Remote Indigenous communities slammed by two cyclones are nervous that rebuilding jobs to repair their communities will be taken by fly-in-fly-out white people.


Residents of Galiwinku and Yirrkala in north-east Arnhem Land said they were eager to work with the mainstream community to develop skills and rebuild.

“I need to put my people to this job and push my people to work with these whitefellas,” Galiwinku resident Timmy Ganambarr told AAP.

“People need help to get up and walk with you mob together, climb this big hill together.”

Yirrkala resident Djuwalpi Marika said he wanted to build pride in the community’s economic sustainability.

“We are a passenger, we want to be a driver,” he said.

“We have so much land, we could be rich in our minerals and land, but when you look, we are in poverty, third world country.”

He said he didn’t want Centrelink handouts, but to work with government.

Minister for Indigenous Affairs Nigel Scullion has been visiting the communities this week, and he agreed.

“There is, like me, a bit of cynicism and a bit of nervousness about what has always happened in the past – that white people with nail bags and hammers get off planes, do the work and disappear,” he said from Yirrkala on Friday.

“I’m here to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

He said that while building a new home took time and training, there was plenty of refurbishment work that could be mostly undertaken by locals.

“(It’s about) ensuring those people in community are front and centre; it should only be when we completely can’t find someone that we look for assistance for the job.”

While Galiwinku had suffered far greater damage from the two storms earlier this year and needed the emergency funds that have been directed there, environmental damage from both cyclones is still evident around indigenous communities near Nhulunbuy.

“We’re scared down here that one day a bigger cyclone is going to wipe us out,” renowned Yirrkala artist Banduk Marika said.

“Environmental thinkers have got to say, ‘what are we going to do to save the beach down there and the community down there?”

At Ski Beach community, three boats remain dumped on the rocky sand by Cyclone Nathan, and uprooted trees still dot the streets and block footpaths.

Mr Scullion said he had spoken to the local Gumatj Aboriginal Corporation on Friday about plans to collect the fallen trees and recycle them as lumber and timber, which he applauded as innovative.

“I’ve been really heartened by the work that’s been done,” he said.