When Bernard Charlie gets home from his month long stints on the Port Hedland railway line in Western Australia, it doesn’t take him long to settle back into his community. “You know you can be months and months away, and it takes five minutes and you’re home,” the 36 year-old said.
The small Aboriginal community, Umagico, located on the Northern Peninsula of Queensland, is home to about 270 people.
When Bernard was growing up, high unemployment rates, alcohol and smoking plagued his community. He witnessed welfare dependency, and is determined to make a change for himself and set and example to his neighbours and friends.
“I am a cycle breaker, and I am determined to help our people break the dependency cycle and be independent,” Charlie said.
After completing his apprenticeship in mechanics, Charlie decided to leave his community and put his skills to the test in Western Australia. He is not the only person from Umagico who is reaping the financial benefits of the mining boom.
In very remote communities like Umagico, there are few industries for job hopefuls to gain on-the-job training. This made it difficult for Charlie and people like him to build a career; rather, they were caught up on the training merry-go-round.
“I think Indigenous people are tired of doing training for training’s sake and still getting CDEP [Commonwealth Development Employment Programs]”, he said.
Having experienced this firsthand, he explains the importance of having a clear path from training to industry.
“The important thing about these linkages is that you need to know what you want to train for, and what specific training these industries need, rather than just training to have a certificate in your portfolio,” he said.
No matter how much time Charlie spends away from home, no-one can doubt his love and commitment to his community and culture.
Charlie is the Chairman of the Apudthuma Land Trust in Injinoo, and in 2012 is running for Mayor of the Northern Peninsula Area.
Charlie walks a line between two worlds – although it has been hard leaving his community to work, the benefits are life-changing. “It is a win-win. You’ve got your career and your financial independence at one end, and then at the other end you won’t lose your family and your culture – they will always be there for you,” he said.
Charlie eloquently sums up his journey:
“I hope that one day my story will help people to get out of the community and encourage them to cut that rope from that anchor. You can come back and still find your place. You will not lose your culture and you won’t lose your connection. Your home will always be your home. Your skin colour will always be the same skin colour – you won’t lose anything. You will always have this traditional connection to you.”
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