Sarah Vella, People and Culture Manager at BAI recently had the pleasure of joining the Jawun 2023 West Kimberley Executive Visit. Jawun, meaning friend or family, is an organisation that aims to bring corporate, government and Aboriginal organisations together through partnerships and secondments. She wanted to share her experience with you as she reflects on her time in the region on Yawuru and Bunuba country.



Day one commenced with a visit to Nagula Jarndu Art Centre, hosted by Chairperson Lynette Yu-Mackay, Manager Eunice Yu, Coordinator Sheree Ford, as well as local artist Maxine Charlie.

After a quick chat with Maxine, Sarah learned that she was the mother of dancer Lillian Banks, who Sarah had seen in an open rehearsal at Bangarra Dance Theatre (of whom BAI are a major partner and supporter) just weeks prior. Maxine led them through her artistic process, and a class in block printing.

The day concluded with a beautiful Kimberley sunset highlighting the scorched earth escarpments behind their dinner setting on the beach. As the sun set, Senior Cultural Consultant Di Appleby welcomed them onto Yawuru country to begin their journey. Everyone sat down for a delicious meal, with traditional foods. Later they moved around the campfire to get to know each other better and discuss the coming days – the perfect introduction to the West Kimberley.

Economic prosperity and Empowered Communities

Economic prosperity was an ongoing theme on the second day. The group commenced with Anthony Watson, Chairman of the Kimberley Land Council (KLC) and his colleagues Tyronne Garstone and Sarah Parriman, who gave context for the native title process and successes in their carbon and ranger program units and future plans around renewable energy. A clear challenge for the KLC is the amount of energy exerted in determining traditional lands and how this affects economic and community development progress.

The Jawun group heard from organisations like KRED Enterprises and its CEO Damien Parriman, who spoke about the work they are doing within the Kimberley juvenile justice space, which has been a major challenge in the region. Damien also spoke of other opportunities that exist within the region and how KRED supports traditional owners in realising these opportunities. This discussion was followed by Aarnja Director Marty Sibosado who spoke of his broader leadership role in the region and how the organisation is leading change from passive welfare to Aboriginal empowerment.

The final presentation for the morning was from Empowered Communities (EC) West’s Mala Haji-Ali who discussed the important work that EC does in influencing government decisions impacting Aboriginal people in each of the EC regions.

They then moved to Kimberley Aboriginal Medical Service (KAMS) and heard from CEO Vickie O’Donnell and Jenny Bedford about their strategy to support all Aboriginal people to access the most appropriate and quality health service. Being so remote, Aboriginal people do not always have the best access to health care and KAMS is trying to address this gap.

After that, they visited the beautiful turquoise waters of Roebuck Bay at Town Beach, taking a stroll along the new jetty where Sea Turtles were passing underneath as they reflected on the presentations. The jetty they walked across was embellished with artwork created by Maxine who they met the previous day.

One of the highlights was a visit to Magabala Books, where Chairperson Tony Lee and CEO Anna Moulton spoke of the success of the publishing house and how they celebrate and nurture existing, new and emerging talent through their publications.

Wanggajarli Burugun (We are coming home)

A very sombre and special moment for the group was the Wanggajarli Burugun (We are coming home) launch event at the Liyan-ngan Nyirrwa Centre. They were privileged to be invited in to the “untold stories of pearl divers brought against their will, some as bodies and some as bones, to Germany and repatriated back home to their final resting place”. It was difficult to hear and read the stories but they show the power of truth telling and the opportunities this provide to learn and heal together from a painful past. The group left this event in deep admiration of the strength and resilience of Yawuru people past and present.

The day concluded with a dinner, where Kimberley Language Resource Centre’s Pepita Wilson was the MC for the evening. At dinner, they heard from Empowered Young Leaders Aaila Cox-Tanaka and Quenton Turner about their journey and resilience when faced with peer pressure and how they are helping to shape leaders for ‘young mob’ in the Kimberley.

Fitzroy Crossing

As day three dawned, local man Bart Pigram joined them for breakfast and told them about Narlijia, meaning “true for you”, and the history of Broome from a Yawuru perspective and followed by a tour of sacred sites in the area.

After this they set off for Fitzroy Crossing – Bunuba country – to meet the wonderful Emily Carter and the team at Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre. Here they heard about the work the team are doing to provide women and their families in the valley a place for positive change and leadership.

It was about 12 months ago when Sarah first took an interest in Fitzroy Crossing after a conversation with BAI’s Ken Dreibergs who had told her about a radio station running programs in language across the Fitzroy Valley. When she learned that Wangki Radio was right next door, Sarah took the opportunity to jump the fence to meet face to face with Ian James, the station manager, to discuss ways in which BAI could assist Wangki as they continue to recover from COVID and major flooding.

Arriving back in Broome the group prepared for camping under the stars at Gumaranganyjal (Roebuck Plains Station) where they heard from the Nyamba Buru Yawuru (NBY) CEO Nini Mills and her executive team and learnt about the work their Land & Sea Unit are doing with the development of their cultural Liyan framework.

Following a delicious cattle station meal, everyone gathered around the fire where Jawun CEO Shane Webster hosted a discussion with Kimberley leaders on the Voice. The group was able to hear from a number of leaders on what the Voice would mean for First Nations’ people and the role that corporate Australia can play in supporting. Conversations around the campfire continued for a few more hours.



Day four arrived way too soon and their time together was drawing to a close. While spending time in West Kimberley, Sarah learned a lot of new words. One of her favourite new words is Liyan, which is like wellbeing, and that really resonated with her.

Senator Pat Dodson explains it best, “Liyan embodies the interconnectedness between a person’s sense of self, the wider community and the natural landscape. Yawuru people’s connection to country and joy of celebrating culture and society is fundamental to having mabu liyan, good liyan. When we respect country and look after it, we have a good feeling about ourselves as people and our place in the world, and this is reflected in the nature of our relationships and encounters with other human beings”.

This visit to West Kimberley was a significant step for BAI in getting to know Jawun and their projects.

Sarah is proud to lead BAI’s DEI strategy and the progress that has been made so far in deepening the connection and engagement with First Nations communities and organisations and she looks forward to building on this work in the future.