I was born in Colombia in the capital Bogota and trained in the field of animal nutrition and husbandry. I managed reptile farms in Colombia for more than a decade. I moved to Australia’s Northern Territory as a co-owner of one of Darwin’s most popular tourist attractions, Crocodylus Park and Zoo, which houses thousands of crocodiles, pursues crocodile research, and educates around 50,000 visitors a year about crocodile conservation and management.
I have always believed in empowering indigenous communities, particularly women. Since my work in the Amazon in the mid-90s, I have been continually involved in mentoring, training and creating employment opportunities for Indigenous people in the Northern Territory.
The project that started it all
As a businesswoman and mentor, my Rural Women’s Award project aimed to empower and upskill Indigenous women in a range of crocodile farming activities that offered a platform for others to take up the challenge. My bursary provided one-on-one training for Indigenous women to gain skills and knowledge in jobs as diverse as egg collection and incubation, baby crocodile care, crocodile husbandry, skinning, meat production, tourism and hospitality.
One area we focused on was the use of farm by-products such as crocodile back-skins, teeth, bone, and eggs as raw materials for women to incorporate in traditional sculptures and artworks as a unique line of craft.
It is a great joy to work alongside Indigenous rural women. Some of these women followed different pathways by becoming rangers, tour guides, farmhands etc. but the outcomes remained the same – independence, skills growth and self-esteem.
Connection to land and nature
I am a strong believer that unconventional areas of primary production hold enormous potential for diversification of primary production in rural Australia, more so in remote areas where the distance from markets is greatest. Crocodile farming is one of the few farming industries based around a native Australian species that depends on maintaining the environment and ecology of the land, which benefits the Indigenous communities living on it. More than 30% of Northern Territory population is Indigenous.
I feel disappointed that so many city people seem to have forgotten what nature is all about, and how our lives have always depended on using nature sustainably – not simply admiring it. Just think about indigenous hunter-gatherers like the Aboriginal people, Eskimos and peoples who have lived on their lands for tens of thousands of years. Their values and traditions must be valued and respected.
The crocodile industry now generates around $100 million annually for the Northern Territory and Indigenous people benefit directly from it.
Life after the Rural Women’s Award
The Rural Women’s Award gave me the national platform I needed to develop my vision. I am proud to say my work has changed many lives for the better.
The Rural Women’s Award also opened many doors for me. I was invited to be an Executive Board Member on the Council on Australian Latin American Relations, the Northern Territory Business Advisory Council and to take part in the Australian Rural Leadership Program in 2015-2016. In 2014, I was an NT Australian of the Year finalist and in 2015 I was honoured by Colombia’s Nobel Peace prize-winning President Juan Manuel Santos as one of the country’s top 100 overseas people from a population of 48.6 million.
I have travelled extensively around the world and this has given me greater insights into the need to offer training and education to build sustainable economic futures.
I am currently working at the Minerals Council of Australia, Northern Territory Division, which still involves building relationships with Indigenous people and linking rural communities to economic development opportunities.
My message to the next generation of women in regional Australia: Push your boundaries to help create stronger rural industries in Australia.
You can learn more about the AgriFutures Rural Women’s Award at www.agrifutures.com.au/people-leadership/rural-womens-award