Major iron ore miner, Fortescue Metals Group, allows its skilled employees to run community assistance programs where they contribute to Indigenous communities in Western Australia.
One of those projects was increasing the number and quality of accommodations and building a new water supply to a small rural community called Mingullatharndo.
Mingullatharndo is an Aboriginal dry community and safe haven – the site of the 1946 Pilbara pastoral strike. It was in need of a better standard of sleeping quarters and reliable drinking water.
The project’s leader was Mark Tazewell, of structure at FMG, who helps manage, and complete projects at Mingullatharndo, which has a population of between 35 and 75 people.
He had one weekend available, when the assistance he needed to install a new water pipeline to the town, and mount and connect a group of demountable accommodations was available. The work had been completed in two days.
“We had a bit of work to do and we had one weekend in August to complete it,” says Tazewell. “I had two people with me from work, and the Coates Hire branch in Karratha helped us complete the job.”
The community is three kilometres past the Karratha racecourse and had once been the site of a commercial nursery that had ceased production.
However, it does not fulfill some criteria to achieve ‘Community’ status, so the accommodations had fallen into disrepair and the bore that the community relied upon was no longer reliable.
Tazewell says that in order to build the water infrastructure for the community, and to restart the commercial nursery, they had to find a better source of water.
“We dug a new bore and found good water, but it was 300 metres from the original bore.”
Not only did the team have to run a pipeline from the bore to the community but it had to be buried.
“We installed RO [reverse osmosis] self-contained water treatment plant to purify the water, and the RO systems don’t operate very well with water over 30 degrees. So, the pipe had to be buried to keep the water cool.”
The FMG-Mingullatharndo team used a Coates Hire mini excavator to quickly dig the trench for the pipeline, and used Coates Hire rollers and skid steers to prepare the ground for the new demountables which house 16 rooms, each with en suites.
“There are seven native title groups around the Pilbara who are developing communities as places not only with jobs, but also as healthy habitats,” he says.
“With healthy communities and relationships you have healthy children and they have greater opportunities in life. These are sustainable models.”
Anton de St Pern, National key Account Manager from Coates Hire, says the project at Mingullatharndo – which means ‘Place of God’ in the local tongue – was a perfect fit with the Coates Hire mission.
“We’ve formalised our social inclusion programs with local indigenous people,” says de St Pern.
“We’re developing a RAP [Reconciliation Action Plan] and I’m on the RAP Committee.
It’s a big deal for us to get this right, given how closely we operate in and around aboriginal communities in Western Australia.”
One of the actions that Coates Hire is undertaking, is an aboriginal intake for its 2020 apprentice program, and in the meantime Coates Hire wanted to be more involved in community projects where the equipment and services could be donated.
“Engaged companies can offer jobs, that’s one thing they can do,” says de St Pern. “But we can also help make the lives of indigenous people healthier, which is another way to strengthen communities.
“FMG is Coates Hire’s biggest customer in the West, and they are at the forefront of corporate community engagement with aboriginal communities. It was a good fit for us, to do engagement with an organisation like FMG that we know very well.”
De St Pern says the Coates Hire workers like being involved in the community engagement because they can make a practical difference to people’s lives.
“Mark [Tazewell] is clear that he is not doing charity,” says de St Pern.
“He calls his projects ‘busy bees’ and they are part of a larger coalition-building plan between the corporate world and aboriginal communities. There are no hand-outs, as such, and that appeals to our employees who like to feel they’re making a difference.”
De St Pern says that in the Western Australian outback, water is crucial and building the infrastructure to make it reliable and clean, is a lasting benefit to communities.
“It isn't just the earth moving equipment. We also transport it. Logistics is a problem outside the major cities and towns, and that’s something we can take care of. We’ll be getting more involved in these communities,” says de St Pern.
Mark Tazewell says he has been working with the community for around a year, and while he provides the expertise, the community provides the labour.
“This is a community assistance program, which means we focus on capability-building rather than just coming in and handing-out something. The community wants to feel ownership in creating a living habitat, so I design the solutions and show them what to do, but they do the work. It’s their project.”
However, Tazewell says the projects need a helping hand, which is where Coates Hire comes in.
“I can come out to Mingullatharndo for a weekend, but then I have to go back to work. With Coates Hire lending us the equipment, we can get a lot done in one weekend.
“My approach to this work is to build partnerships and build capability,” says Tazewell. “People helping one another to get things done. Coates Hire came in and were a big part of that.”