Glitter Town
Getting young locals involved does a whole lot more than simply reduce vandalism.

MAKING THE TOWN GLITTER

There are plenty of places around Australia where it’s a challenge to make the ‘greening’ happen. Which means that to be an effective landscaper in this country you must be honest about the local conditions: the poor soils, the ferocious summers, the scarcity of water. If you top this honesty with knowing your stuff, you can work around challenges like these and produce results, like those achieved by the team from Yurra up in the Pilbara. They’re building green environments for seriously sun-baked, parched communities – and they’re doing it with an added twist...


Justin Byrne, is one of the management team at Yurra. He was there at the beginning when this profit-driven social enterprise was put together five years ago. Justin, who is Yurra’s Landscape Manager, came originally from Adelaide where he’d begun landscaping in his teens. Building what has become 30 years worth of experience, he moved to Perth to work on a Westfield shopping centre. He then joined various landscape firms, at one point setting up his own, before heading north to Port Hedland 12 years ago. He’s kept his eyes open over the years, often witnessing stiff competition. He’s also seen that projects won primarily on price often don’t make the grade in terms of quality or longevity. Some of these observations have influenced the philosophies behind Yurra.

“Our management team had been working in the same area for many years - we’re very close - so when we won a ground maintenance and cleaning tender for Rio Tinto, we were able to set up Yurra.” The business is a partnership between locals: between those like Justin who’d arrived in previous years and the local Yindjibarndi Aboriginal Corporation. Yurra has over 50 staff, and of those, half are indigenous, employing Yindjibarndi people and others from different language groups. The objective is simple, to boost business and opportunity for locals by locals*. It’s also about locals addressing local disadvantage.

“We take pride in what we do. For our clients, we offer the best value for their money, but developing on from that we’re basically trying to make a difference. We’re all on board: work is a large part of your life, we like what we do and we gain a lot of satisfaction. Day to day our work is more interesting and we’re leaving a legacy.” And when Justin explains that they’re not just saying it but doing it, he means it.

For example, after South Hedland’s town centre landscaping was taking a beating from local disadvantaged youth, Yurra were brought in to rejuvenate the plantings. Instead of taking the expected approach, the Yurra team did it their way. Those parts of the project that demanded expertise were covered off during the week by Yurra staff, but on weekends things got a lot more interesting. Local kids were invited - via Yurra fliers and ads on the radio - to get hands on. Wearing safety gear and working under supervision, they learned basic skills as they spread mulch, planted, and laid turf before being rewarded with vouchers to cash in at Kmart, McDonalds and the local games store. Word spread fast so that soon, 25 or more seven to 13 year olds were rocking up, earlier and earlier each weekend, keen to get stuck in.

And when Yurra prepared to carry out the street tree planting, they took the 60 metal mesh tree protectors over to South Hedland Primary’s oval where the students were able to weave and wrap them as part of a craft-art-tree-loving activity. Those collaborative barriers are now working their magic, helping priceless trees take hold so that they can cast shade and transform the space for many years to come.

So what is the result? Having locals ask other young locals to help means that together they’re building landscapes that no longer suffer the level of vandalism they’ve been subjected to in the past. And those young people have learned skills, gained work experience and feel a sense of pride in the greened spaces they’ve created. Oh and right down at the bottom line, the client is happy because they’ve been delivered with a landscape project, at a reasonable price that is more resilient.

“We had an end of project event recently with a sausage sizzle and we asked the kids to tell us what this has meant to them. It’s obvious that they were excited to have jobs, to be paid in vouchers. And they were proud, like one kid who came along and asked if I remembered him from another project two years earlier. He was happy to point out all the things he’d been part of.” Somehow summing it all up, from some of the written comments came this gem, “Don’t litter. Make our town glitter.”

*Yurra covers more than just landscaping: check them out at yurra.com.au


Glitter Town
The South Hedland weekend work crew with Yurra’s Shaun Worthington (left) and Joma Bacon (right); and below, the team in action.
Glittere Town