Paul Adams reflects on two years of growing fruit and vegetables in Wiluna for ICRG.
Anyone that knows Paul Adams knows he’s a gregarious and fun guy who works a normal job and lives a regular life. But for two years in a small outback desert town called Wiluna Paul Adams used his former experience as a gardener to provide the struggling community with fresh fruit and vegetables.
The idea to get an abandoned farm up and running came from Guma owner and Nyiyaparli elder Raymond Drage. Raymond is also director of Western Australia based Indigenous Construction Resource Group (ICRG). ICRG provides employment and training opportunities to indigenous people through the provision of contract services to clients in the civil, mining and construction sectors.
Paul has worked at ICRG for four years as a workshop manager. He was approached by Dominic Pansini, former Executive General Manager of ICRG and Raymond Drage to get the veggie farm growing again. They aimed to supply the hospital, elderly care facility and surrounding mine sites with vegetables and fruit.
‘There were me and three apprentices, and we were in the workshop there, and it was pretty quiet because most of the contracts were up north. They said ‘well, what do you reckon? Do you want to go up and get this farm going for the people?’ so we said ‘yeah let’s do it!’ So we jumped in the car and drove the ten to eleven hours up to Wiluna. We’d leave at 5:30 in the morning and get up there at say 4:30/5:00 p.m. in the afternoon.’
One of the first hurdles was getting the house up to a liveable standard. The house was without electricity and running water and needed to be cleaned and repainted. Armed with a small generator and an old fridge, some food and gas cookers, the first week was a real eye-opener for the Perth inhabitants. The town was small, and there were stray dogs everywhere.
The soil is a rusted red and the sky painfully blue. Most of the water supply comes from groundwater, and the veggie garden is fed from the bore that supplies the abandoned Desert Gold Citrus Orchard. There were growing tunnels but when Paul arrived the shade cloth had rotted and needed to be removed. All that was left were rows of big hoops for hundreds of meters in straight lines. The garden itself consists of rows of 15 mil T-Tape drip irrigation. Eight hundred meters in each hoop system and ten systems which added up to eight kilometres of vegetables.
He grew golden beetroot, silver beet, onions, cherry tomatoes, roma tomatoes and pumpkins. The farm also produced mandarins, oranges, lemons and figs. He put them in an esky and delivered them to the community.
‘The look on people’s faces when you come in the room, and you’ve got a big basket of veggies. The smiles and near tears in their eyes cause you’ve brought them all this stuff for no real reason. Apart from the fact that it’s them. And that’s what I used to do, sort of like a fruit and veggie man ha-ha. Going around and giving them their food.’
During this time Paul also assisted Monty Allison and Raymond in mapping Monty’s country. ‘So Monty was actually born under a tree. I don’t know if you know but when they are born under a tree that reference is ‘that’s my hospital’, so if an aboriginal ever points out in the bush and says ‘that’s my hospital over there’ you know that’s where they were born. So Monty, because he was born the natural way of an aboriginal, that’s his country, and he is the elder of that country.’
Aboriginal culture is based on a distinctive cultural heritage which incorporates special meanings given to the land and its custodians. On the land are stories that explain how and why people and unique landmarks came to be there. Many mothers prefer to ‘Birth on Country’ which means the mother gives birth to her child on the land of her ancestors. Today, Wiluna is chiefly a Martu Indigenous community.
Last year about two months before Christmas Paul could see that the company was going to move out of where they were, and the new facilities did not have a workshop. The Vegetable farm was slowly going downhill, and there were a few people in the company that didn’t agree with what they were doing. The farm was using money made from other projects and focus turned towards growing the company.
Paul now works on the railway station tunnel Forrestfield-Airport Link which ICRG won the contract for but sometimes thinks of going back.
Photography Paul Adams