30. What is a Purchase Order? Part 1

Yolngu co- producers ask what is a purchase order?

Purchase order have caused massive problem for Yolngu and Yolngu organisations over the 40 years + association I have had with Yolngu in Arnhem Land. So, I did a recheck with the co-producer to see if I had the same picture as to where most Yolngu were at in relation them. What I heard again was then same as I had heard for decades, retold to me.


Most Yolngu understand purchase orders to be a piece of paper that when used do not have to be paid for. A bit like money itself, except you could just write on it what you wanted. That is if you are luck enough to get a purchase order you can get the good or services for nothing. This will seem crazy to most economically literate westerners, but once more it shows the lack of information that Yolngu have access to. It also points to the major confusion where many Yolngu think that Balanda can just get most things, they want for nothing. This is causing a major rebellion amongst a lot of younger Yolngu where their parent cannot get this same access to goods.


This understanding has caused massive arguments between Balanda managers and bookkeepers, lead to many Yolngu bookkeepers walking away from their job, because of false expectations from their own people, and to the financial collapse of some Yolngu organisations. It has also led to arguments between Yolngu client and Balanda managers to the point where the Balanda managers resigned.


I asked the Yolngu co-producer to give me example of the argument this misunderstand has caused. And I was given many, recorded in full latter.


The meaning of Purchase Orders was easy to explain because Yolngu have a similar concept in the traditional economic system where they used to order things from other suppliers further down the trade tracks. This is called madjapala. Unfortunately, again many Yolngu are following the mainstream view of Yolngu society as being primitive and backward so the people tend to throw away the very things that can help them understand economics and business.


We used the theme of madjapala to work through the meaning of Purchase Order. Working through how they are used, how only some businesses will accept them, other demand cash, and the need to have an account.


During the recording of the conversation on Purchase Order the question came up as to what are (wage) Advances. We have talked about advances before but in the context of this conversation many Yolngu still think an Advance is another way of getting easy money.


There are 2 Stories in this podcast see below time stamps.

  • What is a Purchase Order? – 00:00
  • Purchase Orders and advances – 18:54
Hardwords discussed