Content warning: This article contains reference to suicide. Please refer to the services at the bottom of this article for support.
Dedicated to community and built for opportunity, Indigenous business Minbaringu Services is making a difference through what they do and who they are.
Operating in the Pilbara, Minbaringu provides electrical services; heating, ventilation,
air conditioning (HVAC); PV solar power; and environmental and waste management services.
Minbaringu is led by director Richard Walker, right, who leads by example with his strong values on Indigenous employment and community connection.
A man with a passion for mob and Country, he has maternal and paternal links to
Ngarluma and Ngamal communities.
Born in Port Hedland in the 1970s, Mr Walker was raised in Fitzroy Crossing with his family of seven.
His work ethic and strong sense of duty was instilled by his father, who worked on pastoral stations.
Mr Walker started school in Fitzroy Crossing before moving to boarding schools in Broome and Perth. Despite his drive and ambition, Mr Walker struggled to find his place.
“It wasn’t hard academically,” he said.
“It was hard socially.
“One thing that stuck in my mind then, and it still sticks in my mind today, was when a non-Indigenous person said to me, that because I was Aboriginal, I wouldn’t amount to anything in life.
“That’s what drove me to start this business. It’s stuck with me my whole life.”
After school Mr Walker worked with the Department of Education before moving into a traineeship in machine operating in the mines, then worked his way into employment at FMG.
“I wasn’t the token. I was employed in mainstream, I sat at the table with general managers, with HR managers, all the big boys,” he laughed.
“I was able to change my way of thinking, and I was able to change their way of thinking when it came to Indigenous employment.
“I think there was this mistaken idea of ‘us’. I know we see things differently, but we’re not dumb or stupid.”
“What I’ve done in my working life has proven that.”
Minbaringu, named after Walker’s mother, is the brain- child of Mr Walker and close friend David Crooks. Together the pair built the brand to what it is today.
“I didn’t want to bring kids in, chew them up and spit them out. Now, Minbaringu is Indigenous-owned, and we have Indigenous tradies working for us,” he said.
“I’ve made it a mission to go out and headhunt people who are in this field. Get them on board and support them not only while they do the job.
“We draw on their experiences about how hard it was for them to go through their trade to support others coming up.”
Through Minbaringu, Mr Walker can give back.
“One of the biggest things for me with the business is how we support the community, particularly with mental health and youth suicide,” he said.
“With our team we do make sure we do things like mental [health] awareness week, and we make sure that we are looking after one another.
“We want that big brother relationship; it doesn’t have to be getting involved in their personal business but it’s making sure support is there.
“We know that if we do this internally, that flows our into their communities, and their families.”
This is a cause very close to home for Mr Walker.
“I lost a couple of close friends and a family relative to youth suicide. That really shook me and affected me when I was a young fella,” he said.
“Mental health comes in so many shapes, forms and types and it affects us all. Youth suicide is connected to mental health, there is something going on in their lives and they don’t have the tools or they’re struggling with how to get through.
“It isn’t as simple as talking to an aunty, an uncle or a granddad. It isn’t easy.
“For me, it’s now building that support in community, reaching out and seeing what we can do, how can we support people.
“I’ve lost too many friends. I’ve lost too many people to this. I want to make a change.”
Now in their fourth year of business, Minbaringu’s core is the principle of a fair go.
“It is an opportunity to get those kids, give them chance,” Mr Walker said.
“It is going to be hard, but I know they have the drive, I know they have the ambition. Between family support and what we can provide, they have the opportunity to have a trade certificate or a HVAC certification.”
The business is expanding into building maintenance.
“The trades need maths skills and certifications . . . Building maintenance is an opportunity for the kids who say they aren’t good at maths or reading. It’s laying tiles, hanging doors, grouting.”
Looking back, Mr Walker said he never thought he would one day have his own business. But despite life’s ups and downs, he’s managed to create a business with heart, passion and ambition.
“It’s about giving young people a go. I’ve created a space to give them a go. Because someone gave me a go.”
By Rachael Knowles
If you or anyone you know is struggling with mental ill-health, call or visit the online resources below:
- Spartan First Suicide Prevention Crisis Line – 1800 370 747
- Lifeline – 13 11 14, lifeline.org.au
- Beyond Blue – 1300 224 636, beyondblue.org.au/forums
- MensLine – 1300 789 978
- Kids Helpline 1800 551 800
- Suicide Call Back Service – 1300 659 467
- Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet – healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au