John's Story

From April to July 2009 Silver Lining foundation Limited provided contracted natural resource management teams to South Burnett Regional Council. Each team consisted of four Indigenous men and was supervised by a non Indigenous Council supervisor called Peter.

Last June, I gave Aunty Beryl an Elder from Cherbourg and Director of Silver Lining a lift to her home at Cherbourg. After I had left her, an Indigenous man approached my car and asked for a lift to Murgon, about seven minutes drive away. I agreed.

After he was in the car, he asked me if my name was Mike. I said "Yes".

He then said "From Silver Lining"? I said "Yes".

I asked him his name and he said "John [not his real name]". I then recognized him as one of our team working for South Burnett Regional Council and asked him if he liked his work. He paused and leaned forward in his seat. Then he said "Loving it. Loving it."

I asked him what he was doing and he told me that next week the team was to install bollards in a nearby car park so people could park properly. His pride in what he was doing was palpable.

It was Friday and he said he has a drink on the weekend (his team worked Mondays to Thursdays) but "that was his business but during the week, it was strictly "work"". When I told this story later to other members of the Cherbourg community, they told me he was a well known for his heavy and constant drinking. He had clearly given it up….at least during the week.

He asked me if the contracts were due to end shortly. I said "Yes, at the end of the month but we have an extension for a couple of weeks". He said "Mike, you must extend them. I don't want to back to the old ways."

I asked him if he liked his supervisor. He said "Lovely man". I asked him if he liked Eileen [his supervisor's supervisor at Council, not her real name]. He said "Lovely woman".

Then, there was a pause in the conversation until he said quietly and deliberately without any prodding "Mike, I cannot thank you and Eileen enough for giving us a chance".

I just melted. Ten years of work came together in that one sentence. Here was an Aboriginal man who was thanking us for giving him a chance. His humility was humbling itself.

Most importantly, he was being a role model for the young people in Cherbourg. He was showing them there is more to life than welfare and alcohol.

It was also testimony to the fact that what Aboriginal people are looking for is recognition and acceptance. Many are lowly skilled but they can do things if led well and acceptance is offered to them.

John was put off work about a month later because the contract came to an end but from then until early 2010 he regularly visited Silver Lining's site and asked if there was work he could do. We were able to offer him work in early 2010 and he began working for us again.

Mike O'Neill


Silver Lining Foundation

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