Complexities in developing Australian Aboriginal enterprises based on natural resources

Julian T. Gorman, Melissa Bentivoglio, Chris Brady, Penelope Wurm, Sivaram Vemuri, Yasmina Sultanbawa

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Across the world’s rangelands, livelihoods of millions of people are dependent on customary and commercial use of wildlife. Many Australian Aboriginal communities also aspire towards developing natural resource-based enterprises but there is a unique combination of historical, legislative and cultural factors that make this process complex. Typically, government support for Indigenous enterprise development has focussed largely on development of ‘social enterprise’, with subsidies coming from various government community development programs. This has resulted in some increase in participation and employment, but often inadequate attention to economic aspects of enterprise development leading to low levels of business success. This paper will examine historical, legislative and institutional dimensions in business development in Aboriginal communities. It does this through a case study of business enterprise development of the Kakadu Plum products by the Indigenous people of the Thamarrurr Region of the Northern Territory, Australia, using a participant observation research method. We found that attention on important economic criteria was subsumed by a focus on social enterprise priorities during the development of this natural resource-based enterprise. This resulted in a very slow transition of the ‘social enterprise’ to the ‘financial enterprise’, due largely to fragmented business decisions and inefficient value chains. We call for a refocus of natural resource-based enterprise development programs in remote
Australian Aboriginal townships to incorporate greater emphasis on business acumen within the complex social, cultural and political fabric.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)113-128
Number of pages16
JournalThe Rangeland Journal
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2020


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