Working with Indigenous People in Australia

ConocoPhillips is committed to enhancing the communities where it operates.

Such is the case in Australia’s Northern Territory (NT), where ConocoPhillips is the majority interest holder of the Darwin Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) plant.

About the Northern Territory

Australia’s NT has a population of more than 245,000, with 30 percent identifying as being of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander origin. Eighty-five percent of the coastline in the Darwin area is Aboriginal-owned and 51 percent of NT land is Aboriginal land.

The greater Darwin region is home to about 2,000 Larrakia people, who are the Traditional Owners of the land and water in the area. They have a special connection to the saltwater, which they believe provides them with strength and health. As a community partner in this region, ConocoPhillips places a top priority on recognizing and respecting the Larrakia culture.

Larrakia elder Eric Fejo with former Darwin Operations Manager Filippo Meacci.

Wickham Point Deed

Darwin LNG has an agreement with the Larrakia people that includes commitments and aspirations across cultural recognition and activities, contracting and business opportunities and employment and training. This agreement is known as the Wickham Point Deed. As part of this agreement, ConocoPhillips representatives collaborate with Larrakia family representatives, who form the Wickham Point Deed Reference Group, on activities concerning ConocoPhillips’ Larrakia and Aboriginal engagement.

A Larrakia person can welcome visitors by inviting them into the saltwater and washing down their face or arms. Doing so leaves their smell and sweat in the water, which means the country and ancestors of the Larrakia are aware of the presence of visitors. 

During a recent engagement, members of the Wickham Point Deed Reference Group visited the Darwin LNG plant for a full tour, which allowed them to learn about the inner workings of the LNG plant. It also gave them an opportunity to share insights and details about sites of cultural significance near the facility.

ConocoPhillips has renewed its focus on integrating Larrakia culture into existing partnerships within Darwin’s community investment portfolio. These partnerships provide a foundation to showcase Larrakia culture, building pride in the community.

Celebrating in tune

For over 10 years, ConocoPhillips has partnered with the National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs), a national event to celebrate and reflect upon the contributions by Indigenous musicians to Australia’s cultural landscape. Broadcast nationally each year, the event brings together visitors from remote Aboriginal communities, tourists, Darwin residents and renowned performers.

In 2018, ConocoPhillips sponsored the Welcome to Country performance. This cultural event featured dances and music from the Kenbi Dancers, a Larrakia dance group, who performed against a backdrop of aerial photos of local landscapes. The performance was the opening act for a night that ended with the Kenbi Dancers winning the NT Traditional Music Award.

Clontarf Foundation group photo
Clontarf Foundation at NT City2Surf.

Offering opportunities

ConocoPhillips also supports the Clontarf Foundation, a national program to improve the education, discipline, life skills, confidence and employment opportunities of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. The Clontarf Foundation provides guidance to more than 6,500 boys in 97 schools across Australia.

ConocoPhillips’ long-term partnership with the foundation includes staff involvement at career fairs and participation in mock-interviews and informal presentations. ConocoPhillips also involves students in activities offered by its other community partners, such as the ConocoPhillips NT City2Surf race, where students run as part of the ConocoPhillips team and participate in the post-race breakfast.

Combining opportunities

In 2017, Clontarf Foundation students interested in music, event management and sound and lighting production gained work experience by helping at the NIMAs. And in 2018, the work opportunities continued, as students helped with the event’s preparation. Moving ahead, student participation is anticipated to increase even further.

Across all community investment partnerships, ConocoPhillips aims to weave in a Larrakia presence by facilitating opportunities for a Welcome to Country address, Acknowledgement of Country in program booklets, artwork and other cultural initiatives that reflect the company’s respect for the Larrakia as Traditional Owners of land in the Darwin region.

Career training

In 2018, ConocoPhillips developed a range of new career training opportunities for Larrakia people, providing them a pathway to enter the LNG industry workforce. Programs include training for technical plant operators, apprentices, warehouse and logistics operators and various administrative positions. 

Kimberly Brewster and Sonny Malmerin-Fejo holding trophies
2018 NT Training Award recipients Kimberly Brewster and Sonny Malmerin-Fejo.

“Two of our most recent trainees received awards at the 2018 NT Training Awards,” said Carly Sherren, Senior ConocoPhillips Human Resources Business Partner. “Sonny Malmerin-Fejo was named the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Trainee of the Year, and Kimberly Brewster was named Trainee of the Year. Both proceeded to the prestigious Australian Training Awards, where Kimberly was awarded Australian Trainee of the Year. We are incredibly proud of what they have achieved and are delighted that their hard work and professional development has been recognized by the broader community at both a local and national level.”

Additionally, ConocoPhillips has conducted an Operator Training program since 2010. Originally known as the Darwin Operations Centre Training Academy (DOCTA) program, it was initially designed to encourage local employment within the Northern Territory. At that time, Australia was undergoing a rapid expansion of the LNG industry, and since there were few local, experienced operators in the local market, the DOCTA program sought to help long-term residents develop transferrable process or trade skills. Since then, 36 people from six training classes have completed the program. The recently convened seventh class is the first in collaboration with industry peer INPEX. More than 1,200 residents applied for the program, and women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders applied in record numbers. Six trainees have started at Darwin LNG, including four women (one who is Aboriginal) and a Larrakia man.

University partnership

ConocoPhillips has a partnership with Charles Darwin University (CDU) to provide capacity building opportunities to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This partnership aims to address skills shortages through training programs developed in consultation with the Wickham Point Deed Reference Group. In 2017-2018, the program offered two heavy truck driving programs to Aboriginal students. Working with a host employer, participants gained classroom and on-the-road skills and worked with a host employer. The program has been repurposed for 2019, into a comprehensive, 20-week health services program with 12 weeks of classroom time at CDU and eight weeks of practical, on-the-job training. Upon completion, participants will be certified to work with geriatric and disabled patients, both areas of need throughout the NT.

While cultural recognition and pride are developed and maintained through ConocoPhillips’ community investments, sustainable changes are made through education, training and employment opportunities.

“Our engagement with the Larrakia, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Darwin relies on collaboration and open dialogue,” said Kayleen Ewin, ConocoPhillips Vice President Sustainable Development and External Affairs. “We remain committed to genuinely contributing to the social and cultural fabric of communities where we operate.”