Date posted: 23/10/2019 8 min read

Indigenous oysters for a sustainable future

Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation shares a common purpose with its accountants: to build a sustainable economy for the Warruwi.

In Brief

  • Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation is developing projects, including a commercial oyster farm, on the NT’s Goulburn Islands to provide new income streams for the community there.
  • Darwin chartered accounting firm Merit Partners started working with Yagbani about three years ago.
  • They shared a goal to develop a sustainable future for the Goulburn Islands community.

Supplied by Merit Partners

At low tide on South Goulburn Island, a large man-made circular rock wall becomes visible as the ocean slowly subsides, revealing one of northern Australia’s earliest endeavours of aquaculture and sea farming.

This large, mostly undersea rock structure is said to have been built in the 1700s by the early Makassan trepangers from the Indonesian islands, who caught and harvested the wild trepang [sea cucumbers] each year and traded with the local Warruwi people.

Located an hour’s flight east of Darwin, the Goulburn Islands are a clutch of islands and sandy islets in the Arafura Sea off the northern coast of Arnhem Land. South Goulburn is the largest and home to traditional custodians the Warruwi people.

The Goulburn Islands are surrounded by pristine ocean and enjoy rich, fertile soil and a tropical climate perfect for growing a variety of fruits and vegetables.

“It’s long been a place where people were able to live and thrive,” says Yagbani Aboriginal Corporation chief executive Steve Westley, who has spent 30 years living and working in Arnhem Land, and the past three living on South Goulburn with his wife, Brenda, and son, Brando.

Brando, 16, is one of the island residents who work with Warruwi man Maurice Gawayakgu to manage the community’s black-lip oyster hatchery. It’s being developed as the first commercial oyster farm in northern Australia.

Yagbani has been working closely with the NT Government's Darwin Aquaculture Centre and other government agencies for the past eight years on water testing, feasibility studies, research and trials, and now in 2019, they are on track to commercialise production of the native oyster species and deliver their first box of fresh oysters into Territory restaurants.

“Imagine that – oysters so fresh they could come out of the water that morning and will be on your dinner plate that night in Darwin. And they are world class, because our water is so clean. There are no heavy metals and no pollutants, and because of that purity, the taste of our oysters is second to none. Once we hit the market, we are confident that our oysters will be the very best you can buy,” Westley says.

The project currently has more than 80,000 black-lip oysters growing in the hatchery and on tidal long lines and the goal is to grow one million oysters in the next 12 months.

Indigenous oysters for a sustainable futurePicture: Yagbani staff and board members. From left to right: Rosemary, Brando, Steve, Maurice, Kristy, Brenda and YAC Chairman Bunug Galaminda. Photo credit: Shane Eecen. 

A long-term strategic vision

Yagbani has a number of community-based projects that they manage and deliver for the people of Warruwi. There is an art centre bursting with original works from local artists, a market garden with organic fruit and vegetables that is managed by Community Development Project workers and provides food for the school’s nutrition program, as well as fishing and aquaculture projects (such as giant clams!) and accommodation facilities.

These projects create income for the Corporation and the people, and provide important work opportunities, skills development and a sense of purpose and buy-in to the future of the community.

Yagbani is 100% Indigenous owned and managed by a board of directors, all of whom live on the island. They are committed to creating a sustainable future for their people, both through community projects and the development of aquaculture.

The long-term goal is to develop more income streams so the community is less reliant on government grants. Yagbani’s leaders understand that the key to the corporation’s ongoing growth, success and sustainability is proper financial management and planning, combined with a passion to see its projects succeed.

A trusted business partner

Yagbani started working with Rosemary Campbell FCA, a director of Darwin-based chartered accounting firm Merit Partners, about three years ago after being referred via a Territory government initiative.

“On our second or third conversation, Rosemary asked if she could come out to the Island, meet the board, and get a better understanding of the Corporation, our projects and the community. I was blown away. We’d never had any of our accountants or business advisers ask to come out here, just to get to know us,” Westley says.

“That level of genuine interest, and respect and understanding for what we do and what we want to achieve, that’s what makes the difference and why we work so well together.”

“That level of genuine interest, and respect and understanding for what we do and what we want to achieve, that’s what makes the difference and why we work so well together.”
Steve Westley

Westley says that in addition to strategic planning and financial management advice, Merit Partners also provide the back-end office support that assists in the day-to-day operation of the Island and all Yagbani’s projects.

“We don’t have to worry about making sure the finances are being done properly, and that the bills and salaries are getting paid on time – they do all that for us. That allows us to focus on what we do best,” he says.

“It’s a trusted partnership with a shared purpose, and that is to see the development of a successful and sustainable future for the people of Goulburn Island.”

Indigenous oysters for a sustainable futurePicture: Maurice Gawayku. Merit Partners. South Goulburn Islands trip 24 May 2019. Photo credit: Shane Eecen.


  • October is Indigenous Business Month, celebrating Indigenous ingenuity. To find out more about the program of events and workshops happening around the country in October, go to
  • Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand is proud to be a part of the Indigenous Accountants Australia Initiative (IAA). To find out more about IAA, including information on scholarships and other resources available to support Indigenous Australians wanting to pursue a career in accounting, visit

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