Homelands business cruising along

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Ban’thula homeland at the top of Elcho Island is not a place you would expect to visit on a cruise ship route, but that may not be the case for long.

An idea coming from a bush workshop with local homeland organisation Ban’thay has opened up tourism opportunities to one of the most pristine places in the Top End, affording tourists a unique view of Australia far removed from the well-worn tourism routes of Sydney, the Gold Coast and the Red Centre.

Tony Buntha from Ban’thay approached Nikki Kokles to talk about ways to attract young people back to homelands from towns like Galiwin’ku where they often move to, looking for something to do. Identifying economic opportunities is one of the strongest draw cards for young people to return to their homelands. Nikki worked with the Department of the Chief Minister to identify a cruise boat company that was looking for somewhere off the beaten track to take its clients and negotiated a pilot tourism program.

As a fledgling micro-business with no experience with economic development or tourism, it was a big undertaking for Ban’thay, but they were keen to try anything that would attract young people back and provide job opportunities.

Nikki worked with them to develop a plan to conduct a tour of their homelands. In May a cruise came as a ‘test run’ before a second cruise ship arrived on 8 October – a trip which was a resounding success for all involved.

Tony and his family hosted a cultural tour for the cruise boat ‘Silver Sea’. Guests landed on the beach in inflatable boats to be greeted by Yolgnu children, followed by dancing and storytelling. The homeland residents held workshops on spear making, weaving, painting and cooking and conducted a tour of their homeland. The men went hunting the day before to bag a roo and women gathered pippis as part of the bush tucker feast offered up to the cruisers.

Nikki observed “cruise goers were thrilled that they were able to try a bit of skippy cooked over the fire, and experience spear making and an authentic cultural experience.”

Toby Biddick, Manager of the Shore Excursions and Land program for luxury travel company Ambercrombie and Kent, came from Melbourne to observe the tour with an outlook of bringing more cruise ships to the homeland next year. He was suitably impressed with the effort the organisation went to, to pull the day together and put on a good show.

The homeland was so happy with the experience that they’re talking to the cruise boat company about four or five visits during the next dry.

“It’s a real whole of government outcome right from the word engagement to having an end product” said Nikki.

Tony hopes that other families will follow in their footsteps, exploring economic development opportunities on country.

Guests enjoyed watching the dancing and storytelling
Guests enjoyed watching the dancing and storytelling.

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