Nestled within the pristine waters of the Northern Territory’s Gulf of Carpentaria, the Groote Eylandt Archipelago has been the home of the Anindilyakwa people for thousands of years. Representing this community is the Anindilyakwa Land Council (ALC), which protects, maintains, and promotes the interests of traditional owners.
The ALC, at the direction of traditional owners, undertakes community initiatives to develop a more diverse economy—which has been dependent on mining royalties for many years—and improve services for the Anindilyakwa people. It’s currently executing an inspiring plan to help the indigenous community reclaim control of their land and its assets, by building critical community infrastructure, businesses, and social services.
Connecting a remote community with limited infrastructure and digital services
Limited connectivity infrastructure throughout the archipelago impacted the Land Council’s ability to deliver services needed to support economic growth and deliver social programs.
The region has historically suffered from slow and unreliable internet access, making it difficult for businesses and communities to connect with each other. Dropouts were a regular occurrence, which would limit the community’s ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, like making phone calls and using ATMs.
“When I first came to ALC, all of its departments were connected via ADSL links running at 5mbps. We had a severe lack of infrastructure and it was overused and unreliable. It got to the point where sending an email from the archipelago to the Cairns office would take three days to get through. It just wasn’t able to support the traditional owners’ incredible vision for change.”
David Snowman, Technology Transformation Manager at ALC.
Before engaging with Telstra, ALC was also dependent on ageing, legacy server hardware and IT systems for application access and file storage. This made it difficult to preserve important cultural and language data, which is central to the ALC’s mission statement.
To resolve this challenge, ALC partnered with Telstra and Pinnacle IT to modernise its network and technology infrastructure, providing secure and reliable access to critical services for the entire community.
A widescale transformation to support a new era
ALC, together with GEMCO, initially engaged Telstra to upgrade a 540-kilometre backhaul fibre optic cable running from Katherine to Numbulawar on the Gulf of Carpentaria coast, which then ran under the sea to Groote. This upgrade was a gamechanger for ALC and the community, drastically improving internet speeds and coverage, whilst reducing mobile congestion.
During the progression of this project, ALC commissioned Telstra and partner Pinnacle IT to help build and execute a future-proof network transformation, delivered as a managed service. That involved transitioning the Land Council from ADSL services to a fibre feed Telstra SD-WAN solution to connect more than 20 remote locations, both within the archipelago and on the mainland.
This transformation included the delivery of some major internet infrastructure. Noting the absence of existing fibre and the high costs associated new fibre builds, Telstra and its partner network delivered a secure high-speed Microwave network to connect ALC offices and community support sites across the region.
Telstra and Pinnacle IT then layered a secure network over the top of the microwave solution. This network is fundamental for providing high-speed data and internet connections to support businesses, community support offices, and programs, whilst providing data storage for ALC.
Finally, Telstra and Pinnacle IT helped ALC transition its on-prem server and application footprint to Microsoft 365 and SharePoint. This work is currently being finalised, although it’s already had an enormous impact. It’s made ALC much more collaborative, whilst allowing them to preserve and store terabytes of critical cultural data, which is backed up securely on Microsoft’s Azure cloud.
“SharePoint has transformed our ability to collaborate,” David continues. “It’s very easy to share news and photos on the platform, which allows everyone to see what other departments are doing and the progress that’s being made. It’s breaking down silos between departments, allowing everyone to share and communicate on a daily basis.”
A sustainable economic future
Supported by faster, more reliable connectivity and a sophisticated digital toolset, ALC can now spend more time on initiatives that will help the Anindilyakwa people realise the economic potential of their lands and seas and build a sustainable and culturally rich future for their children and grandchildren.
The Land Council is helping the community set up multiple new traditional owner-led businesses, including a new mining facility on the archipelago’s Winchelsea island, a timber mill, solar farm, residential housing, a luxury boutique holiday hotel, a local boarding school, marine harbour and aquaculture facilities.
The Winchelsea mine is the first of these projects to kick-off, after high-grade manganese resources were discovered. This operation will be majority owned and operated by traditional owners, with profits helping to boost a future fund that will provide ongoing support to the Anindilyakwa community.
The timber mills will utilise felled timber from mining and other areas to build local housing, including a residential estate of quality new homes that will help attract and retain a local workforce comprising mining, healthcare and other local workers.
The new boarding school will teach local Anindilyakwa kids to walk in both worlds using a bilingual curriculum, and help them maintain a close connection to their culture.
Many of these initiatives and developments would have been extremely difficult without the supporting infrastructure. Telstra and Pinnacle IT are proud to have played a role in helping ALC execute the traditional owners’ vision, which will provide transformative outcomes for the Anindilyakwa community as they seek to reclaim control of their identity and future.