Local solutions

Outback stores: good for community health, good for the economy

This photo captures the healthy food choices available to children at the Kundat Djaru community (Ringer Soak) Outback Store in Western Australia.

Outback Stores customers from the Kundat Djaru community (Ringer Soak) in Western Australia with Outback Stores Store Manager Peter Russell. 

Outback Stores recognises the hardship many residents in remote area’s face accessing regular, quality, affordable and healthy food.

The Commonwealth-owned company works side by side with communities to make a positive difference in the health, employment and economy of remote Indigenous communities.

Outback Stores currently manages 36 community stores across the Northern Territory, Western Australia and South Australia, but it provides much more than just retail management services. 

“Before Outback Stores, it was rare to find fresh, quality, well-priced fruit and vegetables. Now they are within walking distance for most families,” Outback Stores Chief Executive Officer, Michael Borg, says.

And it is more than just a supply of high quality and affordable food, drinks and household items. Outback Stores provided $1.45 million in financial support to 13 of the 36 stores it manages in   2016-17.  It organised 46 flights at a cost of more than $105,000 to airlift emergency supplies to 14 central and northern Australia communities cut off in the wet.

Outback Stores also promotes healthy food and drink choices through its nutrition policies in all stores. As a result, 406 tonnes of fruit and vegetables have been sold in communities over the past year, with and 7 per cent fewer sticks of tobacco sold. And that was before it turned its attention to reducing sugar consumption recognising its links to obesity and diabetes.

“Last year there was 11.5 tonnes less sugar consumed across 36 communities using tools such as price, promotion, placement, product portions and education,” Health and Nutrition Manager, Jen Savenake, says.

To put that in perspective, that’s a truckload: literally. A semi-trailer load, to be precise.

Outback Stores has a strong commitment to employing local staff.  There are 298 Indigenous staff currently employed in the community stores managed by the company, which is 79 per cent of all store staff.

And that commitment is back by training and development. Close to 70 per cent of all permanent Indigenous employees are enrolled in accredited training, opening up their pathways to further employment and opportunities.

“We focus on employing local people and we aim to provide great career pathways whilst keeping money in the community. People are happy they can work and still be ‘on country’ with family,” Michael says.

Barunga store manager, Amelita John, is paving the way for aspiring Indigenous leaders to follow in her footsteps. Since 2015, Amelia has moved from operating the register to managing the store. With her outstanding work ethic, attitude and leadership she was encouraged to complete her Certificate ll in retail operations.

The first Indigenous manager for Outback Stores, Amelita manages the Bagala store, which is an all‑Indigenous-run store with eight Indigenous staff, something the Barunga community and Outback Stores are both proud of. 

Remote stores are often the hub of the community. Outback Stores is supporting store owners and community members to keep them operating well into the future, improving the health and prospects of Australia’s First Peoples and the communities they live in.

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