Coonabarabran: many mobs, one community

One of the joint CEOs of the Coonabarabran Local Aboriginal Land Council (LALC) used to be a bank manager and its Chairperson is a successful business owner in the region.

It is only natural then, that building a strong economic future has been high on the LALC’s priority list.

Three years ago, the LALC moved into the main street of Coonabarabran and quickly cemented its place.

“When we first moved to town we rented a small office and later on found out that the whole building was going up for sale,” says joint CEO Sherrin Whale. “We had been very cautious with our money and paid off all our debts. We actually had some savings and we thought it was a viable business to purchase that building and become a landlord.”

After shopping around commercial lenders, the LALC secured a loan and purchased the large building in town, part of which they now rent to government agencies and local business. It wasn’t an easy path but one the LALC, its CEOs and Board were committed to.

“Dealing with commercial lenders was a real struggle and it took many hours and days of the CEOs and the Board really going above and beyond. But the economic development within Coonabarabran and what we left for the future generations was also important. We just didn’t let go,” Sherrin says.

The LALC executive say this significant step was driven by the vision of their Community Land and Business Plan and had the broader community in mind.

“The significant step of purchasing our building has actually led to some other positive outcomes. We’ve now become a Centrelink agency and we’re providing some more part time and full time employment in administering those services,” Sherrin says. “So, it really is the start of something bigger and better and something we hope will increase in generations to come.”

A series of successful land claims has also supported the vision of the Coonabarabran LALC. “The last few years we’ve had a couple of successful land claims, one of particular cultural significance and another close to the centre of town,” Sherrin says. “These may also assist with further economic development. For instance, we have lodged a land claim over the old police house and if successful it would make a wonderful cultural centre.”

The LALC hopes its financial success will mean that it is able to give back to the community in the immediate term.

It already hosts a range of community events open to all Indigenous and non Indigenous residents, like Lingo Bingo, a social event aimed at preserving and sharing language and an annual Sorry Day March, but they are also hoping to use some of their revenue to create a Community Benefits Scheme.

Local business owner and Chairperson Kodi Brady, says the aim for the scheme is that it will financially support important activities within the community such as wakes.

“Wakes at funerals are a big part of our culture and not all of the mob have the money to support their family in a time of need,” he says. “It’s important that we show people that we do care and that they can come to the LALC and we can help them with many different things.”

Kodi says it’s important to not only set a good business example, but also promote the diverse ways a LALC can support a local community.

“That’s one of the reasons why I want to build our membership so that we can help more people with the revenue coming in,” he says. “I’d encourage people to connect with us and we’ll start to build a relationship. You’ll know what we can provide to you and the mob because we are here to help- to help our own people.”