Indigenous community governments are at the frontline of current efforts to 'close the gap' between Indigenous and non-Indigenous living standards. Yet there is little empirical evidence about successful performance by these organisations and considerable scepticism about whether introduced Western governance models can ever be viable in Indigenous communities. To identify the governance attributes that contribute to successful performance, case studies were conducted at three Aboriginal councils in far north Queensland. The untested assumptions in current notions of 'good governance' were examined. Currently accepted good governance principles and practices were investigated to ascertain their actual causal relationship with council performance. The research further identified key contextual, historical and cultural factors that are important in shaping successful or unsuccessful governance. Practical strategies are suggested for policy-makers and Indigenous leaders to build the performance of Indigenous community governments.