Our year together

James Watts and John Hughes

Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation (RAC) represents the Rirratjingu people - traditional owners of land on the Gove Peninsula. Through Allens' Jawun partnership, Senior Business Development Manager James Watts worked with CEO John Hughes to provide a series of recommendations to position the organisation's quarry to win rehabilitation work anticipating closure of the bauxite mine on the peninsula.


James: I'll be the first to say, I didn’t know very much about quarries or rock mining before arriving at the Rirratjingu mine. It was quite a learning curve to understand the business model, but John's excellent brief meant there was a clear (if ambitious) plan to focus on during the six weeks of my secondment.

It was really important to me that I soak up my surroundings and understand how our recommendations might impact the wider community. In developing our recommendations, we spoke with various clients and influential organisations to truly understand the business, the community and the complex local politics that need to be considered for any plans going forward.

Those conversations helped shape our recommendations and I'm really proud of the work we achieved in such a short time.

When I think about my time up there, two memories I come back to are presenting to the RAC Board and just the day-to-day happenings around the office.

Not only was it an exciting experience to present our findings to the Board, which is made up of senior leaders of the Rirratjingu community, but as younger members of the community wandered in and out, it drove home how important it is that future leaders understand the potential and opportunities for the area.

There was always something going on at the office, a revolving door of questions and community members sharing stories and showing off their latest catches after a morning's hunt!

I'm really excited to see what the future holds for the quarry and how it can positively impact the broader community.

John: The scope of work we have at RAC means I have a lot of competing priorities in my role. As well as the quarry project James worked on, we have an investment arm. We're focused on building a pathway to a sustainable business and to economic independence, and to deliver social and cultural programs to advance the interests of the Rirratjingu people along the way.

Each of these businesses means my attention is often pulled away from issues that require focus. Just before James joined us, we recognised there were a number of opportunities coming from the closure of mines in the area.

Although I had an idea of the issues and questions we needed to have answers for, I didn't have the time to devote to research and planning. I knew we needed a devoted team to work on a quarry development plan. In just six weeks, James and one other Jawun secondee developed 12 practical recommendations for how we could move forward. The report gave me a starting place for pricing, new products, potential contracts and marketing issues.

The impact of the work James did can't be overstated. The report has been the backbone on which we have built an array of further plans and projects for our quarry. We've recently hired a business development manager and are just about to hire a quarry manager, who will focus on safety, marketing and capacity management using the recommendations made in the report.

It's reassuring to know we can enter into some exciting projects next year, set up in a safe and commercial way that hopefully won't keep me up at night!

James' summer entertainment recommendations

Film High Ground – I'm looking forward to seeing this film in all good cinemas in January. Starring RAC board member (and Yothu Yindi bandmember) Witiyana Marika and shot on location in Arnhem Land, High Ground tells the story of Travis, a policeman in northern Australia who loses control of an operation that results in the massacre of an Aboriginal Australian tribe in 1919.

Book A promised land, Barack Obama – I've been chipping away with the 29-hour marathon audiobook over the last month. So far, it's worth the effort. I'm impressed with the level of personal self-reflection Obama has on his time in office and hearing him read it has to be the best way to consume this beast of a book.  

Music David Bowie and Bing Crosby's Little Drummer boy – it's not Christmas until this comes on at home. I managed to find a copy on vinyl which only adds to the charm.

John's holiday pastime

I collect fountain pens because pens from different eras tended to incorporate new technologies and materials: vulcanised rubber before WWI, improved cast and wrought metals after WWI, and various lacquers and precursors of modern plastic from the 1940s to the late 1950s. There are different brands with their own personalities, for example, Parker and Sheaffer pens have always been as distinct as Holden and Ford cars.

I’m a left hander. Members of fountain pen associations have noticed that fountain pen users are disproportionately left handers, which is odd because fountain pens are designed to be pulled top left to bottom right, while left handers have to push bottom left to top right, and generally are prone to making a mess. I think there are some of us who are demonstrating stubbornness in sticking with a device not designed for us decades after they have been superseded.