Cultural exchange is a win for tourists and locals

Tracey and Travis Harbour founded Jibija Ung-Gwee to offer a distinct Aboriginal cultural experience and create job opportunities for First Nations people in Winton’s outback tourism. They recently discussed their journey with Small Business Commissioner, Dominique Lamb.

Travis and Tracey: “We founded Jibija Ung-Gwee to address a significant gap in Winton’s outback tourism market. What’s conspicuously absent in the tourism landscape here and throughout the outback is visibility of the First Nations story or the presence of Aboriginal people in meaningful employment within the industry, directly engaging with customers.

“Our goal is to establish a sustainable outback enterprise that offers a distinctive cultural experience to tourists eager to connect with Aboriginal individuals, learn about our history and culture through the shared experiences of our families living and working in the outback.”

They recently discussed their journey with Small Business Commissioner, Dominique Lamb as part of Indigenous Small Business Month 2023.

Here is a recording of the interview.

Laying the foundation for success

“We chose a for-profit structure and invested substantial time and resources in establishing a proprietary limited company. Unfortunately, this structure can be a major hindrance when applying for government grants. We aim to convey to all levels of government the substantial disadvantage this poses.

“Having accumulated over three decades of experience working with Aboriginal organisations, government agencies, and actively participating in community affairs, we’ve seen firsthand the limitations of being a not-for-profit (NFP) entity. NFPs can face government constraints, internal limitations, group conflicts, endangering the organisation when priorities change, or when board members are replaced.

“NFPs often rely on constant funding and may not incentivise hard work due to the lack of direct rewards. This can impact our communities negatively. The difference between NFPs and businesses is significant. NFPs operate under distinct systems, objectives, reporting requirements, fees, and can access tax concessions and grants not available to for-profit enterprises. They shouldn’t be viewed as benchmarks for successful business models or examples for companies to follow.

“We’re deeply connected to a sizable network of the Aboriginal community and family members who are struggling to find employment, which motivates us to create a sustainable enterprise providing short-term mentoring and employment opportunities for our mob. “When our mob work with us, we want to recognise their achievements, knowledge, and expertise, with certificates or similar forms of recognition for the valuable skills they possess and will acquire. We believe in celebrating, rewarding, and renumerating, the pride our Mob take in their work, the knowledge they share, and the depth of our cultural expertise. After all, would an electrician wire up your house for free?”

Navigating the challenges of starting a small business

“Establishing a small business involves numerous steps, and until you go through the process, it’s difficult to anticipate the intricacies. You must navigate and master various aspects, such as copyright registration and more. It truly requires a diverse skill set and adaptability.

“Our dream has spanned 25 years, and now that our children have completed high school, we’re fully dedicating ourselves to it. We invested in land around 12 years ago, and for the last two years, I(Travis) have been exclusively devoted to the business. Like other new businesses, we have had to stretch ourselves to cover all aspects of the day to day running, to finance and compliance and building construction, while continuing to pour our resources into it, although we are not yet reaping returns.

“Being able to keep your head above water is the hardest part as you are setting up a new business, all the while creating and developing your space in the commercial market.

“In the meantime, we’ve been engaged in advisory and consulting work, and Tracey continues to work full-time, providing us with a reliable income stream.

“It can be disheartening to witness grants and concessions primarily benefitting NFPs based in rural areas. The challenge lies in competing for funding when you’re not categorised as such. What would be possible if other enterprises could access the limited pool of funding from local, state, and federal governments?

“Additional financial burdens emerge including insurance, GST payments every three months, income tax, and business activity statements (BAS). If you haven’t set money aside for these obligations, how do you manage them?”

The next 6 months for our business

“We take immense pride in having recently conducted camps for school groups from Nudgee College. These camps provide a safe space for students to ask questions without fear of judgment or prejudice. Many of these students have expressed that they’ve had little to no exposure to Aboriginal people.

“While there’s been substantial interest from schools, our remote location adds to the costs. The camps are conducted on-site at our campground, including off site locations and usually span up to six days.

“Longer camps can cover approximately 1500km, beginning in Brisbane and journeying to our country in Winton. After a day of relaxation, we take the students by bus to Palm Island, where they engage with local elders, pay for their time, and support the island’s small businesses.

“Here, students learn from Aboriginal people about the forced removal of Aboriginal people (the Stolen Generations) and the trauma inflicted on individuals, families, children, and babies who were separated from their mothers, their families and their country and taken to foreign far-off places like Palm Island.
“The return journey to Winton via Hughenden includes stops to view Aboriginal art and rock drawings, during which we elucidate the history of massacres. These students come from diverse backgrounds, and the impact of this experience on them is profound.”

Art gallery and museum

“We have ambitious plans to complete our museum and gallery by June 30, 2024. Although we haven’t yet broken ground, we’ve already invested $25,000 in architects, drawings, soil testing, DA and planning approval costs.

“The Winton region boasts attractions like the Age of Dinosaurs, the Waltzing Matilda Museum, the home of Qantas, the opal industry, and the Stockman Hall of Fame, but it lacks a dedicated space to convey our history. Our museum and gallery will convey the true history of our people and illuminate what life was like under the Aborigines Protection Act of 1909 and shed light on issues like the stolen wages, issues many people are totally oblivious to.

“We possess a treasure trove of documents and elder testimonials about life under the Act which controlled all aspect of their lives, and this continued to the end of the 1960’s, not that long ago. The effects of these derogatory and discriminatory Act’s and legislations, has and continues to have ongoing ramifications. Furthermore, we have plans to demonstrate how tools, food, and medicine were created in traditional Aboriginal ways.

“Our family, like many, includes individuals who served in WW1 and WW2, and while these historical events are widely acknowledged, and commemorated, sadly our history is often met with indifference and omission. We are committed to ensuring our story is told.

“Additionally, we craft and sell bespoke Aboriginal artwork and jewellery created from natural materials found on our property, that are currently available through our online shop. However, it’s challenging to compete in a crowded online market. Our long-term vision involves displaying these items in our museum and gallery, increasing the likelihood of sales.

“Reflecting on a recent grant opportunity, it’s essential to recognise the barriers faced by outback businesses. Grants with substantial value but requiring a 50% co-contribution make them inaccessible to many new and emerging businesses, and other established and previously well-funded business continue to get the support and grow bigger and bigger. Investment in small and emerging businesses is paramount, especially in the outback towns and to continue our regions ongoing development and viability.”

In conclusion

“If we can attract couples or groups to stay in the area for an extra three or four hours, it can extend their stay in Winton by an additional night, benefiting other local establishments such as the motel, pub, shops, and caravan parks.

“When we employ a mother with two children, it can lead to the local school hiring an additional teacher. Children often visit local shops for drinks and snacks, leading shopkeepers to hire more staff. While larger businesses in Brisbane or Townsville may underestimate these impacts, they are immensely significant in a small community like ours.

“Over the years, our region has transitioned from the labour-intensive sheep industry, large railway workforce, to the lesser labour-intensive cattle industry, and is now transitioning to a tourism hub. However, for small enterprises like ours, accessing funding, grants, concessions, or subsidies is crucial to gaining a foothold in this dynamic landscape and to be successfully compete against more established and provisionally funded businesses.”

About Indigenous Business Month (IBM)

    • Indigenous Business Month (IBM) is a nationwide campaign held from 1 – 31 October.
    • The campaign encourages Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses to share and celebrate their people’s contribution and inspire the next generation while also increasing demand for First Nations goods and services.
    • You can support an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander-owned business using Queensland’s Black Business Finder and through Supply Nation – a database of verified Indigenous businesses in Australia.