Bush Mechanics was a quirky, funny, cheeky, surprising and very successful TV show. The live spectacle based on it, expected to be one of the highlights of the Mbantua Festival, didn't live up to the legend. Story and pictures by ERWIN CHLANDA.
"Standing on our own two feet, that's the beauty of it all."
Thomas Warren (pictured) is crewing for Arrernte Workforce Solutions, once a CDEP provider but now an independent Aboriginal enterprise, working mostly on grounds maintenance contracts and competing in the marketplace at commercial rates.
When their CDEP funding was taken away, Arrernte Workforce was not ready for independent commercial trade. It probably would have fallen over, if its present manager, Damien Armstrong, hadn't picked up the pieces. It's been a struggle over two years, to completely restructure and get to the point where they are now, with good secure trade and consistent employment of Indigenous people "without being any burden whatsoever on government funding".
Today Arrernte Workforce employs a full-time bookkeeper and a permanent crew of six men, working on different contracts in teams of two or three, five days a week or more. As well there are two casuals on call and a "stack of resumes" on Mr Armstrong's desk, from "motivated individuals who would like to come on board".
"At the end of the day we are Indigenous people who want to work, we're not being forced to work out of fear of our dole being cut off," he says. "I'm a businessman, I'm into making money and employing people. As we become a more successful business, we'll be able to give back to the community – because I reckon we're here to stay." KIERAN FINNANE reports.