Defying the odds

“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change”. – Charles Darwin

Yvonne Bradley at the 2009 Telstra Business Women's Awards in Darwin.

Yvonne Bradley at the 2009 Telstra Business Women’s Awards in Darwin.

It is 28 January 2010, and Tropical Cyclone Olga, which has been pounding the Gulf of Carpentaria for a week, is now sitting 10km south-west of the township of Borroloola. With winds reaching 130km, Olga has dumped around 75mm of rain on the town in just 24 hours causing flash flooding and high tides.

A day later, Yvonne and Neil Bradley are heading home from Darwin. Ahead lies a 1200km drive and – after securing their vehicle at King Ash Bay – a 120km boat ride to their home on the banks of the Wearyan River, near Borroloola. Neither is under any illusion that their whole house and property is likely to be under water again!

Coping with isolation, extreme heat, cyclones and a local crocodile and tiger shark population is just part of everyday life for Yvonne, Neil and their four children who – despite the elements – run a successful crabbing business on the banks of the Wearyan River.

Yvonne was working in Rockhampton, Queensland as a bird breeder and singer when she met Neil in 1992. The pair were married in Tennant Creek in 1994 and, after an extended honeymoon holiday in the Tanami Desert, decided to move to the Northern Territory for good in 1995. This meant selling just about everything they owned. ‘But Neil taught me that it’s the quality of life you live, not the quantity of possessions you have that matter’, said Yvonne, ‘and I never looked back’.

Yvonne and Neil lived in a tent for two years while they built the infrastructure of their home on the river.

Yvonne recalls: ‘I went from a house to a tent, a four-post bed to a swag, and from electricity and running water to candles and showering with a bucket.’ But that same remoteness and simplicity is, according to Yvonne, what makes the Gulf  ’the most beautiful place on earth’.

Four children and fifteen years later, the Bradleys have constructed a partially self-sufficient remotely located home and business that is powered by environmentally friendly solar and wind power. An inverter supplies electricity to the house (which now has tiled floors, and other household conveniences), the refrigeration shed where the bait and crabs are stored, and a 27-foot caravan the family call ‘Progress’ which serves as both classroom and office.

The Bradley's home and business are now partially wind and solar powered.

The Bradley’s home and business are now partially wind and solar powered.

Yvonne and Neil worked as crabbing contractors in the region between 1995-2004, and in 2006 were offered a lease on a licence to operate 60 crab pots locally. Seizing the opportunity to become personally and financially independent Yvonne and Neil used their savings and borrowed funds to equip themselves to run their own business.

Following a meeting with an IBA representative in Borroloola in 2007, the couple applied for a loan (through IBA’s Business Development and Assistance Program) to purchase a truck which enables them to transport their catch 1200km to market each week.

Having purchased their own licence in 2008, Neil and Yvonne now bait 120 pots and collect their catch each and every day of the year – often in monsoonal rains or in 45 degree heat. They store the catch in a specially constructed shed which ensures the crabs remain fresh before they are transported each week by sea (in the wet season) or road to Darwin.The couple’s hard work and entrepreneurial spirit has seen them become leading suppliers of fresh, pristine crabs to mud crab seafood wholesalers in Darwin. And through Yvonne’s determination to educate herself in accounting and marketing, Bradley Seafoods has doubled the size of its operations in the last three years.

It is that determination, passion and business acumen that were acknowledged when Yvonne won the Northern Territory Business Owner category of the 2009 Telstra Business Women’s Awards. Since winning the award, Yvonne has been receiving invitations to speak nationally at business seminars to share her inspirational story.

Now with assistance from IBA, Bradley Seafoods are seeking another licence to enable them to package and market their produce under their own brand name to restaurants in the southern states.

However, to meet market demand the business needs to overcome the logistical and transport problems that the climate and isolation create. Neil is therefore learning to fly a plane, and Yvonne is learning the required codes and procedures to enable the couple to fly interstate together and make deliveries.

‘It’s hilarious’, said Yvonne, ‘there’s a flight simulator sitting in the middle of the office, which means I can’t open the filing cabinets. But, you know, we do whatever it takes, because up here we need to constantly learn and adapt to new ways of doing business’.

That capacity for learning and adapting has characterised Yvonne’s life since moving to the Northern Territory. She said:‘Everything changed when I came out hereMy whole life, my whole attitude towards life changed. Out here there are no four walls to hold you in, you’re really out of the box. I’ve been given the chance to become a multi-skilled person who automatically says ‘yes, I can do that’ even when I’m not sure I can. And out here there are less people to talk you down, tell you something can’t be done.’
The Bradleys lived in this tent while they built the infrastructure of their home and business.

The Bradleys lived in this tent while they built the infrastructure of their home and business.

According to Yvonne succeeding in a remote area like the Gulf comes from respecting your environment. ‘When we moved out here, an old Indigenous elder told us ‘this country will eat you up if you don’t respect it’. You need to work with the environment, not try and control it. Pay respect to the elders. And communication is key as well – to our marriage, to our business and to being in community out here’, she said.

From the IBA national network of business consultants, Yvonne and Neil chose Ian Fraser, of Fraser and Fraser Accounting in Darwin, to help develop their business plan, cash flow projections and financial forecasts. Communicating with a business that is 1200km away can pose problems but Ian maintains regular email, fax and telephone contact with the family.

Ian is currently assisting with the development of a website, marketing and branding tools to ensure Bradley Seafoods becomes more widely known to restauranteurs in the southern states.

Ian believes Yvonne and Neil’s resourcefulness and respect for their community will continue to set them apart as business people.

‘Yvonne and Neil came out here, they got permission from the traditional owners and they did their apprenticeship on the land. They have developed an advantage over their competitors, but at the same time that advantage isn’t to the detriment of any other business’, said Ian.

The Bradleys have overcome many challenges to create a lifestyle they cherish, in an environment they respect, running a business that provides them with financial security, independence and plenty of adventure. Yvonne hopes her story will inspire other Indigenous women to consider their own business options and see that neither gender nor geography need be a barrier to running a successful business.