Tackling the big issues

Some of the board members holding a vial of biodiesel

Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation (ICN 3615)

In 2000 a group of Aboriginal leaders from the Pilbara region in WA got together to establish the Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation (AAC). Since then AAC has grown from a staff of four to over 50 under the leadership of a fully engaged board and CEO dedicated to building partnerships, sustainable enterprises and a ‘humble and accountable’ organisation.

With headquarters in Tom Price the organisation’s activities are aimed at increasing employment and economic opportunity through engagement, education and training, mentoring, workplace experience and community development projects. AAC operates six Job Services Australia (JSA) employment offices and also has the contract for delivering Community Development Employment Program (CDEP) services in the Pilbara region. CDEP officers and mentors are based in seven communities.

CDEP Jigalong working on the new women’s centre

The theme of autonomy flows strongly in AAC’s strategic approach. In the words of the current chairperson, Doreen James, ‘AAC is for everyone across the Pilbara. We keep on achieving our goals and we’re doing what we set out to do.’

To diversify funding sources and provide sites for training and work experience, AAC has four enterprises:

ASHBAC Pty Ltd operating as Onslow Tyre Service.

Pilbara Training Services Pty Ltd (PTS) a registered training organisation.

Ashmulla Pastoral Company Pty Ltd operating as Peedamulla station (a working cattle station and soon to be training facility).

Ashoil Pty Ltd for waste oil management, biodiesel production and field tests for biofuels.

From little things big things grow

AAC’s vision is broad but its feet are planted firmly in the Pilbara soil. The board has a deep concern for the environment and began biodiesel production in 2006. In July 2010 the AAC subsidiary ASHOIL Pty Ltd was formed to convert waste oil from the mines into biodiesel for resale.

AAC chairperson, Doreen James, blasting at Tom Price mine

Doreen James, the chairperson feels that the production of biodiesel makes sense because, quite simply, it is easy to produce and cheaper than petroleum diesel. On top of that it ticks the green box as it is non-toxic and environmentally friendly. It also saves AAC fuel costs. ‘We started this organisation because we wanted to stand on our own two feet while making a difference.’

ASHOIL collects used cooking oil from Pilbara mine sites, converts it to biodiesel and supplies fuel for Rio Tinto’s drill and blast operations. ASHOIL produces about 10,000 litres of biodiesel weekly. A supply agreement guarantees a ready market. Biodiesel production provides income and employment, protects the environment, and has decreased AACs reliance on mineral diesel.

AAC is also pursuing broader bio-fuel solutions in the Pilbara. A four-acre Moringa trial has been underway at Tom Price for two years. Moringa is a multipurpose tree that grows quickly in different environments. Under optimum conditions the four-acre plot can yield up to 800 litres of Moringa oil for biodiesel production.

AAC has also received state government funding to support Moringa plantation development at a number of sites. The plantations will rely on solar-powered drip irrigation. When plantations are mature Ashoil plans to buy harvested seed pods from the community. The project also assists with establishment of vegetable gardens and native plant propagation for mine site regeneration as part of AACs overall aim of walking side by side with the people of the Pilbara to build communities.

Planting Moringa

A bigger and brighter future

Janet Brown, CEO, firmly believes that a good corporate structure and developing solid relationships and ways of operating account for the corporation’s success. ‘We’ve been developing strategic relationships that benefit all parties. Our aim is to build an organisation that doesn’t have to rely on government funding. But this is not an aim in itself; we’re doing all of this so that we can help people to rebuild their lives, walk side-by-side and build up resilience.’

AAC is all about working together with the local community to find solutions that are workable for now and into the future.

‘I always tell our staff the work isn’t about us—it’s about the people. Our staff work hard to establish trust and relationships because without that you can do nothing.’


The AAC Board has 10 Aboriginal directors and two independent non-voting advisers. The AAC was registered under the Corporations (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander) Act 2006 in July 2000

For more information, see the AAC website at www.ashburton.net.au

Main: Some of the board members holding a vial of biodiesel
Top: CDEP Jigalong working on the new women’s centre
Middle: AAC chairperson, Doreen James, blasting at Tom Price mine
Bottom: Planting Moringa
Photos: All photos courtesy of Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation