As the year draws to an end, my internal fire for the self-advancement of Aboriginal people through employment has started to fade. It’s now a slowly smoking ember, waiting for the final puff of wind to put it out forever.
In April 2021, it would’ve marked 11 years of the Ochre brand. I started Ochre with nothing but a computer my friend had kindly bought for me. I registered the name, drew the original logo and had written out my comprehensive step by step plan on how I was going to build Ochre on my new computer, all on the first day I got out of prison. My Aunty and my niece were my first two workers for ISS. I didn’t have any money to pay them but they agreed to work for me until ISS paid me six weeks down the track. From there I never looked back.
I didn’t know anything about labour-hire before then but I soon found out. I went from a below zero position, had to fight against being stigmatised, judged, blocked, alienated, excluded, you name it. I didn’t let any of it beat me. I knew what I was capable of. I knew what my intentions were and I held my line, never wavering. Every day I had challenges, nothing came easy. Contracts were won on merit. That would lift my spirit. Contracts were lost on the judgement. That would break my heart.
No one will understand the strength required to maintain your composure when being told to your face that you’re not the kind of person they want their company associated with, even though you’d already won the contract on merit. Many times I didn’t have the required strength to maintain my composure to control the big lump in my throat or the tears in my eyes or my trembling hands. They were harrowing and unforgettable experiences. I’d feel completely humiliated and degraded and on the way back to my office a call would come through from another client with something positive and I’d gather myself up to go again. I’m not really sure how I did it but I think the number of funerals I have been to, have something to do with it.
As a lone Aboriginal woman, with no business partners or financial backing, I grew Ochre from zero to winning multimillion-dollar contracts with countless companies with a tenacious, resilient and unrelenting attitude. My greatest strength is that I can outwork anyone and outwork everyone I did. In doing so, I became a perceived threat to many people. When you become a threat, people work behind closed doors to discredit, defame, slander and manipulate others’ opinions about you. I knew all of that was happening but I also knew how to keep my mind on my mission. Over 3000 Indigenous people have been through Ochre’s books. Without any support from the Government. Not many others acknowledge what a feat that was but I certainly do. I know how hard it was now that I feel so battle-weary after so long in the trenches.
Whilst the highs were very high, they were few and far between, giving way to the many and constant lows that have gradually dimmed my internal flame.
From the beginning, I was emotionally attached to Ochre. Apparently, one of the biggest mistakes you can make with an asset. I couldn’t and wouldn’t let it go at times when I really should’ve. I couldn’t bring myself to walk away because it was pretty much my whole life and I knew so many people needed Ochre. Most people would’ve walked away at the first big challenge. Not me, I never let anything go easily. After almost 11 years though and getting to the stage of being completely cynical and highly disillusioned, I’m now ready to let it go. It’s time to put my energy into all of the other opportunities I have on my table that aren’t so frustrating, so hard and so draining.
No one can say I didn’t try. No one can say I didn’t put up a fight. What I’ve stubbornly discovered recently is some fights aren’t meant to be fought. I was unfortunately fighting a losing battle. A largely thankless job, with high personal risk, mostly lip service in every area, no real political intent, no real leadership and accountability, empty policies, empty promises and empty hearts. It’s a fight one woman on her own can’t fight.
Despite all the BS, I can say I personally won contracts with many of the Top 100 companies in the country. Many labour-hire companies would do anything to have the client portfolio I built over the years. Definitely, something I can be proud of as each of them was won with my own abilities. My own time, effort and 100% own words. I’ve never had to resort to plagiarism of others’ ideas or programs, as was done to me many times. I’ve never cut another person out of a deal, as was also done to me many times. I never outsourced the winning of work which means the knowledge bank I’ve grown over the years is mine to keep forever with a valued tag at priceless. That knowledge is transferable across all business and can and will be shared in many different ways until the end of my time on earth. That’s the power of knowledge.
I apologise to the Indigenous people who need Ochre. I also apologise to our current and future clients who also need Ochre but if you knew the personal toll it takes, you would understand. The irony is I’m too honest and have too much integrity to continue to compete in a space full of deceit. I’ll never stop being an advocate for Indigenous issues, it will just be in different ways.
If my story of overcoming pretty unorthodox adversity in the business world, to achieve certain things, is enough to help any young girl believe in themselves, then my job is done.
Once the current Ochre contracts come to an end early next year, that last ember will be finally blown out.