Poor support for training pathways and a need for family-friendly jobs in the beef industry have been blamed for a decline in Indigenous representation in the workforce.
- A recent report showed just 2.8 per cent of beef industry workers are Indigenous
- Better training and support are identified as critical to building careers
- An elder says big property owners should foster their local communities
According to the recently released 2021 Update to the Australian Beef Sustainability Framework (ABSF), there was a near halving in the Indigenous employment rate compared to the 2020 survey, with now only 2.8 per cent of the workforce now identifying as Indigenous.
Around 3.3 per cent of the Australia’s population at the last national Census identified as Indigenous.
Despite the latest disappointing employment statistic, Indigenous people who have found success in the industry said there were ways to turn around the figures.
Marketing manager with Stockyard Beef Amy Brooks is a success story after 15 years with the company covering brand positioning for around 20 export markets.
Ms Brooks said improving the representation of Indigenous staff in the sector needed further attention from industry leaders, in the same way the gender gap was being bridged.
Workers need support
As a director on the board of Woorabinda Pastoral Company — which employs 80 per cent local Indigenous staff — Ms Brooks said it was critical anyone who wanted work in the industry was supported.
“We need to make sure we have avenues for them to progress and make it a more attractive industry for the Indigenous community,” she said.
“It’s highly male-dominated, the women don’t necessarily know what their roles could be or what they could potentially offer to the pastoral company.”
With the majority of the company’s employees young men involved in maintenance, animal husbandry and fencing, while living on stations, Ms Brooks said a more family friendly industry was needed.
“We’re trying to build up some of those administrative roles — not that women can’t do maintenance and livestock handling — but giving them more of an idea of what they can accomplish in beef,” she said.
“People start a career, they might have progression and move out of communities but others might want to stay full-time.
With beef branding a growing trend in Australia and globally, sharing success stories of community-run cattle properties through marketing could be another way to increase employment, Ms Brooks said.
“There’s a lot of success stories that have been missed,” she said.
“We want to have a platform for the community where people can be proud of and gain confidence through their achievements.”
Training critical to success
Geoff and Vicki Toomby, from Wonderland Station near Townsville, have run rural training programs on their property for more than a decade.
Wonderland boasts an 83 per cent success rate in installing more than 300 graduates — three-quarters of them Indigenous — in cattle industry jobs.
But, Mr Toomby said, funding and support for his Certificate III in Rural Operations — run through several registered training organisations (RTOs) — had dried up in recent years.
“We had a grant one year that paid the cook’s wages. The state government took money out of Cert III in Rural Operations and by the time RTO costs come out and our costs come out, we were behind the eight ball,” he said.
Mr Toomby said that, while tourism and hospitality jobs had proven to be an unreliable income source during the pandemic, the cattle industry was riding high on strong prices and was only handicapped by shortages of staff.
After a lifetime spent working horses and cattle, Mr Toomby said he wanted to ensure future generations could experience the adventure and satisfaction of station life.
“We’ve embarked on a program to deliver horsemanship to Doomadgee and Mornington Island, through the schools, because once they get through grade 6 kids can go downhill,” he said.
Waylon Townsend is a young Torres Strait Islander man from Bamaga who first arrived on Mr Toomby’s property, aged 17, with a dream of working in the cattle industry and following the rodeo circuit.
Mr Townsend said his experience was proof of the opportunities for young Indigenous people through rural training.
“I’ve been all over the countryside. It was an eye-opener to travel across Australia and meet new people,” he said.
“I’ve seen the industry from the back of the station to the export yard in Darwin, then on to Indonesia or wherever the cattle are going.”
After a career working across northern Australia in the cattle industry, Mr Townsend now works as a mining machinery operator at Weipa, using tractor skills developed at the Toombys’ farm.
Careers on country needed
Fred Pascoe is a director of the Morr Morr Pastoral Company, which owns the giant 400,000-hectare Delta Downs cattle station in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Mr Pascoe said that, when he was growing up in the north-west Queensland town of Normanton, the majority of its Indigenous population worked on properties.
“The cattle stations used to have a guy called Jacko Rayson who had the taxi service and he would deliver blokes out to the properties to work,” he said.
“If you wanted a job, there were heaps of jobs on cattle stations. Up this way, 80 per cent of fellas working on cattle stations were Indigenous.”
Mr Pascoe said the corporatisation of the cattle industry was one of the main reasons the number of Indigenous people on stations was declining.
“It killed that system we had where people were going back, year in and year out — grandfathers, fathers, sons — going back to that same cattle station.”