction. Silos are contained areas of function that stand alone and apart from other functions within an organisation or system. Integration is necessary for there to be a free flow of information, collaboration and the ability to identify opportunities and efficiencies. Silos are often the product of institutional insecurity as people within a system seek to ‘protect their turf’, but they’re also one of the most significant obstacles to progress in an organisation. “So obvious were some of these silos that Nancy could spot them from thousands of kilometres away. I found that sobering,” Thomas said. “As I have navigated the early stages of my role as CEO of 鶹ֱ, Nancy’s words have been among those that have fuelled my work,” “We’ve already accomplished plenty, yet there’s so much work ahead of us because when some of that work is addressing the silos that thwart progress, that’s not always simple or comfortable,” “But our mission is to see Yarnangu leading lives filled with purpose and agency, thriving in a culture-rich environment—for their aspirations to stay on country be realised,” “Every time we make a decision that moves us closer to this, whether it’s in the area of CDP, employment, housing, community development, company culture and values, or bringing our brand into alignment across the Council, we move one step closer to ‘removing the silos’ and realising the aspirations of Yarnangu on the lands,” Thomas said. Silos can thwart progress, no doubt, but confronting them in any institutional setting is complex, sometimes slow, work. “Sometimes people like Nancy can spot the silos from thousands of kilometres away that we can miss from the trenches. Her plea has been life-giving for what we’re trying to accomplish day-by-day at 鶹ֱ,” Thomas said. Thanks, Nancy.
By Natasha Perkins 21 May, 2024
For many years, reinforced by remoteness, Ngaanyatjarra Lands have been referred to by some as the ‘Hermit Kingdom’. The group of 11 communities who came together by choice in 1981 to form the 鶹ֱ, were staunchly independent and rarely reached beyond themselves. Given the difficulty of accessing the lands and the reality that only the most ardent travellers traverse the Gunbarrell Highway en route to cities in the north or south, the label was reasonable. Increasingly, though, the ‘Hermit Kingdom’ tag is being shaken off as communities seek to engage culturally, economically, and socially with individuals and organisations beyond them. Recognising the necessity for trusted travelling partners committed to journeying with Yarnangu people of the Ngaanyatjarra Lands has been pivotal in this emergence. “We identified that to step into our future, we also needed to step out of the shadows,” said 鶹ֱ CEO, Thomas Williams. “To live lives of purpose and agency with strong families and strong stories, we also need strong partners,” “We need to collaborate and co-create with others to realise the potential for our lands and our people—it’s a land rich with culture and stories, as well as economic potential. But to imagine this better future for all, we need to invite those who’ve taken journeys like ours before and learn with them,” Thomas said. This emergence has gathered pace in recent years. The establishment of BHP’s West Musgrave mine site in the Mantamaru | Jameson community has demanded astute leadership and stewardship of the potential royalties that will flow. “We have seen the damage of the ‘resource curse’ in other aboriginal communities, and we want to learn from that,” Thomas said. “Being intentional in how we use these royalties for social investment, strong health outcomes, and the future of our people is very important to us,” “We’ve collectively decided to apportion 30% of royalties for the future of our members: 10% into our savings fund, 10% into a renal fund, and 10% into the operation of our land culture division,” Thomas added. It’s another level of stewardship that’s made necessary by possibility. Ngaanyatjarra leaders are being invited to the tables of federal ministers because there’s been a growing awareness of the consistent, long-term management of community assets, businesses, and programs. While it hasn’t been a specific goal for the future of Yarnangu, there’s little doubt that the tag of ‘hermit kingdom’ is increasingly being overwhelmed by positive stories of agency, opportunity and possibility on Ngaanyatjarra lands.
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