An Indigenous Family-Run Business Success Story

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Image supplied: Wayne & Lucy McGinness with their children

More than 200 K-Mart stores around Australia will soon each display a plaque recognising and acknowledging the traditional owners of the land they stand on.

Each plaque is being handmade by Wayne “Liwingu” McGinness, an Aboriginal steel artist living in Kuranda in North Queensland.

Wayne has spent a majority of his life in the Northern Territory where his father’s family is from. It was while living near Humpty Doo ten years ago as a fly-in-fly-out worker that he first tried his hand at creating art out of steel – crafting an entrance gate to their house.

“I bought $30 worth of rusty steel from the Humpty Doo tip and built a four to five metre sliding gate with a big crocodile in it.”

“We hadn’t seen anything like it before. We did a lot of research and couldn’t find anybody else doing anything like it .”

Wayne and his wife Lucy took a gamble and sold their house, using the money to start up what has become a successful business – Aboriginal Steel Art (ASA) in Kuranda, where he was born and where his parents lived.

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The first few years were tough. After living off their savings while establishing the business, Wayne said he had decided to find extra work to make ends meet.

Just before going in to an interview for a local job, Wayne says they received their first corporate gift order, and “we haven’t looked back”.

“Mate, I think you’re on to something here.”

That’s what the excited lecturer at a local workshop run by Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) told Wayne when he heard about his business.

After receiving mentoring from business consultants, Wayne and Lucy were able to expand from selling corporate gifts to the variety of products and services they now offer.

Visitors are often surprised when they visit his ‘workshop’ in his backyard, where he often works off of tree stumps and is yet to close in his two-walled shed because it opens up onto tropical rain forest.

ASA has now produced works for the Northern Territory Government, Tourism Queensland, Australian Paralympians, the Victorian Government – to name a few.

One of the first of the K-Mart plaques has been unveiled in Coolalinga, just outside of Darwin.

Wayne says designing the plaque was difficult – “you don’t want to offend people, or forget anybody.”

“As Traditional Owners, our love of living off the land and protecting it, ties us together. No matter which tribe or area you are from, we are all connected like water, which is represented by the water ways on the shield. The hands are symbolic of our family and the bloodlines of our ancestors – connected to culture, connected to family”

Wayne’s work can be seen at the Aboriginal Steel Art website.

 

Stephen Clarke

Stephen Clarke

NIRS Journalist