Empowering the Community to Engineer their own Success

Menindee is a small border town in far west New South Wales. Resting on the banks of the Darling River, Menindee is home to no more than a thousand people. It has a significant Aboriginal population, with 36% of residents identifying as Aboriginal in the 2016 census. Due to its rural location and small population, Menindee has few opportunities for job training and a high unemployment rate. The local school, Menindee Central, was struggling with low Year 12 completion rates and high truancy. 

In 2010, Menindee resident and principal of Menindee Central School, Brian Debus, had a brainwave. He took the idea to the community and they constructed Minintitja – a motel and restaurant built around two reclaimed railway carriages. Minintitja’s mission; fund Menindee Central School and provide the opportunity for students to gain valuable hospitality and tourism skills. Minintitja has been a rousing success, attracting tourists to the region that inject money into the local economy. Attendance at the school has increased and Year 12 graduate rates are climbing. But with that success has come an increased need for maintenance and upkeep. Demand has increased, and the facilities have started to age. Fittings that seemed adequate in the initial project are no longer sufficient.

Enter Scott Johnson. Scott Johnson is a plumber from Sydney. His wife had been involved in regular excursions to Menindee with a local school, and after visiting himself he realised exactly what the school needed. Scott’s $15,000 Reece Grant helped fund a comprehensive renovation of the bathrooms at Minintitja.

“Menindee has faced significant disadvantages and unique challenges,” says Scott. “However, they have used community resources to develop sustainable solutions – the school has strong connections and a positive culture.”

The shower facilities were expanded to six and a second wash basin in each bathroom has been added. The grant also funded the wholesale construction of a new toilet block including three cubicles and two basins. Lastly, the project involved connecting running water to the carriages’ washbasins. Although the basins are a part of the original railway carriage, they haven’t been operational in Minintitja’s history.

“Everyone in the community is passionate about the project,” Scott says. “The challenge has been keeping up with maintenance and organising qualified tradespeople to come out here. This project is about empowering that community, giving them the tools to engineer their own success.”

Scott’s team from Metro North Plumbing was supported by a builder from Forefront Group Australia. Scott would like to thank the team’s close friends and family for their support, and Butcher’s Delight in Lindfield for supplying an entire week’s worth of food.