UPDATE Tuesday, 8.30am: The nation’s biggest cattle producer is moving to strike a deal with the Aboriginal-owned Bunuba Cattle Company to run cattle stations across 728,000 ha of the Kimberley - the first time in history the Queensland-based company will have operations based in WA.
Australian Agricultural Company has signed a heads of agreement with the Bunuba people to manage and market cattle on their pastoral leases, including Leopold and Fairfield Stations near Fitzroy Crossing.
A formal deal is expected to be signed within three months. One of Australia’s oldest companies founded in 1824, AAco manages 18 cattle stations and two major feedlots around Australia, processing more than 600,000 cattle a year.
The deal would give AAco management control over the stations’ 16,000 head of cattle, with the potential to double it in size. The company, which exports cattle to Asia, America and the Middle East, would procure and market the animals.
In return, Bunuba people would receive annual rent under a sub-lease arrangement and part of the profit from the operations.
The companies would work together to establish “micro businesses” to service the stations and create jobs for Aboriginal people in operations, fencing, mustering, rangelands monitoring and weed eradication.
Traditional owners would still have access to their land for cultural and educational reasons.
AAco managing director David Farley said the heads of agreement was a “significant move” which involved working with traditional owners for mutual benefit.
“AAco intends to work with the local community to enhance existing training and development programs focused on real jobs,” he said.
Bunuba Cattle Company communications manager Joe Ross said like many northern pastoralists, Bunuba people were struggling in the aftermath of the live export ban.
“The only way we can survive and not wither on the vine is basically to align ourselves with secure supply chain management,” he said.
“We’ve decided to enter into discussions with AAco to see if we can come to an agreement … we need to diversify and we think it could be feasible to continue to sell cattle to Malaysia and
Indonesia but also supply the future abattoir in Darwin.”
Mr Ross said there would be plenty of training and employment opportunities for Aboriginal people, with the creation of about 50 full-time jobs.
The agreement, still being negotiated, would stabilise the cattle operation as well as assist the social and economic wellbeing of the community, he said.
Bunuba Cattle Company chairwoman June Oscar said she envisaged the affiliation would be the foundation of sustainable economic development for Aboriginal owned pastoral operations in the Kimberley.
The Pastoralists and Graziers Association spokesman Sheldon Mumby said the potential deal was a “tremendous opportunity” for the WA cattle industry.
"The investment is a strong indication of the strength of the WA cattle industry, especially live export," he said.
"It is great to see the largest cattle company set up business in the largest exporting state in Australia."