THERE'S irony in the fact indigenous pastoralists are putting newly-acquired biosecurity and drought resilience training to the test in the Kimberley.
With a focus on animal welfare and livestock handling in drier conditions, the training came just before the region was hit with record rainfall and flooding in the wake of ex-Tropical Cyclone Ellie.
And while the two weather events may feel like polar opposites, the skills learned through the Future Proofing Indigenous Stations drought resilience and biosecurity pilot program have proven invaluable in flood recovery.
The program was run in late 2022 by Broome-based charity Saltwater Country in partnership with the Australian Veterinary Association and Cattle Veterinary Association.
Nutrien Ag Solutions and Zoetis also provided vital inkind support, as did private veterinarians in the region and the Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal.
Saltwater Country founder and Yawuru/Bunuba woman Cara Peek said the training aimed to future-proof stations and the Kimberley region, with a focus on standard animal welfare and biosecurity checks, herd management, fertility rates, vaccination protocols and processes.
"Anybody who lives on the land understands how far away you are from most things in this country," Ms Peek said.
"It is not often that professional development opportunities arise, particularly on station and in real-time with the same cattle you work with everyday.
"Through this training, young Indigenous trainees and workers have refreshed current skills or learned new ones."
Ms Peek said participants were also able to build professional relationships in a cross-cultural way and gain confidence in career progression.
A third of WA's Kimberley is owned by indigenous landholders with a total of 18 properties.
Three of these cattle stations - Lamboo, Roebuck Plains and Myroodah stations - took part in the program, which tied into mustering schedules.
Ms Peek said these properties contributed hugely to the economic sustainability and independence of First Peoples.
She said about 65 people were involved, majority of which were young Indigenous, with a good gender balance.
One of the key takeaways from the training was, biosecurity measures not only in drought, but during and following a flood event.
"It is ironic that we had a flood, but it is the Kimberley right?," she said.
"The skills learned will help station workers with vaccination schedules, welfare checks, herd management, increased fertility rate and ultimately production.
"This will all be applicable in flood recovery and when it comes to rebuilding herds."
Australian Cattle Veterinarians President and cattle producer Tracy Sullivan said the pilot with Saltwater Country was crucial to sharing knowledge with those on the land, who face challenges often different to other pastoralists.
"Properties in the Kimberley face a unique series of challenges due to their sheer size, drought and floods and distinct dry and wet seasons," Dr Sullivan said.
"The Future Proofing Indigenous Stations drought resilience and biosecurity pilot was a strong collaboration between industry, private vets and government, bringing together a valuable skill set in the one place."
It's hoped the opportunities of the pilot can be expanded to cover all Indigenous owned stations in the region.
SALTWATER Country was born out of the red dirt and sweat that is synonymous with living and breathing the land in the Kimberley.
The charity is committed to using a strength-based approach to create a rite of passage for Aboriginal people to train, work and compete together showing the world what they can do.
"Saltwater Academy programs build on the legacy of strength and resilience of First Australians to create and affect positive change with cultural integrity, by showcasing black excellence and brilliance as a benchmark, especially among our young people," Ms Peek said.
"It is a female-led charity that is predominantly unfunded.
"To roll the Future Proofing Indigenous Stations drought resilience and biosecurity pilot program and other education programs out, we need the support of industry, philanthropy and government on top of the income we earn from our events."
More information: Go to saltwatercountry.com.au
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