Aboriginal oyster farm pearl in the making
Aboriginal elder Bunug Galaminda says his dream is that oysters from a farm owned and operated by Warruwi community members in the Northern Territory will one day be eaten in big city restaurants around Australia.
The indigenous-owned farm is up and running with about 90,000 sought-after black lip oyster spats currently being grown in cages on tidal longlines in the sea at South Goulburn Island, off the Arnhem Land Coast.
That is small by commercial standards and it will be at least another year or two before they are big enough and the business established to start selling the oysters.
The farm was the idea of Warruwi elders nearly a decade ago who wanted to provide jobs so that their young people are not sitting around idle or having to go to the mainland for work.
The Northern Territory government has provided baby oyster spats hatched at the Darwin Aquaculture Centre while fisheries staff from Primary Industry and Resources are helping set up the fledgling farm.
"I want a sign (in a restaurant) saying these oysters come from the pristine waters off South Goulburn Island," Mr Galaminda, who is chairman of the local Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation, told AAP.
"This means employment, training and money coming into this community.
"We can do whatever we like with the money and spend it carefully on training and employment for our young people to go anywhere and further their education."
There are Warruwi youngsters currently on scholarships at elite Melbourne private school St Leonards College and others boarding at Darwin private schools, with education the main priority for the future, Mr Galaminda said.
The problem is what to do when they finish and want to come back to island life.
Warruwi people know oysters and in the 1960s, used to collect them around the island and Arnhem coast and sell them to a Darwin business, said local Jenny Manmurulu.
"They used to make really good money out of it and I am really proud of the oyster farm and what the boys have been doing, training with the fisheries guys," she told AAP.
The young male workers were so committed they were getting up in the middle of the night, depending on tidal movements, to clean and check the oyster baskets, Mr Galaminda said.
The Territory's Primary Industry and Resources Assistant Minister Jeff Collins said the main outcome of the project would be economic independence and employment for members of the Aboriginal community on the island.
A less-advanced oyster farm trial is also taking place in the Tiwi Islands and there was scope for the government to team up on more aquacultural projects that provide long-term stable employment and income, he said.
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