Helping Indigenous athletes’ dreams become a reality

For many athletes from remote communities, the barrier to chasing their sporting dreams goes beyond talent.

To achieve their dreams, they need to leave home and relocate to the city. But often the lifestyle change is too daunting, the pull of home is too strong, and the dream remains just that – never fulfilled.

That’s why Utilita, a Downer and Ventia joint venture delivering electrical, mechanical and civil maintenance services for Urban Utilities in South East Queensland, has developed a program to help ease the transition.

In 2020, Utilita joined forces with Keiron Lander, coach of Queensland Cup rugby league club Ipswich Jets, to provide employment opportunities for Indigenous players recruited to the club from regional and remote communities.

The original collaboration has grown into a formal partnership, and in 2021 Utilita signed a head coach sponsorship agreement with Keiron. Utilita has also expanded its relationship with the Jets to include sponsorship of the Jets netball team.

The program has successfully helped young athletes from remote communities navigate the life-changing move to the city.

Dominic Macumboy is one of the people to benefit from the program. Dominic made the big decision to leave his home town, Lockhart River – the northernmost town in eastern Australia – and travel 2,500 kilometres to Ipswich to chase his rugby league dream with the Jets. He signed with the Jets for the 2021 season and is now developing new skills on and off the field. His role as a Civil Worker with Utilita is diverse, completing a range of maintenance activities on Urban Utilities’ assets.

“The move to Ipswich was a big deal for me,” he said. “Life in the city is so different – it’s busy and there are so many people. With all the changes, Keiron and Utilita have been a good support for me and I’m glad that I made the move down here.”

Keiron’s policy is that the players he recruits to the club must be working or studying to train and play.

“The collaborative relationship with Utilita has meant we’ve all worked together to support these young men by providing more than just employment,” Keiron says.

The partnership with the Jets netball club is something Utilita is equally excited about.

“Utilita is proud to be supporting females in sport and sees this partnership as an opportunity to raise awareness of the water industry to a new audience and promote non-traditional careers in technical and trade streams to females,” Downer HR Manager, Rebecca Byrnes, said. “The long-term objective is to increase female participation in the Utilita workforce as well.”

This initiative demonstrates Downer’s contribution to achieve the following Sustainable Development Goals: #8 Decent work and economic growth; and #10 Reduced inequalities.