Forty years ago today, Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) became the final incarnation of a series of grassroots Aboriginal community organisations at Maningrida, 500 kilometres northeast of Darwin.
It was 1979, and community friction, an influx of Balandas (white people), a sense of powerlessness and a desire to return to their family’s country, led community leaders to establish an organisation to help people live self-sufficiently on their homelands.
The Whitlam government passed the Aboriginal Land Rights (NT) Act and on the wave of this new government sentiment, many of the 80 or so clan group members who had co-existed uneasily in the trading post of Maningrida since 1957, returned to their homelands, where they strengthened their family’s country, language and culture.
BAC’s mission was to support people’s decision to return, if only seasonally, to their homeland, by delivering the infrastructure, health and education services and employment needed to survive in these remote locations.
Today, BAC employs 182 staff who work in Housing and Homelands, Maningrida Arts & Culture, Bábbara Women’s Centre, Djomi Museum, Bawinanga Rangers (formerly Djelk Rangers), Civil Works, Retail and Community Services.
Its commercial enterprises, like Maningrida Wild Foods, provide meaningful CDP employment and extra income streams through the supply of local seafood and native bush foods to restaurants and clients around Australia.
This year, BAC’s Bábbara Women’s Centre, which is currently exhibiting its renowned textile designs at the Australian Embassy in Paris, is also a Telstra Business Awards finalist in the social change maker category.
Last month, BAC won the Ichthys LNG Indigenous Business Award at the Chief Minister’s NT Export and Industry Awards.
BAC Chairman Dion Cooper said while the Board celebrates its successes, improving people’s lives and working toward self-sufficiency is an increasingly complicated challenge.”
“Over 40 years we have had so many empty promises from the government, but we have stayed true to our promise to our people,” Mr Cooper said.
“We continue with our mission – safe, proud, people connected to country through song lines.”
BAC CEO Ingrid Stonhill said the community would celebrate the milestone at a 40th Anniversary festival at Maningrida in early November.
Media enquires: Jo Brosnan, Communications Manager, 0447 331 191