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Government doing something for Indigenous people not with them ...

By Sara Hudson - posted Tuesday, 29 June 2010

A tiny remote Aboriginal community near the Gulf of Carpentaria has demonstrated that you don’t need government subsidies to win the healthy food battle.

Mungoorbada Aboriginal Corporation owns the community store at Robinson River a community of about 250 residents almost a 1,000 kilometres southeast of Darwin.

In an effort to get more residents to eat healthy food, Mungoorbada, decided to drop the cost of freight from the price of produce and meat. Yet rather than putting a dent in their profits they were pleasantly surprised to find that their profits increased because more people were buying fruit and vegetables.


This example highlights a point made in many submissions to a government inquiry into remote stores - that when fruit and vegetables are of a good quality and reasonably priced, they quickly sell.

Contrary to popular opinion most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders know what foods are good for them, but problems with supply and affordability limit opportunities to consume fresh fruit and vegetables on a regular basis.

Expensive ad campaigns by government to get Indigenous people to eat more healthily are not only insulting to some remote residents but also of no use if fruit and vegetables are not available for them to buy.

A survey of Government Business Managers in remote communities in the Northern Territory found that 55 per cent of the surveyed communities did not have access to any fresh food for certain periods.

In an attempt to improve the availability and affordability of fresh fruit and vegetables in remote communities, the government established a company called Outback Stores in 2006.

Outback Stores manages stores on behalf of communities, which pay a fee for the service. Communities are encouraged to sign long-term (five years or more) management agreement with Outback Stores and to sign over control for the day to day management of stores.


Outback Stores has 27 stores in Indigenous communities across Australia and plans to expand the number of stores it manages to 90.

The rolling out of more Outback Stores will leave little room for other contractors and could make it less economically attractive for communities to run their own stores or to explore alternative methods of obtaining fresh fruit and vegetables, such as growing it themselves.

The large amounts of government funding that have gone into propping up Outback Stores means that they don’t face the same pressures that other community stores do.

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About the Author

Sara Hudson is the Manager of the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies and author of Awakening the 'Sleeping Giant': the hidden potential of Indigenous businesses.

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