Self-generating economic development opportunities in the Far West Coast

Background

Stretching far from Ceduna on the western side of the Eyre Peninsula across the Nullarbor Plain, the Far West Coast region of South Australia covers some 1200km of coastline to the Western Australia border. The landscape is characterised by the dramatic meeting of the arid Nullarbor Plain over the Bunda Cliffs and into the Southern Ocean below; a haven for sea life and a sanctuary for the Southern Right Whales who migrate here to breed in the sheltered bays during the winter months. White sandy beaches, clear ocean waters and rugged cliffs hug the coastline as the vista transforms away from the coast, across the Plain and into the rich, warm hues of sandy desert lands and isolated scrubby mallee bush and reaching northwest into spectacular Maralinga Tjartuja lands and on toward Ooldea Range. The environment is rich – in its stunning beauty and natural resources, and in its people, art and culture.

As a remote region approximately 800kms from Adelaide, economic development opportunities have been driven by abundant, high-quality natural resources that have resulted in well-established agriculture, fishing and mining industries. The latter has been the region’s fastest-emerging industry, leveraging large mineral resources of high-quality magnetite, kaolin gypsum and mineral sands.

The Eyre Peninsula is one of the fastest-growing tourism regions in South Australia, and the region has incredible potential to develop this further. As the only main sealed road in the region that connects East and West, many travel the route of The Nullarbor, a section of National Highway 1. Of the more than 420,000 visitors that pass through the Far West region and across the Nullarbor Plain in a typical year, many remark ‘there’s nothing here…’. If only they looked a little closer, took a little more time exploring the region and experienced the magic that awaits.

Approach

Collectively, the five Aboriginal communities in the Far West Coast region of Ceduna, Koonibba, Scotdesco, Yalata and Oak Valley worked together alongside Regional Development Australia Whyalla and Eyre Peninsula to develop the Far West Aboriginal Tourism Strategic Plan. Launched in 2017 and with implementation planned for 2020, the Plan is designed to promote and develop Aboriginal tourism activities already in place in the region, including Arts Ceduna, Maralinga Tours, Scotdesco Accommodation and the Head of Bight Visitor Centre. In addition, it aims to develop emerging tourism offerings such as Language Tours and the Yalata Caravan Park. The goal of the Plan is to create a unified approach to Aboriginal-owned and -led tourism in the region. A global pandemic, border closures and heavily reduced tourism over the past 18 months has slowed implementation of the Plan, but not the enthusiasm and vision that drove its creation.

As a Jawun Emerging Leader (EL) in 2019-2020, Jessie Sleep identified a personal and professional interest in a community-owned and led enterprise. Specifically, through the Case Study component of the EL program, she worked in a small peer group researching the strategies and learnings of the Yolngu people of North East Arnhem Land (NEAL) in order to develop their own enterprises. Similarities can be drawn between the NEAL region and the Far West Coast: both are rich in culture, environment and resources, have incredible tourism opportunities and potential for sustainable growth to provide long term economic benefit to their communities.

Jessie credits the Emerging Leaders’ experience in assisting her to develop an understanding of future trends in the Aboriginal business landscape. The program fuelled ideas for her own community and the Far West Coast region through exposure to Aboriginal businesses that create social and economic outcomes. EL program learnings aligned closely with her professional objective to contribute to the advancement of her community and to be an effective and inspirational leader.

“The Emerging Leaders program gave me the opportunity to immerse myself into new ideas and ways of thinking, challenging my own worldview and to nurture growth as an individual, a leader, and a member of my community.

These capabilities were recognised in her appointment as the inaugural Chief Executive of Far West Community Partnerships (FWCP) in July 2020.

Outcomes

After a period of establishment, Far West Community Partnerships was officially launched on May 26, 2021, with a clear vision for FWCP to “create real and genuine change for the betterment of our people….” (Corey McLennan, CEO Koonibba Aboriginal Corporation). In her role at FWCP, Jessie is highly focused on this vision, working with Regional Development Australia and the five communities to identify and develop strategies for sustainable economic development and self-empowerment through the implementation of the Aboriginal Tourism Strategy for the Far West Region, supported by an overarching economic development plan.

The economic development story in this region is emerging, and the communities have demonstrated ingenuity, creative thinking, and a willingness to consider opportunities outside of a standard model. Examples include a partnership between Koonibba Community Aboriginal Corporation and Southern Launch to develop the Koonibba Test Range, with plans to become a permanent test facility for sub-orbital satellite launches. Additionally, the region has ambitions to build an observatory for the purpose of attracting group tourism, whilst Scotdesco Aboriginal Community intends to work in partnership with Camp International to provide school groups with accommodation and education packages focussing on remote landscapes and Aboriginal conservation principles.

There is a growing desire across the communities for a greater level of financial independence, and the goal for the regional economic development plan is to support and facilitate a pathway to enable this. The plan will incorporate existing and new assets – be they natural resources, existing tourism operations, or new enterprises and small businesses within each of the five Aboriginal communities at a whole of region approach. The opportunities will be self-generated with an economic development focus, empowering the community to nurture and enable the cultural recognition and self-determination of the Aboriginal communities of the Far West Coast region. Further, they will showcase the tremendous richness and abundance of environment, people, and culture for the benefit of each community and for the region.

Next Steps

There are many opportunities for an expanded, diverse, and collective tourism offering in the Far West Coast Region, and the development of the Far West Aboriginal Tourism Strategic Plan was an important step to provide a sound platform and prospectus for the region to leap from and move forward.

By presenting a collective regional approach, with tangible economic development benefits achievable for each community and the region as a whole, there is a strong and clear argument for investment into the region. Far West Community Partnerships are looking forward to welcoming a secondee from the Australian Public Service who will experience an in-place secondment with the Far West Coast community for an extended secondment period of twelve weeks in early 2022. Shellie Carr has been seconded to work shoulder to shoulder with Jessie and the Far West Coast Leaders to investigate and develop an economic development plan that incorporates the Aboriginal Tourism Strategy, researching and developing self-generated economic development opportunities with a clear focus on optimising existing assets and looking toward the future opportunities that shine so brightly for this region.