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Unveiling RESILIENCE, thank-you Paraburdoo

Posted by David Doyle

These were my words at the unveiling of the sculpture in Paraburdoo on 18 December 2014:

LR: Glen Johnson, Alex Mickle and Scott Wilkinson were instrumental in driving the success of the sculpture project (Artist Alex Mickle in collaboration with the Paraburdoo community, Photo Christian Sprogue)LR: Glen Johnson, Alex Mickle and Scott Wilkinson were instrumental in driving the success of the sculpture project (Artist Alex Mickle in collaboration with the Paraburdoo community, Photo Christian Sprogue)

I can’t think of there being another art in working life project of this scale in Australia, particularly one that was so deeply embedded in the resource sector. FIVE has been actively operating from St George's Terrace to the sheds of Paraburdoo, involving hundreds of Rio Tinto employees across the company. That’s been its real strength – mobilising frank, human conversation around mental health, culture and wellbeing, and giving permission and support to talk about the human impact of mining and the unique operating environment of iron ore here in our big State.

In many ways for us here in WA, FIVE was incredibly timely. We needed a mechanism to give an artistic voice to the thousands of resource sector workers and resource communities that support Australia’s economy. And at the same time, we wanted to give voice to the thousands of FIFOs who fly in and out of Perth airport each day, or live residentially in mining towns.

In fact I really wanted to acknowledge their culture, find out what they thought, felt and through FIVE stimulate their participation in our culture.

It was time.

It was also time to look deeply at how we could support the mental health and wellbeing of five hugely diverse and geographically spread communities across regional Western Australia.

I acknowledge the support of the Mental Health Commission, the Australia Council for the Arts and local governments from Derby to Esperance. Collectively we have started a conversation about mental health and wellbeing and actively come together to explore a uniquely regional Western Australian take on wellbeing, resilience and the strengthening of community.

FIVE took 18 months to conceive and design but like all community arts processes, the reality is organic and reliant on so many tangibles. FIVE morphed grew and spread in ways that were hard to anticipate.

So far, more than 7,200 Western Australians from Derby to Esperance have participated in FIVE. It's been huge.

The town that has had the deepest level of engagement and the largest Arts and Health impacts has clearly been Paraburdoo. And it’s no surprise because out of all the towns in which FIVE operated, Para truly embraced the potential of FIVE.

Over the past two years Scott and his team – Tim, Glenn, Andrew, Jake and Jackie – threw their jobs, resources, dollars, brains and work force behind FIVE. But most of all they gave us time, a lot of time to truly support the artists Alex and Craig to embed community arts practices deep into the fabric of this town.

FIVE was never about the community arts alone. Right up front FIVE was firmly about the mental health and wellbeing of the 7,200 participants. The Arts was our strategy and the evidence that will last long after the project.

But let’s not forget the invisible community connection, collaboration, participation and multiple levels of wellbeing that flow from FIVE.

We would never have achieved the impacts of FIVE if Rio Tinto, Scott and his team hadn’t truly embraced FIVE. Thank-you Para for letting us in, welcoming our artists, project team and research team again an again. It was that welcome and your work in embedding FIVE deep into your operations and town that has made FIVE so successful.

It hasn’t been easy. The project stretched Rio Tinto’s amazing Community Investment Team back in Perth, DADAA’s team, our artists and DADAA’s operating team to the limit.

But I dare to say that it's been so worth it.

Through FIVE Para, Rio and DADAA are different, more cohesive, resilient and I can truly say have increased wellbeing.

FIVE started and gave permission for some very straight conversations around regional identity, workforce identity and the impacts of this life that so many Australians now live FIFO and residential mining. It’s been raw and deeply honest with layers and layers of outcomes across Rio, DADAA and community.

For years I’ve sat at the airport and on planes watching thousands of miners get on planes in their hi-vis and wondered about them, who they were, what they thought and what their culture is.

FIVE has showed us that this community is deeply aware of the impacts of living the way they do, away from family, community and home. They are insightful and considerate of the mental health impacts of this life.

They are resilient, fun, full of energy, with a can do, big approach to life. They are open and have much to say that we rarely hear. They have great brains, skills and can collaborate and push a project home like nobody's business.

In Para we had the added benefit of working with a residential mining town. Craig Walsh, who was here throughout June, worked with residents to produce the BELONGING Paraburdoo Film – one of four films produced through the FIVE project that saw Craig collaborating with residents across WA to capture the regional identity of the project communities.

What emerges is a strong sense of how living in regional WA today impacts on communities. What binds them? What supports their resilience? What isolates the individuals within them? What factors support strong inclusive, connected communities?

Artist Alex Mickel went FIFO, back and forth to Paraburdoo for over a year, working with a core group 44, and with support from 450 locals to truly draw on the unique skills sets held in this town.

The possibilities that Para offers to an artist like Alex, who is used to creating public art across the South West, have been immense.

Alex is used to working from his studio in Australind, so when Scott made more and more of this town's assets available to Alex and DADAA and we’d met all Rio Tinto's safety and risk management requirements, it all went wild west and the ideas behind this work got bigger and bigger, more and more complex because they could.

When Andrea unveils the work in a minute, we will share in a unique collective public art work that speaks of this town, these workers, this industry and finally Western Australia will get a deeper insight into the people who live up here and work in the resource sector. It’s a work that will make audiences think.

This sculpture works because it is truly an authentic.

Thank-you Para for making FIVE so successful, for embracing it, thinking big and supporting us when we needed it.

In closing I would like to thank the people that I consider the backbone of FIVE. From Rio’s Community Investment team, Trisha Comerford, Kate Van Sanne and Laurie Ball. They are partners in the best sense of the word and provided us with a strong and stable backbone throughout the project. This team's work is often invisible but let me reinforce that every day they have been on the job navigating the incredible logistics behind FIVE.

DADAA’s team, Andrea Lewis, Jackie Khoo-Homer, Chris Williams and researchers Dr Peter Wright and Nat Georgeff have been at the coal face of FIVE with our artists bringing their logistical, production, artistic and research skills to each of the FIVE communities. Most became FIFO and all managed the complexity of community relationships, artistic vision, production skills and research findings.

It’s been complex, demanding, organic work for them all.

Some one I have worked with for years is Alex Mickle. He was and has proved to be the right fit for this town, this project. Alex gets mining, gets regional WA communities but most importantly he gets participatory arts and public art practices. Alex, huge thanks for all you brought to FIVE Paraburdoo.

In closing I want again to acknowledge Scott, his staff and members of this town for the level to which you embraced and made possible a very unique Arts and Health project.

I truly hope that we leave you well.

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Dadaa Principal partnerRio Tinto Arts partner Australia Council