Koongarra cultural tourism: creating experiences and opportunities in Kakadu National Park

Meet Difference Maker James Morgan and cultural tourism entrepreneur. James was a participant of our most recent Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) Accelerator Program.

James Morgan, Entrepreneur

“I feel privileged to have an education, but I had to move away. I want to create more opportunities in Kakadu, so that culture isn’t neglected in exchange for life’s new age demands.”

At 22 years old, Bininj man James Morgan has entered the entrepreneurial world. James has set out to build a for-purpose tourism business that serves community and customers, in partnership with his uncle and Koongarra traditional owner, Jeffrey Lee.

Initially, Kurrih (meaning Blue Tongue Lizard) will offer exclusive experiences including glamping (glamorous camping) and private group tours to see a different side to Kakadu, led by local Aboriginal people, who have an unmatched depth of knowledge of the park.

“I hope that our experiences show that Indigenous culture is different all around the country.  Different clans, belief systems, social structures, and ceremonies,” James said.

Eventually, James hopes that Kurrih will grow to offer a range of experiences, including multi-day hiking tours, night photography tours and conservation adventures.

The vision for this social enterprise has been inspired in part by James’s own journey and in part his uncle’s story.  James grew up away from country where he is thankful for the education and work experience he received, but it has also come with sacrifices.

“While my mum, brother and I would visit Kakadu every year to spend time getting to know family and country, I still feel like a foreigner sometimes because I never grew up there and have so much more to learn about my culture, ” James said.

James believes you should not have to move off country to be able to get a good education or job.

His uncle, Jeffrey Lee, is a traditional owner of Koongarra who stopped the mining of its Uranium deposit worth 5 billion dollars at the time. This does not mean the land can’t be a viable asset that provides for community in other ways.

“We will ensure that we continue to sustainability live off the land, just as we have for thousands of years, just in new way.” Lee said.

James is inspired by what Worimi Local Aboriginal Land Council (WLALC) has been able to achieve.

They are committed to improving, protecting and fostering the best interests of its members and all Aboriginal persons within the Council’s area and have built many successful business endeavours on their land, including Murrook business hub and cultural workshops, which generate funds to provide for community.

James hopes that he and his uncle can build something similar at Kakadu and use the funds generated through the tourism business to improve current educational facilities and build more of them.

James sees the business partnership as two-way, in which he brings organisational and strategy skills from his government experience, while his uncle brings deep cultural knowledge and history.

“It’s a two-way street, they know things that I don’t, and I hope that I can contribute something to the equation,” said James.

To help develop the for-purpose business model, James was a participant in Indigenous Business Australia’s Accelerate with IBA program, which exists to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs to build and run their social enterprises.

Through the program, delivered by The Difference Incubator, James, alongside six other Indigenous businesses, explored the value proposition and potential revenue streams for the business, while also developing an impact model that ensures measurable, meaningful social return to community.

James’s vision for the future of the Kakadu tourism industry is beyond his business.  He wants an industry of businesses wholly (or at least majority) owned and operated by Aboriginal people. He wants to see businesses where Aboriginal people are in the top roles, where employees feel valued, and that Bininj kids grow up wanting to work for.

“Kids in Kakadu want to become park rangers, because they can see other Bininj they looked up to in those jobs, but those positions are limited. Hopefully we can get more young Bininj wanting to work in tourism because that’s where the most opportunities are,” said James.

Indigenous Business Australia is the leading support agency for Indigenous businesses. Their program, Accelerate with IBA, runs twice a year accepting up to 12 businesses at a time. TDi proudly partners with IBA to deliver this program. The next program will start in late 2020.  If you, or someone you know is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander entrepreneur who would like to participate, please email acceleratewithiba@iba.gov.au

 

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