18 August 2023

Uncle Richard Davis carries on mother’s legacy to help others create their own change

| Kellie O'Brien
Start the conversation
Uncle Richard Davis

Uncle Richard Davis is helping Illawarra’s Aboriginal people start their own businesses. Photo: Supplied.

Creating your own change, rather than waiting for it, was the motto of Uncle Richard Davis’ mother Mary – and it’s something he lives by to this day.

The Dharawal elder is carrying on Mary’s legacy of helping Illawarra’s Indigenous Australians by mentoring them to start their own businesses.

He’s doing this through free workshops at Illawarra iTeC this month as part of the Aboriginal Business Advisory Initiative (ABAI), which provides free services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business owners to help build and develop sustainable businesses.

Richard started with iTeC 32 years ago, after working at the steelworks for 11 years as an assistant labourer.

An iTeC advertisement appeared in the newspaper at a time when Richard was looking for a change himself, so he applied.

Initially, he led the employment program New Careers For Aboriginal People (NCAP), but a year later iTeC submitted an application for the ABAI.

“The boss at the time came to me and said, ‘Oh, we’ve applied for this Aboriginal business program, would you be interested in applying for it? I said, ‘Well, I don’t have too much business experience’, and they said, ‘Oh well, we can help you’,” he said.

“So we put the application in, got an interview and 32 years later …”

READ ALSO Illawarra businesses facing ‘extreme’ shortage of skilled workers

Richard’s role includes mentoring Aboriginal business owners, being their first port of call to learn about how to start, plan, finance and understand what business is about.

“It’s not an easy path to go down, but if you put things in the right place and do a bit of market research, it can be great,” he said.

Over his 32 years, he’s witnessed many success stories, including Richard Campbell who started Aboriginal cultural experiences business Gumaraa in Oak Flats five years ago.

“He came to me to do the NEIS (New Enterprise Incentive Scheme) course 15 years ago,” Richard said.

“He got into it a little bit and then he went away from it – he didn’t do it for a while.

“He got back in contact and said, ‘Oh, look, I’m going again’.

“So he got Gumaraa up and running, so that’s a good success story.”

Another was bush tucker man, Lindsey Adams, who attracted clients from government departments to community organisations, before retiring.

Other businesses have ranged from dance troupes through to civil construction.

Richard said the free workshops would help participants get their business off the ground, understand what support and training are available, and learn about startup funding.

“I’m a grassroots person – I’m not into big words and graphs, but rather sharing information they can relate to,” he said.

“The goal is to encourage people that want to go into business to think about their idea and guide them through that process.

“It’s getting them to realise there’s a path they’ve got to go down and if they can get some training out of it before they go into business, that helps.”

Richard has long been passionate about helping those in his community.

“It’s good to see that Aboriginal people are wanting to go down this path,” he said.

“You just think back in the day it wasn’t like that, but it’s getting better.

“Aboriginal people have got aspirations to be their own boss and to follow their dreams and go down the path of being in business, and if I can help them in any way, then I will.

“I’m a community minded person as well.”

He said this attitude stemmed from his parents.

“Mum and Dad have been very influential people within the community, back in the day when they were setting up the (South Coast) Aboriginal Advancement League,” he said.

The South Coast group, which was formed in 1961 with Fred Moore and an original group of five women which included his mother, addressed the inadequate living conditions, discrimination and lack of opportunities being offered to Aboriginal people in the area.

READ ALSO New campaign urges residents to keep their cash local to boost Berry’s businesses

His parents were then key among those who helped set up Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation (IAC) in 1980, which Richard is now chairperson of.

The organisation works towards increasing the rights and improving the lives of the Illawarra’s Aboriginal people.

“There were other elders that have passed on as well that helped, but yeah, they were part of it, which is why I do what I do,” he said.

“I’m not as involved as they were because they lived it 24/7, whereas I’ve got a job, but the job I do is part of it.”

Richard said his mother wanted to help those in Aboriginal communities create their own change, rather than wait for change.

“That’s part of the reason for people wanting to go into business, rather than getting employed or going on unemployment, it’s about doing what you want to do and following your path,” he said.

“That was one of the mottos that Mum said, and I think it’s a good motto to follow.

“I’m passionate about my culture and I’m passionate about people and who I am, because of my mum and dad and that legacy they’ve left. That’s why I do what I do.”

Two of Richard’s daughters have also followed a business path, opening Badu Eatery and Bar in Shellharbour Village in December last year.

Illawarra iTeC will run two free ABAI workshops, one at Shoalhaven City Council Library, Nowra on 22 August and the other at Illawarra iTeC, Coniston on 31 August. For more information, contact Illawarra iTeC.

Start the conversation

Daily Digest

Want the best Illawarra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Illawarra stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.