An Indigenous construction company in Perth is breaking down barriers for employees and proving the naysayers wrong by taking on large-scale construction tenders.

Marawar Building Services Director Gerry Matera said for many years there’s been an assumption in the building trade that Indigenous companies would not be able to perform.

“I felt a sense that [people] don’t feel Aboriginal businesses can take the work, or can be educated, or do the large job; I think there’s some reluctancy there,” Matera said.

But after taking on a job for Bunnings, Matera said his company is perfectly placed to change people’s minds about what Indigenous people can do.

Matera said the journey to establishing Marawar began in 2018 when he discovered there were only 100 Indigenous apprentices in WA’s construction industry.

He said although there were many businesses trying to make a difference and employ Indigenous people, none were making “transformational” differences.

“There were small pockets of Aboriginal businesses in a building trade but nothing substantial and no one was taking on any big projects; it [was] always maintenance works.”

“We wanted to launch a business that could eventually become a significant player in the building industry.”

Building Marawar and getting the big jobs meant proving Indigenous businesses could do large projects to the same quality as mainstream construction companies.

“The only way we were able to [get bigger jobs] was … [by] giving people an understanding that, yes, we’re an Aboriginal business, but secondly, we [have] the quality and expertise to do the job,” Matera said.

“And over time, [by] word of mouth, and just doing lots of tenders … we’ve been given opportunities.”

As Marawar built a reputation, the barriers slowly disappeared and the company took on their largest project yet; the construction of a new Bunnings Warehouse in Albany.

Bunnings said as a $29 million-plus investment, the store will represent an improved customer experience for Albany shoppers.

“Features of the new store will include a large main warehouse and nursery, and a fully enclosed timber and trade sales area,” said Bunnings in a statement to NIT.

“The store will span more than 14,500 square metres and have parking for over 290 cars, bringing a bigger and better Bunnings Warehouse offer to Albany residents.”

The construction of the new Albany Bunnings is the largest project Marrawar has taken on to date. Photo supplied by Gerry Matera.

Marawar has also secured ongoing work for the Department of Finance, giving the business a sense of security knowing that regular work will be available.

WA Minister for Finance Ben Wyatt said the Aboriginal Procurement Policy has helped businesses around the state with work on stimulus projects.

“Marawar is a contractor on a Department of Finance maintenance panel. Most recently, the business has been engaged to deliver a number of projects in support of the Department of Education’s stimulus projects including, maintenance to classrooms (such as painting and carpet replacement) and roof upgrades,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Supporting businesses like Marawar through our Aboriginal Procurement Policy not only enables the State Government to deliver important community projects, it also provides long-term employment opportunities for many Aboriginal Western Australians.”


Supporting staff off the job

Marawar also takes on employees from backgrounds of disadvantage and equips them with the skills required to work in the construction business.

They also support staff in connecting with culture.

“Some of the apprentices just don’t know where they’ve come from—no backstory—and it’s not because they don’t want to, but because they haven’t had the opportunity, because they come from broken homes,” Matera said.

Matera has established language courses for employees to give them an opportunity to learn Noongar and created a buddy system of monthly catch-ups for the company’s Indigenous employees.

“When you’re an apprentice or a tradie, you don’t necessarily have [close relationships with other workers] because you’re all out on different sites doing different work.”

Marawar also provides budget training; teaching apprentices about saving and how to make their pay last a whole fortnight.

The company also recently took a young Aboriginal person through their apprenticeship into their role as a tradie, and Matera said it went even better than they expect.

“It’s been a phenomenal success, so that’s our model moving forward.”

By Sarah Smit