Building Bright Futures

Wildgeese Building Group

Along with a different set of values, the British brought with them devastating disease. Chickenpox, smallpox, influenza, and measles spread across densely populated areas within weeks of their arrival. Another problem that directly affected the indigenous people was the appropriation of land and water sources. The British simply took what they needed and figured that since the natives didn’t have any concept of land ownership that they would be just as happy somewhere else if not here.

The British couldn’t have been more wrong, mainly because the people needed what was on that land and most often being forced to relocate would mean death for lack of knowing where new food and water sources were. To underpin it all, the indigenous people also had a spiritual attachment to the land, a key facet of their wellbeing.

The loss of land, violence and disease led to the extinction of about 90 per cent of the indigenous population on the southern part of the continent. On the mainland by the late 1830’s, battles were still being waged and the indigenous people were being killed by the thousands; those who weren’t killed in battle were reduced to living on whatever land was deemed unfit for settlement by the British settlers. Traditional food was scarce.

In the 1850’s, the indigenous people had almost entirely lost their way of life and had to rely on the settler population for their survival. The natives soon became a source of labour for the settlers during the gold rushes, but they were not paid in gold – they were given food rations and clothing. Pearling and other outback industries were also dependent on indigenous labour.

Well into the 20th century, even though many indigenous people had fought for Australia in the second World War, they were still the victims of very widespread racism, and were obliged to carry papers termed ‘Dog Licenses’ by the Europeans.

Today, the Aboriginal peoples of Australia still survive, even after the trials of the past, but there are many who will forever mourn their ancestors and past way of life. Many of these proud people still live in remote areas where there are fewer opportunities for employment and training. So in 2004, Wildgeese Building and Maintenance Group Ltd was developed with the goal of creating long term employment opportunities and training for Aboriginal Australians in these remote areas. Not only would the company provide jobs and training, they would also provide the much needed infrastructure to support work in these areas.

“Originally, Wildgeese was set up to create indigenous outcomes by creating real jobs. We were also building housing and creating very valuable training programs so that we could actually offer qualifications that would last a lifetime,” explains Patrick Hewitt, the founder of Wildgeese. The very idea of this company brings to mind the saying, ‘if you give a man a fish he can eat for a day, but if you give him the tools he needs to fish, he can eat for a lifetime.’

A company can employ anyone they want to fill a position; however, if they don’t have the qualifications they may never be able to get a job elsewhere. This is exactly what Patrick wanted to redress – his goal was to give trainees a strong start in the industry by creating excellent, practically trained, qualified carpenters that would be able to work in any part of the country. The company will go anywhere in Australia, even offshore if it will create sustainable employment opportunities and outcomes.

The company is still very young but within the last five years, Wildgeese has become a federally accredited organisation, with recognition for its quality, safety and environmental management systems.

Wildgeese’s portfolio includes housing in indigenous communities, commercial buildings, residential high rises, and remotely located resorts for the ecotourism sector. The company also maintains sponsorship programs in support of the local communities in which it operates – for example, a joint sponsorship for The Melbourne Football Club in the Indigenous Football League (IFL). The company runs competitions for schools in the local communities, and attendants can win trips to meet footballers and play before big games.

Even amidst recent slowdowns in the industry, Wildgeese has risen to the challenge and has been able to create work for itself within different areas of the market. According to Patrick, “The name Wildgeese Building Group name has been associated with remote building specialists, but we do want to be able to quote regional work as well… We have some other companies that we have created under our banner which are focused on executive homes, buying land for commercial developments,” and other steps toward diversifying the company’s offering.

One challenge that has arisen recently is that, in the Northern Territory, the rules for safety aren’t as clear as they are in the South, making it challenging for the company to bid competitively in that part of Australia because of its federal safety accreditations. Some other companies are willing to cut corners where Wildgeese is not. “It makes us uncompetitive to the guy who doesn’t have any accreditations; they wouldn’t have the full scaffold that we would propose on a project in a remote area,” for example. “Traditionally in remote sites, no one has to do anything to follow the rules so that’s what we are up against at the current time.”

It seems a bit strange, in fact, that the workers in the North wouldn’t want stronger safety precautions in place when they are in a remote area without the assurance of swift medical assistance. Wildgeese’s accreditations have vastly strengthened the business from an internal standpoint, but have placed the firm at a slight disadvantage because of the extra steps the team takes to ensure worker safety.

Ultimately, though, Patrick and his team can be proud of the very real outcomes they have achieved through the company. “The indigenous people that we employ can get off the CDEP and come work on an equal level; obviously there are some cultural differences but we all manage together. They gain important qualifications while learning how we do business – it needs to be profitable, it needs to be productive. It works out well for everyone that is involved.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 16, 2020, 11:11 AM AEST