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Remote meatworks revived

Posted: Thu, November 11, 2010

Federal Indigenous Affairs Minister Jenny Macklin makes a purchase from Gunbalanya Meatworks.

The revival of a run-down cattle station and adjoining abbatoir in a remote Northern Territory community is providing real jobs and affordable fresh meat to the Aboriginal peoples of Western Arnhem Land.

The community of Gunbalanya, near the northern edge of world heritage listed Kakadu National Park, celebrated the official opening of the revamped Gunbalanya Meat Supply Pty Ltd operation in early November 2010.

The meatworks is processing beef from the Aboriginal-owned Gunbalanya Station, which boasts more than 250 square kilometres of rich black floodplain country, and eventually hopes to kill up to 90 head per week.

The meatworks revival comes on the back of an agreement struck between the Northern Land Council, the Indigenous Land Corporation and Gunbalanya meatworks.

Under the deal, ILC will work in partnership with the community over 15 years to improve infrastructure and grazing practices at Gunbalanya Station, taking the cattle herd from 1,000 to 7,000 head, and to provide a major upgrade of the meatworks.

It’s hoped the enterprise will soon employ up to 30 people and young men from Gunbalanya have shown their keen to work in both the pastoral and meat processing fields.

NLC’s land management facilitator David Armstorng says the revival of Gunbalanya Station and the meatworks showed what could be achieved through good will negotiation and co-operation between families and organisations.

“Traditional owners came to the Northern Land Council and wanted to work a way forward because their business was basically broken so the Northern Land Council, through the Indigenous Pastoral Program, got out here and looked at the figures and looked at ways forward for the business.”

Under the arrangement the ILC will spend $3 million upgrading station infrastructure and extending the meatworks over 15 years.
It’s hoped the property, once fully re-fenced, can support 7000-8000 cattle, allowing ILC to use Gunbalanya Station as a finishing point for its northern herd and increasing kill numbers at the meatworks.

Adrian Gumudrul is one of the stockmen employed at Gunbalanya Station and, having spent almost half a century in the saddle, he’s the perfect mentor for young men and women wanting to follow in his footsteps.

“I feel really good about what’s going on out here now,” Mr Gumudrul said.

“The young people are getting jobs and looking up to all us who are out there working.”

Gunbalanya Meats manager Dion Henderson said prime cuts from the meatworks were providing a cheaper food source for people across Western Arnhem Land and that word was spreading fast.

“Everything that comes here’s frozen so to have fresh meat on hand all the time, they like it.”

Mr Henderson predicts a bright future for the meatworks and pastoral operation and says having good staff is the key to any business plan.

“The blokes that are there now are good and reliable. They turn up every day and really get excited about their work. They love sharpening their knives and they love to cut meat.”

Gunbalanya meatworks is also processing buffalo from nearby Hodgson Downs, where up to 5000 buffalo run wild, and has plans the meat to restaurants in Sydney and Melbourne.

Story and pictures: Guy McLean