Running a cattle station has long been a dream for aspiring stockman Chris Mandigalli.

Key points:

  • Young Indigenous pastoral workers are finding ways into the cattle industry through Rise Up To Work
  • The program is designed to be culturally safe and teach work and wellbeing skills
  • Pastoralists keen for more workers are eager to attract young locals

Until recently, the 19-year-old from Balgo — a remote township on the edge of Western Australia’s Great Sandy Desert — was unsure about where to start.

But when he heard about the Warrmijala Murrgurlayi (Rise Up To Work) program he was so excited he moved almost 1,000 kilometres to Broome to give it a try.

The initiative, run by Aboriginal organisation Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY), this week celebrated the graduation of seven participants now looking for work in the cattle industry.

A Kimberley cattle worker sits against a fence in a cattle yard.

As well as low-stress stock handling, participants brush up on literacy and numeracy.(

ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford

)

Life-changing opportunity

Being raised in a community with a rich pastoral history, Mr Mandigalli looked up to older station workers like his father.

He said he would probably still be working as a mechanic in Balgo if a friend hadn’t mentioned the opportunity.

As well as providing pre-employment training, NBY helped the teenager find accommodation in Broome and has supported him while he’s been away from family.

It is part of a fresh effort to bolster a proud tradition of Indigenous pastoralism in the far north.

Cattle workers getting directions from station hands.

Pastoralists are eager to tap into local employment resources in the Kimberley.(

ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford

)

Tapping into local talent

The Rise Up To Work program is about more than finding young people a job. It is influenced by the work of local Indigenous researchers and designed be culturally appropriate for the Kimberley.

As well as skills training in preparation for a career on a working station, Rise Up focuses on Yawuru’s mabu liyan (good wellbeing) philosophy.

Participants are taught that culture and identity, as well mental and physical well being, are just as important as a job.

Roebuck Plains Station manager Jak Andrews said the program was a way of fostering long-term employment in the community.

“This is a really pleasing time for all of us,” he said.

“This is proof in the pudding that if we put the energy in and there’s enough people who are supportive, we can get Indigenous employment back in the community.”

The station, 40 kilometres east of Broome, is owned by Yawuru native title holders and is a significant employment opportunity for local Indigenous cattle workers.

“We have a lot of resources up here as far as potential employees,” Mr Andrews said.

“There is a lot of opportunity out there but we have to manage that correctly, and we have to put the training in place so that there is a long term benefit (to the community) and the northern pastoral industry.”

A group of trainee cattle workers.

The aspiring cattle workers say they want to take their new skills back to their home communities.(

ABC Kimberley: Matt Bamford

)

It’s an area the state government is increasingly focused on, having recently launched the Aboriginal Pastoral Academy program in the Kimberley.

The pilot initiative with the Kimberley Agriculture & Pastoral Company involved 11 Indigenous participants working on stations across the region.

Seven participants completed the course and four came away with a job in the industry.

The program is funded for another three years and is expected to expand to the Pilbara ahead of the next intake later in the year.

Labor’s Member-elect for Kimberley, Divina D’Anna, who attended the graduation ceremony, said the early signs were promising.

While Ms D’Anna looked forward to seeing the program expand, she said it was important to get the formula right.

“Expansion is always good but it can’t be rushed,” she said.

“(I want) to really focus on what we have right now and analyse what is working.”

Image of a large herd of cattle, standing around a tree under a cloudy sky, they're kicking up a lot of dust.

The employment initiatives are part of an effort to bolster rich traditions of Aboriginal pastoralism in northern WA.(

ABC Kimberley: Erin Parke

)

‘Give it a shot’

Mr Mandigalli says he plans to use the skills he’s learning on Roebuck Plains Station in Balgo.

“Hopefully I can take the knowledge from here back to my community and our little station homestead and rebuild it,” he said.

He encouraged others to get involved.

“Just give it a shot. If you don’t like it you can go for something else, but if you want to try it just give it a go,” he said.

Rise Up program gives Indigenous workers path into pastoral industry
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