At the northern point of the Wellesley Island Archipelago in the Gulf of Carpentaria, you will find the remote Island community of Gununa and the windswept offices of Mornington Shire Council.
The weathered exterior – an unlikely place to find a progressive and predominately indigenous staff body who were recently successful in gaining a scholarship to participate in the Local Government Managers of Australia Rural Challenge.
So formed a team comprising of council’s key indigenous leaders Claire Farrell, Jade Linden, John Grondman, Wendie Loogatha and Andrew Thompson – tutored along the way by Naseem Chetty.
Mornington Shire Council housing administrator Jade Linden says “many of our families have second and third generation employment with the Mornington Shire Council, so we felt privileged to represent an organisation at the forefront of local issues and instilling positive change.”
Well respected Kaiadilt woman Wendie Loogatha, unable to attend the event last minute, added “we have made this place (Mornington Shire) our home for many generations and we are proud of our culture, environment, community and council”.
With a vision to challenge their knowledge and build self-esteem, the deadly team (dubbed the Wellesley man-o’-wars named after a native bird that lives on nearby Manowar Island and always returns home), journeyed over 600kms (4 plane landings) to compete in regional challenge at Innisfail.
Mornington Shire Council’s executive director of infrastructure Andrew Thompson said “there are few opportunities to fly far from the nest and represent the region, so the scholarship presented a golden opportunity to associate with people from the mainland”.
“There was obviously some trepidation felt within our team, but as the most inaccessible region in Australia, our crew embarked upon this 9-hour journey to represent our peoples from five major clan groups: Lardil Yangaal Kaiadilt Waanyi and Gungilidda,” says Mr Thompson.
Administration manager Claire Farrell said the experience has given her refreshed insight into management despite her thirty years experience in local government.
Jack-of-all trades and workshop manager John Grondman (four trade qualifications to date) was obviously up for the challenge – “it is a great test of character to step outside barriers… you can achieve much if you just let yourself”.
Mornington Shire Mayor Brad Wilson appointed the team as ambassadors: to gain knowledge from the experience and pass on accomplishments with others in the remote community. “The team exceeded expectations, and together with the Councillors, I highly commend them for their efforts.
“I encourage fellow Indigenous communities to follow our lead and embark on such challenges…spread your wings like the Wellesley man-o-wars and step out of your comfort zones,” says Cr Wilson.