Roadworkers sealing Western Australia’s last dirt highway unite remote outback community – ABC News - Freelance Rack

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Sunday, July 19, 2020

Roadworkers sealing Western Australia’s last dirt highway unite remote outback community – ABC News

It is a project some have been waiting their whole lives to see — the sealing of Western Australia’s last dirt highway.

Tarring the dusty stretch of the Goldfields Highway from Wiluna to Meekatharra, deep in the desert scrub, has been promised by all sides of politics many times before.

“We’ve been waiting since about 1957 — that’s when the rail closed down and then they promised to give Wiluna an all-weather road,” Wiluna Shire President Jim Quadrio said.

Now, after many false starts, a small section of the flood-prone road is being sealed and it is proving to be more than just a roadworks project.

Jim Quadrio road

Jim Quadrio road

Wiluna Shire President Jim Quadrio has been waiting his whole life for an all weather road to Meekatharra.(ABC Goldfeilds: Rhiannon Stevens)

In a collaboration aimed at creating employment for local Indigenous people, the State Government provided $1 million for a pilot program between road work contractors and Wiluna’s small training centre.

To prepare for the project, students at the Martu-ku Yiwarra Training Centre spent months training to receive the required machinery tickets and knowledge to work on the project.

Manager Mac Jensen said the centre, which works with Martu elders, Central Regional TAFE and local industry, prides itself on providing a “Martu-specific training environment”.

Zareth Long roadworker

Zareth Long roadworker

Zareth Long (left) says the road work job has kept him out of prison.(ABC Goldfields: Isabel Moussalli)

He said everyone worked to balance the commitments the Martu students had to family and traditional lore as well as their desire to join the labour force.

“The Martu have been very clear that roadworks were their priority, and it’s been a tremendous success,” Mr Jensen said.

Jobs not prison

For Zareth Long, working on the road is more than a job. It is a second chance.

During a recent court hearing for a driving offence he said the magistrate acknowledged the project was positive for him.

“This job actually saved me from spending time in prison,” Mr Long said.

Mr Quadrio urged politicians across the country to look at the project’s success and adopt similar programs.

Lena Long Wiluna elder

Lena Long Wiluna elder

Wiluna shire councillor Lena Long (right) and her sister Caroline Long.(ABC Goldfields: Rhiannon Stevens)

“As far as closing the gap goes … we’re running [this project] on the smell of an oily rag and having great outcomes,” he said.

‘A smooth ride’

The hundreds of car carcasses scattered around the Wiluna tip are testament to the rough road to Meekatharra, the closest service centre.

Mr Long’s mother and Wiluna resident, Caroline Long, said if the highway was sealed, it would make life much easier.

“[Meekatharra] is a cheap place where we can do shopping,” she said.

“Here, we give all our pension away to the shop and we hardly get any change back.”

Wiluna road workers

Wiluna road workers

Stewart Long (left) is a mentor to the younger workers, and says the project gives them a chance to make their parents proud.(ABC Goldfields: Isabel Moussalli)

Now that the first few kilometres were nearly complete, Wiluna locals hoped the State Government would fund work on a larger section of the road.

‘Parents can be proud’

Training centre graduate and student mentor Stewart Long said the opportunity to work on the project could lead to other jobs that required the same skills.

It is a sentiment echoed by his aunt, Wiluna shire councillor and Martu elder Lena Long.

“I’m happy because my family is working on that [project], and that gives them an opportunity to do something for the community”, she said.

Historial photo Wiluna road flooded

Historial photo Wiluna road flooded

Past challenges: a driver stuck in floods somewhere near Wiluna.(Supplied: Shire of Wiluna)

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