Roper Gulf Regional Council is located in the south east of the top end of the Northern Territory bounded by the southern Kakadu escarpments, the northern Barkly Tablelands, the Gulf of Carpentaria and Queensland Border and approx 50 km west of the Stuart Highway. The overall land mass is greater than Tasmania and 80 % of Victoria and is larger than many small nation states.
The Roper Gulf Region topography ranges from low Limestone and Sandstone escarpments and mesas, rich in iron ore, to seasonally dry savannah grasslands and open forest intersected by a number of large river systems. The Gulf coastline has over 700 km of beach, river deltas, islands, mangroves swamps and rocky headlands.
The Region has a wet season roughly between December and May when most of the region’s rain falls and a cooler dry season ending with a short build up of higher temperatures and humidity towards the end of the year. The coastal region has a high cyclone probability during the wet.
To travel by car along the Stuart highway which transects the Council Region from near Pine Creek to near Elliott in the south will take more than four hours. To travel from Borroloola near the Gulf coast to Daly Waters in the west will take about the same time and Numbulwar to Mataranka about seven hours depending on road conditions and whether it is open at all. You are still in the Roper Gulf Region more than half way from Katherine to Nhulumbuy.
Much of the road network is subject to seasonal closure due to flooding and is predominantly unsealed making travel often long and tenuous. Public transport is very limited and expensive. Private vehicle ownership levels are low.
It’s a huge area with a relatively small population of around 7100, roughly 1 person for every 26 sq km.
Most people live in the region’s eleven towns (61%) and nearly 80% are indigenous. Only 30% speak English at home with nearly 50% speaking Kriol and 15% local and other languages.
Key industries in the Region are pastoral, some agriculture, extractive industries, tourism and government services. The Council is one of the largest employers in the Region.
Unemployment rates are high compared to the NT and Australian averages.
Like all the Northern Territory, Roper Gulf is dependent on public sector grants and funding having only a low rates base.
The Region is very young demographically with a median age of 24 years with 31.5% of the total population under 15 years of age. Despite this young demographic, growth is only around 1.0% indicating migration out of the region is high.
Mortality rates are higher than the Australian average and life expectancy is much lower.
Personal average income is $279 per week less half of the NT average and half the Australian average.
Significant health issues affect the region especially amoungst indigenous residents. This reflects the relative poverty of the region and life style issues such as high alcohol consumption, high smoking rates, overcrowded social housing and poor nutrition. There is a high level of endemic diseases such as Diabetes, RHD, Chronic Heart and Kidney disease.
The key towns of the Roper Gulf Region are;
There are 22 Outstations and 50 pastoral properties and a number of major roadhouses in the Roper Gulf Region.
Roper Gulf has five wards each being represented by elected Councillors.
The logo was developed from a concept created by Lainie Joy of Borroloola. The five flowing figures have multiple meanings. They represent the five wards in our Roper Gulf Region (Never Never, Numbulwar, Nyirranggulung, South West Gulf and Yugul Mangi), the five main rivers winding through our region (the Limmen, McArthur, Robinson, Roper and Rose Rivers), the low-lying hills that are visable on the horizon nearly everywhere in the Region and the Rainbow Serpent that underlies everything. The colours are based on the different colours of the soils and the peoples co-existing in the Roper Gulf Region.
On the 1st January 2014, following a review of Local Government, the Northern Territory Government announced that amongst other changes the name “Shire Council” would be changed to “Regional Council” in the eight large Northern Territory Shires.
Roper Gulf Shire Council at its December meeting agreed to introduce this change on the 1st January 2014. This marked the start of a new era for the Roper Gulf Regional Council.
The Northern Territory Government also flagged increasing the responsibility of Local Authorities, formerly known as Local Boards, in representing local communities and Towns. The name change and the change in Local Authorities reflected a growing sophistication and acknowledgment of the developing regional responsibility of the Roper Gulf Regional Council.
Prior to 2008 there had been only rudimentary Local Government in the Northern Territory. In 1978 at the time of self government there were only four local governments in the Northern Territory being Darwin, Katherine, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. Darwin was only incorporated in 1957. The Local Government areas are generally known as “Councils” and prior to 1st July 2008 included Municipalities (the five major towns), Community Government Councils, Incorporated Associations (under NT Associations Act), ORIC Corporations (incorporated under Australian Government Legislation) and Special Purpose Towns. Those “Councils” that were established under the Associations Act had reduced Compliance and reporting responsibilities compared to the those incorporated pursuant to the Local Government Act and those subsequently created pursuant to Local Government Act 2008. Many of these previous local Governments were only incorporated in the late 1970s and others as late as the 1990s. The amendments of the 1st July 2008 saw Local Government being reduced to two types of Local Government in the NT, Municipalities and Shires including the Roper Gulf Shire. Prior to the 2008 amendments 97% of the total land mass of the Northern Territory was unincorporated and the Community Councils were little more than enclaves within the unincorporated areas. After the reforms of 2008 the unincorporated areas of the Northern Territory reduced to around 1.4% of total land mass. .
By year 2000 there were 68 recognised Local Government bodies in the Northern Territory with a mean population of 844 persons. The formation of the Nyrirranggulung Mardrulk Ngadberre Regional Council in 2003, later to become the Nyrirranggulung Ward of Roper Gulf Shire was one of the first amalgamations that were to model the move towards larger Shires in 2008.
The Government recognised the need for larger Local Government bodies and in 2006 argued that, “…any Shire of less than 5000 people would struggle to be sustainable” and started a program to reduce the number of Community Government Councils leading to the 2008 Local Government reforms and the formation of so called “Super Shires” and Roper Gulf Shire Council.
Roper Gulf Shire Council commenced operations on the 1st July 2008 following the passing by Northern Territory Government of Local Government Act 2008 earlier in that year. The 2008 Act directed the formation of eight new Shires in the NT to amalgamate and incorporate previously existing Community Councils, Incorporated Associations and Special Purpose Towns and unincorporated lands. The new Roper Gulf Shire incorporated the Mataranka, Yugul Mangi, Numbulwar Numburindi, Borroloola, Nyirranggulung and Jilkminggan “Councils” and a large amount of unincorporated land in the Gulf, Roper Valley, Stuart Plateau and Southern Arnhem Land. The first Council was formed in October 2008 following an Election of twelve Councillors.
The Local Government Act 2008 also allowed for the appointment of Shire Chief Executive Officers and new Head quarters in mayor population centres. Roper Gulf‘s headquarters were established in Crawford Street in Katherine which had previously been owned by the Nyirranggulung Community Council. The new Act also provided for a centralised business management system and group training facilities.
2008 also saw the introduction of 99 year leases and the NT Emergency Response (the so called “intervention”) both of which added substantially to the task of forming a brand new Local Government in a very diverse region and with a land mass more than twice that of Tasmania. The granting of indigenous title over large areas of the Northern Territory has also impacted on the development of Local Government in recent years. In 2006 45% of the NT land was held under aboriginal title. There was also some deeply entrenched opposition to the new Shires from small groups of people who felt they had been disenfranchised by the new incorporations in 2008. The formation of these new Shires also appeared rushed and poorly coordinated in some remote areas.
The clear imperative of economies of scale and better governance however was quickly proved as new more efficient and accountable Governance and staffing structures were put in place. A lot of effort was put into communications and communities were better consulted and engaged. Roper Gulf in particular established a strong Local Board system and strong management, governance and financial structures.
The resistance to the new Shires by a small but vocal group was taken up by the CLP opposition who on winning government in 2012, largely on the back of a handful of rural electorates, declared an intention to turn back and devolve the so called “Super Shires”.
A wide ranging review and community consultation was undertaken by the Northern Territory Government in 2013. This showed strong community support in the Roper Gulf Region for the existing Shire structure. The changes to the Local Government Act passed through Parliament in late 2013 reflected this. There were no changes to boundaries in the Roper Gulf Region.
The first Mayor of Roper Gulf Shire Council was South West Gulf Ward Councillor Tony Jack, who was re-elected at the 2012 NT Local Government election. The Council’s first Deputy Mayor was Never Never Ward Councillor Clair O’Brien, who was replaced by fellow Never Never Ward Councillor Judy MacFarlane in 2012. Cr MacFarlane was elevated to the position of Mayor following the NT Council election in August 2017, with Nyirranggulung Ward Councillor Helen Lee selected as her deputy.
The current Chief Executive Officer Mr Michael Berto was appointed when the new Roper Gulf Shire Council was formed. A number of staff from the proceeding Councils continue to work with the Roper Gulf Regional Council. Roper Gulf Regional Council now employs 343 staff, more than three times the original staff establishment in 2008.
The Region continues to grow.
i Sander.W, 2006, Local Government and Indigenous interests in Australia’s Northern Territory. Discussion Paper No 285/2006 Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research P3.
ii Sander. W 2006 Op Cit P3
iii Mc Adam. E, 2006, Minister Mc Adam’s speech to LGANT Conference, Alice Springs 11 October 2006.