Chapter 2 Remote Indigenous community stores—more than a shop
A community store is a shop located in a remote Aboriginal or Torres
Strait Islander community. The store is owned by the community who employ a
store manager to run the store on behalf of the community. In some cases, the
community appoints a store committee to make representations to the store
manager on its behalf. A large proportion of stores in remote Aboriginal or
Torres Strait Islander communities throughout Australia fit this definition of
a community store.
Individual communities take great pride in their stores as they have
ownership and responsibility for what is sometimes the only business and source
of income being generated in their community. This is especially true for small
communities that have limited economic opportunities.
Community stores in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
communities provide the community with food, drinks and other consumer items.
In some cases the store is the only provider of food, drinks and clothing and
therefore plays a critical role in the health and well-being of the community.
The quality of fresh food and availability of food plays an important
role in the health and well-being of the community. It is the role of the store
manager to ensure enough groceries, including fresh fruit and vegetables, are
ordered and transported efficiently and safely to the store:
Most community stores in remote Indigenous communities have a
unique food security role, commonly holding a high degree of local market power
as either the monopoly provider, or as one of few providers of food to the
The community store also sells a range of non-food items such as
household hardware, for example, fridges and ovens, cleaning products,
clothing, televisions, DVD players and DVDs, toys and sports equipment.
An inquiry into food prices in the Northern Territory found that
community stores are the primary vehicle to ensure access to affordable and
nutritious food supply to residents of remote Indigenous communities. Most
estimates suggest that between 90 and 95 per cent of food eaten in Aboriginal
communities is food purchased in the store, with traditional foods now
contributing only a small amount to people's dietary intake.
Further evidence received by the Committee suggested that while the
access to food supply had varied over time, community stores were still key
players for Indigenous health in remote communities:
The food supply in remote communities has changed
significantly in recent years with community members having access to various
sources, such as takeaways and private vendors; school canteens and nutrition
programs; and aged care programs. Despite this the community store remains a
major contributor to the food supply in remote communities.
During the inquiry several witnesses commented that it was necessary to
rely almost wholly on the store because in some regions of Australia, such as
the Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (APY) Lands there is ‘very little
bush tucker available.’
However an alternative perspective suggested the reliance on stores for
food may be much lower in regions of Australia such as the outstation
communities near Maningrida:
In 2002 the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Social Survey (NATSISS) showed that over 82 per cent of respondents had fished
or hunted in a group within the past three months.
Many of the store models that the Committee received evidence about had
attached or associated takeaway services. In some cases the takeaway section of
the store was small and only provided an area for heated pies, sausage rolls
and pizzas. A small number of takeaways were more substantial and had a kitchen
that could prepare and sell both dry and wet takeaway foods such as sandwiches,
salads, boiled eggs, pies, sausage rolls, pizzas, curries, stews, stir fry
vegetables and soups.
Across remote regions of Australia there is varying reliance on
community stores for basic food supplies, however it is apparent that the provision
of good quality and nutritious foods can greatly affect the health and
education outcomes of a community.
The Australian Government has made a commitment to closing the gap on Indigenous
disadvantage, in particular, in respect to life expectancy. It has been
estimated that 3.5 per cent of the total burden of disease in the Indigenous
population is directly attributable to low fruit and vegetable consumption. The
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework 2008
Improving the supply and consumption of healthy food in
remote Indigenous communities is required to reduce the high levels of
preventable diet-related chronic disease suffered by Indigenous Australians,
including renal disease, heart disease and diabetes.
More than a shop
It was reiterated throughout the inquiry that the community store is
more than just a store—in effect, it is a social hub of the community. The
Committee was told that people might be going to the community store to shop
and to get their food but there are a lot of other interactions that are going
on with the community store. For example, Automated Teller
Machines (ATMs) are often located in the store and therefore the store may be
the only place where banking can be carried out if people do not have access to
phone or internet banking.
During the Committee’s site visits to remote community stores it became
apparent that the area in front of the community stores was often the general
meeting place for the community. Many communities hold community meetings
outside the store and on several occasions the Committee held its public
hearings outside the community store.
Some of the stores the Committee visited had sheltered areas outside
where people could sit and meet each other. Many communities and families also
organised social events around the delivery day to stores. Such areas were
valuable additions to remote Indigenous communities.
Mulan Aboriginal Community summed up the role of the community store in
The local Store on all ATSI [Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander] communities are the same as it is in Mulan, they are the heart of the
community, the meeting place for the adults, the place where the children know
they can score treats from family members and where the teenagers congregate to
discuss topics of interest to them. The community takes great pride in the
presentation, operation and stocking of its Community Store and comparisons to
other neighbouring stores is a topic of daily discussion.
The Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT) discussed some findings with
the Committee that demonstrated that the health of the store could essentially
determine the stability of the community. Dr Bruce Walker, Chief Executive of
CAT, made the following statement:
… the store was the centre of social activity for the
community, that it provided essential services in the monopoly market and that
it was required to perform multiple functions. This group of people felt that
the performance of the store was an indicator of the stability of the
respective communities, it was a key mechanism for delivering better services
and infrastructure and it was a gauge of the morale and stability of the
The Northern Territory Government submission also noted that community
stores can contribute to community capacity building by providing community
members with the following:
n a voice and a role in
an important community institution,
n a form for the
development of leadership and management skills,
n an income source that
is not reliant on government and can be used as untied funds for community
needs or for bigger projects such as economic development, and
n a venue for social
interaction as an informal meeting place.
According to Indigenous store management experts Burdon Torzillo, a good
store is one that is financially viable, has a good range of fresh healthy
foods, has affordable prices as far as possible, has healthy takeaway options,
and has a sheltered area where people can meet, eat and socialise:
A good store is the social hub of the community, has huge
effects on health and well-being of individuals and the community as a whole
and helps create economically viable and sustainable communities.
Extending business opportunities of the store
Economic and social business is often an extension of the business of
the store. If other business opportunities can extend from the store, there is
more opportunity for communities to be self-sustaining.
The Committee heard that stores have an important role in stimulating the
local economy in fresh market garden produce and a potential to generate spin-off
developments through diversification of product, for example, in ornamental
trees and plants, ecotourism, and in bush foods, medicines and beauty products.
John Kop, Chief Executive Officer, Outback Stores stated it is important to
encourage Indigenous business development through a viable store:
I think it is a really important opportunity. Once you have a
large number of stores, you vertically integrate for the Indigenous economy and
continue to grow that. Market gardens are certainly part of that. Some might be
quite sustainable and can supply either a region or a particular group…
It all comes back to this capacity building. We generally
find there is a very low level of capacity in communities. How do you start to
build that? From our view, it starts with a central hub, which is the store
operating effectively. If you do that and it becomes a viable option, you can
start to bring other viable options around that.
Further discussion of community gardens and farming and supplementing
local fresh food supply is provided in Chapter 5.
Store manager’s role
The store manager plays a key role in the supply and quality of items
available at the community store. As a result of the remoteness and often a
monopoly situation for remote community stores, the store manager has a much
greater responsibility for the community’s health and well-being than other
store managers working in an urban setting. The influence of store managers on
the health of the community is discussed further in Chapter 3.
The store manager is responsible for the regular supply of goods to the
store which can be expensive and problematic in remote areas due to seasonal
variations. For example, Maningrida is cut off for six months every year by the
tropical wet season. The community is serviced year round by a barge service
that is a monopoly.
The store manager works closely alongside members of the community and
is often employed by a community store committee depending upon who owns the
Many remote stores are owned by the community and a number of these
communities establish store committees to oversee the operations of the store
and employ store managers. A well informed and active store committee is
essential for a well functioning store. Some of the duties of a store committee
include employing and liaising regularly with store managers, having an
understanding of the financial position of the store, ensuring good governance
practices are being implemented, talking with the community about specific
wants and needs available through the store, and making decisions about how
store profits should be spent. Governance is discussed further in Chapter 6.
The strength of the store can often be a gauge of the strength of the
community. From the stores that the Committee visited, it was evident,
particularly for smaller communities such as Papunya, that good store managers
usually resulted in a well run store and an overall sense of satisfaction
within the community. When asked by the Committee whether there was a secret to
running a good community store in a remote community the store manager from
You have to understand people, treat them with common decency
and fairness, listen to what they want and really go out of your way to try and
get what they want for them. Good customer service goes a long way. Ultimately,
you need to try and install the pride and thought of ownership with regard to
the store. Once you get that momentum happening, people start to enjoy the store.
The Committee received evidence from various sources stating that the
community store was often the main or only generator of employment in small
remote communities. In this context ‘community stores are an extremely
important economic and social resource. This is especially the case owing to
the absence of commercial and employment opportunities in remote contexts.’
From the evidence received and the communities visited, the Committee
concludes that a well functioning store has the potential to provide a range of
local services to the community which in turn provide significant economic
outcomes. A well qualified store manager who takes into consideration the needs
of the community, in addition to applying his or her knowledge of retail best
practice and business acumen, plays a vital role in the sustainability of
remote Indigenous communities.
In remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities there are a
number of different store models in operation. The Committee visited several of
the store models to see them operating first hand and took evidence at public
hearings about other models they did not visit.
The majority of the stores in remote Indigenous communities are community
owned not-for-profit organisations or community-based enterprises where some of
the profits are directed back into the community for improvements to store
infrastructure and or benevolent activities. Other store models are privately
owned for-profit businesses. There are also some state and territory government
The following sections describe various store models—community owned,
state and territory government owned, and privately owned—and their operations
in different communities. The ownership and management of a community store has
evolved differently in each community and even within one model, such as
community owned, there are differences.
There are several store models that are community owned and managed. There
are those that are community owned and managed by an individual or couple. There
are also those stores which are community owned and managed by a company or
benevolent organisation, such as the Arnhem Land Progress Aboriginal Corporation
(ALPA), Outback Stores, Island and Cape, the Finke River Mission, the Maningrida
Progress Association, the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, and Ninti Corporate
Services to name a few examples.
Some small communities in Western Australia, such as Jarlmadangah Burru,
One Arm Point community/Ardyaloon and Djarindjin, have community owned and
managed stores. The Jarlmadangah Burru Store is community owned and run by Joseph
Grande, who is an accountant, a project manager and a member of the community.
The store services about 60 families and has a governing committee which holds
monthly meetings within the community. The ‘store runs on a profit and loss
basis and has only made one loss in the last 10 years, and was only a small
In Broome, the Committee received the following evidence about the
ownership and management of community stores in the area:
All the stores in the Kimberley are actually owned by the
community. Some are part of the Aboriginal corporation and some are
incorporated separately. Some communities have community members running their
stores...Most communities either hire a management company—like Peter Grundy
and associates, Arnhem Land Progress Association or Outback Stores—or they
recruit their own managers. In the case of Kururrungku community, they recruit
store managers to manage the store.
The Committee heard that most Indigenous communities prefer to retain
ownership of the store even if the store becomes unprofitable and requires
external assistance. The community store plays an important role in keeping the
community informed and working cooperatively with each other. A well run store
usually equates with a well run store committee.
The Chief Executive Officer of the Djarindjin Aboriginal Corporation
outlined the benefits of a community run store:
We believe that a community controlled store is the best
outcome because the community has a sense of ownership in the business and
there is an opportunity for education and learning, because if you have a
complaint about the store and you bring it to the council then it will get
addressed. Whether you like it or not, you have to go through the reasoning
process as a community member of why a decision was made. So it means there is
a higher level of literacy about the dynamics that drive the community store.
Overheads are kept as low as possible. They have to be
because everyone on council asks, ‘Why are you spending that money if it is
going to put up the price of bread, butter et cetera?’
Our store also contributes to the sense of community by
supporting things like our monthly tidy town barbecues, our scout troop and,
for example, our interschool sports team, which recently won the trophy for the
first time in 11 years. As they paraded around the community they were given
free icy poles from the store. So it is an integral part of the community.
ALPA is a benevolent organisation and provides benefits to its community
members from the profits made by the store. ALPA owns five stores in member
communities and manages 11 others under fee for service management agreements. ALPA
was established in 1972 and employs and trains local staff, ensuring that its
Board of Directors and Chairman are local Aboriginal people.
During the early 1980s ALPA developed a retail consultancy called Australian
Retail Consultants. All the stores are owned by the community and
managed by ALPA. The stores are:
… profitable and viable commercial enterprises with an
emphasis on local employment and training, nutrition, and range with the best
possible prices. Surpluses are reinvested back into the business to improve
services or used for community benefit. Many of these businesses are long-term
clients happy to be part of a successful group and be out of the boom/bust cycle
in which so many community stores become trapped.
The Committee visited two ALPA stores in the Northern Territory. One was
in Milingimbi, north west Arnhem Land, and was community owned and managed. The
other ALPA store was at Warruwi, on Goulburn Island, and was community owned
and managed by the consultancy arm of ALPA, Australian Retail Consultants.
Outback Stores is a not-for-profit company established by the Australian
Government in 2006 which manages 27 community owned stores. Outback Stores was
formed to provide ‘available, affordable, quality food from sustainable stores
to improve health in remote Indigenous communities.’
The operation of Outback Stores is based on the ALPA consultancy model, Australian
Outback Stores is invited into communities to manage stores on a fee for
service basis. Outback Stores stated in its submission that: ‘Communities are
our partners, so we take on store management by invitation only.’
Outback Stores is presently a wholly owned subsidiary of Indigenous
Business Australia (IBA). However, given the commercial charter of IBA, it is
intended that the operation of Outback Stores will be transferred to FaHCSIA.
IBA commented that it considered this would allow a better alignment of Outback
Stores with the Government’s social policy objectives.
The Northern Territory Government submission commented that the Outback
Stores model includes a strong focus on local training and employment,
nutrition and returns store profits to communities. Outback Stores utilises
central supply and partnerships with local suppliers to make goods more
The Committee inspected two community owned stores managed by Outback
Stores in Jilkminggan and Bulman in the Northern Territory. A description of
the communities visited by the Committee can be found at Appendix A.
Island and Cape is an example of a privately owned store management
model servicing the Cape York and Torres Strait regions. Island and Cape is a
unique management model as it has its own wholesale warehouse. Its main
business is delivering wholesale food throughout the cape and gulf regions of
the Torres Strait. Island and Cape is a locally owned Cairns‑based
operation, employing local and regionally based people. Its facilities include
four buildings in Cairns, including dry warehouses, chiller and freezer
facilities and four retail store sites in the Torres Strait region.
The store operations are overseen by the Cairns office and two
experienced management teams based in the islands. Island and Cape encourage
local Indigenous staff to participate in management roles and currently have
two stores operated by locals. The stores are overseen and mentored by a
company management team.
During a public hearing in Alice Springs the Committee took
evidence about the Finke River Mission store and its history:
The Finke River Mission is part of the Lutheran Church of
Australia. We owned all of the Hermannsburg area until 1980. The people invited
us and wanted us to continue running a store there. So now we are there by
invitation of the people.
The Mission has a governance committee in Adelaide, comprising people
from both Victoria and South Australia. In addition, it pays rent for the
store. There are also two stores in Hermannsburg. One of the stores is promoted
as a community store. Store manager Selwyn Kloeden commented that ‘generally,
as manager, I have free rein as to what I sell, how we promote it and what
other things we can do from the shop.’ The profits of the stores go to
subsidise the spiritual formation of pastors within Central Australia.
The Maningrida Progress Association (MPA) runs several enterprises in
Maningrida including a supermarket. It is a community owned store that has 12 executive
members on the board, comprising two members from each clan group in
Maningrida. During the public hearing the Committee was told that: ‘The
Maningrida Progress Association store is one of the oldest shops in
Maningrida.’ Any profits from the
store go back into the store infrastructure as well as back to the community
for things such as sorry business:
…the money also goes back to the people, because every death
that we have is $1 000 that we have put towards the family that still goes back
for the ancestor ceremony food.
In its submission the Committee was informed that the Bawinanga
Aboriginal Corporation (BAC), another community-owned entity, operates a
supermarket and some twenty other commercial enterprises in the Maningrida
community. The BAC employs fifteen local Aboriginal people in the Barlmarrk
supermarket, and there is a range of training and career options available to
them. Profits from the store are returned to the community principally in the
form of employment and as seed money for the establishment of additional
The BAC provides a mobile store service, also referred to as ‘the tucker
run’ to remote dwelling outstation people. The considerable costs of delivery
are absorbed by the Corporation as a benefit to members, and customers pay the
same price for goods as they would pay in the supermarket in Maningrida.
Ninti Corporate Services is an example of a community corporate body
which manages community owned stores. It is owned by Wana Ungkunytja which is
in turn owned by the Nyangatjatjara Aboriginal Corporation. The corporation’s
members are the residents of Mutitjulu, Imanpa and Kaltukatjara, which are the
three communities in the south of the Northern Territory.
In its submission, Ninti Corporate Services said its focus was on generating
enterprise and employment opportunities for its communities. All of the
surpluses are distributed back to the Nyangatjatjara Corporation to provide
education and directly to the three communities for beneficial purposes. Ninti
is a not-for-profit and a public benevolent institution.
The Queensland Government operates six stores (five of which it owns) in
remote Aboriginal communities in Queensland. These stores are referred to as
the Retail Stores. A separate statutory body, the Island Industries Board,
trades as Islanders Board of Industry and Service (IBIS) and operates 15 stores
in the Torres Strait and one in the Northern Peninsula Area of Cape York. These
stores are referred to as the IBIS stores.
Both Retail Stores and IBIS are government owned entities and are
therefore not-for-profit organisations. As well as the provision of food and
other essentials, these stores stock items such as white goods, furniture,
drapery and variety products. They operate as general stores with standards and
operating methodologies commensurate with private sector best practice.
IBIS received financial support from government until 2006, when government
assistance was provided to pay outstanding liabilities incurred prior to 2002
and to complete a stores replacement program commenced in 2001. There has been
no subsidy of IBIS retail operations since 2002. Retail stores are not dependent
on assistance from the state government and are self-sustainable for capital
and operating activities. 
There are also a number of government owned stores in the Northern
Territory. Five newly formed Shires in the Northern Territory have recently
acquired community stores as assets under the local government reforms
(Victoria-Daly, Roper Gulf, East Arnhem, West Arnhem and MacDonnell).
A small number of privately owned and managed stores exist throughout
Australia. In a submission from the Port Augusta Hospital and Regional Health
Services, South Australia (SA) Health, this issue was raised. The submission
Not all remote areas of SA have a store that is community
owned—many are private businesses, operating on a for-profit basis. In another
situation there are two stores: a community owned store and a private
business/roadhouse servicing both local and tourist needs at prices tourists
expect and can afford.
One example of privately owned and operated stores that was brought to
the Committee’s attention was stores which have evolved around outback stations
over many years and provide critical goods and services to the local people.
The Committee received evidence from several station store operators and
managers in Alice Springs. Lynne Leigh, who operates the Epenarra Store and
Murray Downs store, stated in her submission:
Most Station Stores came to be as a result of need many years
ago to provide a Store for our local people. For many years Station Stores have
been assisting in the delivery of many services to our communities.
During the inquiry the Committee was able to travel to in Queensland’s
Cape York Peninsula and the Torres Strait Islands, Central Australia and the
Northern Territory to inspect a variety of stores in remote Indigenous
communities. The Committee inspected several different models of stores and
observed how central the stores were to the social, health and economic well-being
of these communities. The stores were at times very busy, particularly around
mealtimes. The Committee noted long queues to access money from the ATM,
usually located in the store, in particular before lunch and dinner.
This supported the evidence that the Committee received during the
inquiry suggesting that people tended to buy food as required for their next
meal. In many instances this was to make use of the refrigeration that the shop
had, as households may not have refrigeration or may share a house with a large
number of kin.
In general, the stores varied greatly in terms of the infrastructure of
the store and the quantity of line products and quality of groceries. Some of
the reasons for these differences included: population size; geographical
locations; freight options available, such as road transport and or barges; and
different store models supporting different styles of store management.
The Committee recognises that all these variables play a significant
role in the success or otherwise of the community store in remote Indigenous
Many communities expressed a great deal of pride in their local store,
although some also observed that produce was not fresh, the range of goods was
limited, and the costs high. A small number of communities expressed
frustration around issues such as community involvement, governance, hygiene and
Given the central role of a store in a remote community, the Committee
considers that all stores, regardless of the ownership model, have a social
responsibility to the community. While private enterprises seek to be
commercially viable, the Committee notes that, for many stores, profits are
returned to the community and the primary focus of the store operation is to
serve the community’s needs.
The Committee considers that this social responsibility of a remote
community store includes contributing positively to the social and economic
capacity of the community. This may be by providing leadership on healthy
eating habits, opportunities for training and employment, access to some
necessary services such as banking, as well as ensuring a secure supply of
quality and affordable produce.
Across the communities that the Committee visited it was apparent that
all viewed their store as more than just a shop—it sustained their day to day
life, it provided a social meeting place, and it represented opportunities for
improved community outcomes in the future.
Finally, the Committee agrees with the evidence gathered emphasising
that a store is not just a shop. The Committee believes it is necessary for the
store to influence the community on healthy eating habits. The following
chapter discusses options on how best to deliver nutrition policies into