Giving his people a go, Paul Towney is the face behind Australia’s first Indigenous asbestos and demolition business.
Born in Gilgandra in central-west New South Wales, the Wiradjuri man spent his early life between Gilgandra, Condoblin, Orange, Wellington, Peak Hill and Bathurst, and still has strong family connections to those areas.
As a young man Towney had a talent for rugby league and found himself playing professionally in Canberra. However, an injury put him into early retirement and at 21-years-old, Towney joined the public service sector working in Aboriginal employment and then in Corrective Services.
“I joined corrective services working in juvenile justice … in Gosford at Baxter Detention Centre. I transferred down to Long Bay jail and worked there for about ten years,” he said.
“In that time, just seeing your mob come in all the time. It is so wrong. It is just racist policies. You are there trying to look after your mob, make sure they’re safe but with the policies and everything — they’re just there to oppress your mates.
“I couldn’t put on the false act and face that.”
From there, Towney was employed with WorkSafe NSW. He then took the leap and established Indigi Asbestos and Demolition Removals, which has expanded into today’s Wiradjuri Demolitions.
“There is a huge issue nationally regarding asbestos in our missions and reserves, within those communities,” said Towney.
“Indigenous-wise, there was no one out there with licences in asbestos removal and demolition industry.
“I said stuff it, I’m going to go for this market. I have been in the demo and asbestos field now for over a decade. I started from nothing.”
Towney found support from Sydney TAFE, who provided training opportunities for those wanting to join the business.
“It is just what they want to hear, a new Indigenous business, in a new market, in a new area,” he said.
With a strong purpose for Indigenous employment, Wiradjuri Demolitions is ensuring local mob have local jobs.
“We are an Indigenous employer so if we get the long-term contract in that area, that is better for the local community and for local employment,” Towney said.
“The goal is to make it local and keep it local. The problem is government doesn’t get that.”
Towney said it’s a fight to be recognised in the tender process.
“That is one of my biggest problems today. Convincing governments and departments to give us Blak contractors the works,” he said.
“It is building and supporting us, so that one day you don’t have to. We will be self-supporting.”
“We then will be able to compete against the big companies that are out there and have the monopoly.
“It all comes down to tendering. I have to try and change that. I want this tendering process for Indigenous businesses, give us the work direct because of the value we will give.”
Towney explained that the tendering process perpetuates struggle for Indigenous business.
“Stop non-Indigenous companies from getting these works, blowing into town or on the reserves. [They] put on labour, the local mob, for the week or month that they’re doing it then they leave with the big dollars,” he said.
“Governments tell us all the time that blackfullas need to be getting into this, into the private sector. But it’s a board game. It needs to be targeted and not tendered.”
Born from Towney’s blood, sweat and tears, Wiradjuri Demolitions has become a business with backbone and a strong purpose for mob.
“If my company at the end of the day goes down, then I go down. But at least I have tried, and I’ve done the best for me and my mob.”
By Rachael Knowles