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Steer clear of Indigenous politics and trust verbal deals: business owner's steps to being an ally

Tom Zaunmayr -

A Geraldton business owner has outlined his key steps to becoming a good Indigenous ally in a forum address canvassing contracts, trust and Indigenous politics which had the crowd in stitches.

Craig Patterson grew Centrals Earthmoving from the ground up in the Mid West and has always held a mantra of employing Indigenous people spurred by experiences he witnessed growing up.

Mr Patterson recounted his own story growing up in Morawa and moving to Perth with an Indigenous friend, where he saw firsthand how racism robbed his mate of opportunities.

That experience led Mr Patterson to take in initiatives such as lobbying for Clontarf to come to Geraldton and starting the Bayalgu training program which has helped more than 150 young Aboriginal people.

This regional shire wants the same procurement policy as the State

Speaking at the Mid West Aboriginal Business Forum in Geraldton on Thursday, Mr Patterson said it was incumbent on young Indigenous people to grasp opportunities their Elders had fought hard for.

"There is a huge responsibility on those people to keep the journey going for future generations," he said.

Speaking to some of the nuances of working with Indigenous people, Mr Patterson said business owners who were not genuine in their intentions would quickly find themselves on the wrong side of the bush telegraph.

"Aboriginal people will watch you and see what you do and how you act, and what it is critical to do is ensure your sincerity will be checked and tested," he said.

Centrals Earthmoving managing director Craig Patterson.

"This mob have got an unbelievable communication network.

"That network and gut reaction is something you need to trust."

On contracts, Mr Patterson said it was important for business owners to understand the importance of verbal deals for Indigenous people.

Conversely, he said many Aboriginal start-ups needed to learn for many businesses a deal wasn't a deal until it was signed on paper.

"For Aboriginal people what you say is a contract and you will be held to account for that," Mr Patterson said.

"For some Aboriginal people the written word doesn't have the same meaning as the verbal word and they are prepared to walk away if it doesn't work.

"I often see too the written word for some Aboriginal people is seen as a bit of a mistrust."

Mr Patterson urged business owners to steer clear of engaging with Aboriginal politics, which he said made Canberra "look like a garden party".

He also urged an end to lateral violence among Indigenous people, describing working together as critical to grow the Indigenous business sector.

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