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Outstanding regional and rural leadership


Territory Tuesday: Rowan Foley

Territory Tuesday: Rowan Foley

With just 31 days to go until the 20th cohort of the Australian Rural Leadership Program graduate in Darwin on Friday, 19 September, we're dedicating each Tuesday to profiling a Fellow or graduate based in the Northern Territory. It's a huge place, and a unique, highly-rural environment, shaping its own unique leaders. So to get you in the graduation mood, here is one of the Top End's top leaders! (More Territory Tuesdays here: Alister TrierSally BanfieldAnnette Burke and Katherine Winchester)

Rowan Foley, ARLP Course 13. Alice Springs.

Rowan Foley comes from the Wondunna clan of the Badtjala people Traditional Owners of Fraser Island and Hervey Bay in Queensland.  But he also calls the Territory home.

This ‘Territory Tuesday’, we look at a leader whose decades of life in the unique realms of northern Australia have fuelled his passion for land and environment, and leadership to ensure strong outcomes for both.

Rowan is a ranger by trade, first arriving in the Northern Territory to work at Uluru – Kata Tjuta National Park in 1989 shortly after the hand back to its traditional owners. About 16 years later he became the Park Manager, introducing the summer seasonal closure of the climb, and the $21 million Talinguru Nyakunytjaku visitor development to create new business opportunities for the Traditional Owners and the tourism industry.

In 1995, Rowan stepped away from work in his ranger’s capacity, and went to work for the Kimberley Land Council as their first Land Management Officer. He established their Land and Sea Management Unit in 1998. He was also instrumental in the development of the Paraku (Lake Gregory) Indigenous Protected Area (IPA).

Moving back to Queensland, he then worked for the North Queensland Land Council negotiating the Mamu Heads of Agreement to construct the $10 million Mamu Rainforest Canopy Walkway in the Wet Tropics and the development of the Wet Tropics Aboriginal Cultural and Natural Resource Management Plan.

Rowan’s decision to take part in Course 13 of the Australian Rural Leadership Program in 2006 was driven by his dedication to leadership and the desire to have an even more effective voice in driving positive ideas and initiatives.

“The ARLP consolidated some things for me,” Rowan says.

“It drove home that leadership is hard work, so don’t expect it to be easy; embrace that.”

Rowan also says that the many approaches he learnt about through the ARLP have heavily shaped a recent project.

He has just submitted his Savanna Enrichment methodology proposal under the Carbon Credits (Carbon Farming Initiative) Act 2011 to the Domestic Offsets Integrity Committee (DOIC). This involves enrichment planting into seasonal tropical savanna in northern Australia:

“Enrichment planting of trees into savanna habitat and activities to nurture plantings will increase biodiversity and reduce the affects of wildfire on savanna vegetation, and will remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere by sequestering carbon in, and avoiding emissions of greenhouses gases from, living biomass, dead organic matter and/or soil,” Rowan explains.

“We’ve done the hard-yards here, after three years of research and development, and it’s been a very consultative process, which is essential,” he says.

“The broader philosophy behind the methodology is food + carbon = savanna enrichment. This is the first cab off the rank in terms of this concept, so over time my hopes are that awareness will grow, and other people will take hold of it. I also see this environmental technique being applied in Africa and Asia in areas afflicted by poverty and scarce resources, particularly in the years ahead.”

Currently, Rowan is the General Manager of the Aboriginal Carbon Fund (not-for-profit Company), chair of the National Indigenous Climate Change Steering Committee and Territory Natural Resource Management (TNRM) Board member.

Not quite flat-out enough with all that on his plate, Rowan is also studying a Masters of Environmental Law at the Australian National University.

Since he returned from Queensland to the Territory in 2008, Rowan is based in Alice Springs with his wife; two sons; two camp dogs Monty and Sami from Mutitjulu community and a horse called Jackpot.

There’s a unique rhythm to life in the Territory that Rowan enjoys, and he says there are also unique elements to being a leader in the vast NT.

“In the Territory, you’re much more aware of the importance and scale of economics to everything; especially Indigenous livelihoods,” he says.

“The question that exercises my mind is that the challenges—geographical, cultural and financial restraints here are unique. People are not used to investing in this neck of the woods.”

But he sees this evolving by necessity.

“There is a genuine desire in corporate Australia, to want a good working relationship with Indigenous Australia. This is where rural leadership comes in. It’s about long term relationships and stewardship of land.”

Rowan, of course, has made a submission to the Northern Territory Whitepaper. He says he cares about the future of the Territory, and relishes being a part of its development story.

And as Course 20 of the ARLP approach there own graduation, he reflects on the experience that has shaped his own path.

“I felt so much happiness to come through the whole process at my own graduation,” he says.

“It involved some of the best times of my life, but it was also quite challenging, but that’s the reality of leadership. When you talk to leaders, they’ve all gone through ups and downs. It’s part of the journey.”

Rowan says Course 20 should remember to make the most of the great networks they will have forged over 17 months. 

“Be open to maintaining contacts – they will have made some great connections.”

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