Kulbardi is flying high

Very few businesses have names that make as big a statement as Kulbardi, the booming Perth-based Aboriginal-owned stationery and workplace supplies company.

Kulbardi is the word for magpie in Noongar, the language of the original inhabitants of the southwest of Western Australia and a bird that’s in abundance in the region.

Kulbardi founder Kim Collard says he named his company after the black-and-white bird because it symbolises the alliance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian businesses.

“Kulbardi is a great believer in the reconciliation process. What better way of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians than through mutually beneficial business partnerships?” says Kim.

Kim Collard, Kulbardi founder Kim Collard, Kulbardi founder
Kim Collard, founder of Kulbardi, the Perth-based Aboriginal-owned stationery and workplace supplies company

After many months of research and discussion Kim signed a joint venture agreement with Quick Corporate Australia (QCA), one of the country’s biggest office supplies companies.

In just a few short years the Kulbardi/QCA joint venture has evolved into a dynamic and successful Western Australian small business, with Kim and his team providing stationery and workplace supplies to several major companies, including Rio Tinto.

And that success is moving beyond the realm of business into the wider Indigenous community.

“As part of our agreement with QCA part of the profits were to be channelled into a fund to provide opportunities for disadvantaged members of the Aboriginal community,” explains Kim, former lecturer at the School of Aboriginal Studies at Curtin University.

The joint venture got off to a flying start in 2014 when Kulbardi established another key partnership, this time with Rio Tinto.

“At Kulbardi’s launch Rio Tinto announced it was contracting us to look after three floors of the company’s Perth office. It was an amazing way kick off the business,” remembers Kim, whose gratifyingly diverse career includes stints as a boilermaker and a policeman.

Meet Kulbardi: a Perth-based business providing Rio Tinto with stationary

“I can’t overemphasise the importance of that announcement. It was a small contract but it sent a message to other businesses that we have the size, the capacity and the capability to service a top-tier company such as Rio Tinto,” says Kim.

Of course, Kulbardi had to perform – and perform they did. “Within months we had nine floors of their central city building and by the end of the year we had another six floors. We now service Rio Tinto’s entire Western Australian operation.”

Kim believes that the partnership with QCA and Rio Tinto is a model for how Australia should be dealing with the challenges facing the Indigenous community.

“I believe the mining and resources sector has broken the welfare mentality by giving Aboriginal people the opportunity to create their own business and establish economic independence.

“Kulbardi’s partnership with Rio Tinto has allowed me and my community to enjoy the fruits of the economy at the same time as living and working in our traditional homeland,” says Kim.

“More importantly, Kulbardi has become a role model for other Aboriginal businesses across Australia. Our success is encouraging other Aboriginal people to start their own businesses and forge links with the non-Aboriginal community.”

Kulbardi Kulbardi
Kulbardi stationery and workplace supplies in action

Dunsborough is a classic Aussie holiday town

Homes nuzzle up against golden beaches and crystalline waters. At their backs are gorgeous rolling countryside and manicured farms, with enough first-class eateries to satisfy the most voracious foodie.

Yet amidst the buzz of holidaymakers and the bonhomie of those living the sweet life here, there exists a business so dynamic you can’t believe it’s not headquartered in a major urban centre.

Located around the corner from the iconic Dunsborough Bakery and across from the post office, Pindari sends people from all over WA to the Pilbara, the vast mining hub of the country.

More impressively, Pindari is an Indigenous-owned business in which Aboriginal men and women make up approximately 30 per cent of its 110-strong workforce.

Former electrical contractor Dave Pidek established Pindari 17 years ago to enable Aboriginal men and women to get involved in and benefit from the mining industry.

“I am proud of my Aboriginal heritage and wanted to give something back to my community,” says Dave, who with his partner Natalie Venosi, has grown Pindari, a small-scale labour-hire company, into a significant supplier of workers to the resource industry.

Dave Pidek and his partner Natalie Venosi Dave Pidek and his partner Natalie Venosi
Natalie Venosi and Dave Pidek, Pindari

“I recently read a report that said Aboriginal-owned businesses are a hundred times more likely to employ Aboriginal people. So instead of simply providing jobs for Aboriginal people, it’s great companies such as Rio Tinto encourage and support Aboriginal people to create their own businesses.”

Natalie says Pindari’s relationship with Rio Tinto has been a key driver in their growth.

“Our long-term contracts with Rio Tinto have provided us with the stability we need to operate out of regional Western Australia and provide opportunities for local Aboriginal people,” she says.

Dave and Natalie have welcomed Rio Tinto’s reduction of its payment term to Australian suppliers to 30 days net.

Under the arrangement, Rio Tinto pays businesses with spend under A$1 million within 30 days of receipt of a correct invoice, a change that has benefitted more than 5,500 suppliers.

“Cash flow is important for a business of our size so Rio Tinto’s 30 day payment term gives us peace of mind and the confidence to keep growing the business,” says Dave.

Rio Tinto Iron Ore chief executive Chris Salisbury says the company is committed to partnering with local suppliers, particularly Aboriginal businesses.

“Pilbara Aboriginal businesses are an important part of our community and we are happy to see them bid effectively and successfully for work with Rio Tinto,” says Chris.

FIFO map FIFO map
The coastal town of Dunsborough, 24 km (15 miles) West of Busselton

Immersed in technology

When Rio Tinto signed its first contract with Immersive Technologies for two simulators more than a decade ago it was the kind of simple seller-buyer relationship that goes on all over the world.

Rio Tinto wanted to use the new generation of simulators to avoid training operators on mine sites, which could be disruptive and hazardous.

Within the safety of a simulation unit, a trainee operator can experience the real-world conditions without worrying about damaging expensive machinery or, worse, injuring a team member.

While Rio Tinto still works closely with Immersive Technologies in the training of operators, the digital revolution has made the relationship even closer. Now it’s a two-way street.

Rio Tinto provides Immersive Technologies with huge amounts of data that can be used not simply to raise the level of operator training but improve the productivity of an entire mine site.

Meet Immersive Technologies: a local Perth-based business that uses simulators to help train our employees

“Rio Tinto is very good at supplying data that helps us identifying performance gaps,” says Immersive Technologies regional manager Simon Vellianitis.

“They give us great access to the data they are collecting on mine sites to give us a better picture of what an operator is good at and what they may need to improve, such as correct brake application and specific digging techniques,” he says.

“Our software is essentially a knowledge base we use to drive our simulators. It means the information we’re providing those who are training to drive a truck or operate a machine or up-skilling reflects more accurately the conditions under which they will work.”

This relationship with Rio Tinto has been central to Immersive Technologies achieving global leadership in the development and deployment of equipment simulators, learning systems, consulting and analytics to the resources sector.

From its base in Perth, Western Australia, Immersive Technologies now has customers in 44 countries and offices in the United States, Canada, Mexico, Chile, Germany, South Africa, Indonesia and Russia.

We're improving our practices to increase opportunities for local suppliers in Western Australia, helping boost local economies We're improving our practices to increase opportunities for local suppliers in Western Australia, helping boost local economies
Simon Vellianitis, regional manager, Immersive Technologies

Long-term relationships are also instrumental for tech companies like this because of the time needed for research and development.

“Our partnership with Rio Tinto allows me to plan ahead and properly resource my team. It also enables me to spread the costs over several years, strengthening the financial basis of the company and keeping us abreast of technological developments,” he says.

“Data and data systems are now central to the mining industry. Our expertise is turning that data into useful information so we can identify areas in which they can improve. Such partnerships are good for Rio Tinto and good for us.”

How we engage
with local business

How we engage
with local business

To ensure our partnerships remain strong Rio Tinto recently established a Local Procurement Programme to make it easier for local businesses to compete for contracts.

To ensure our partnerships remain strong Rio Tinto recently established a Local Procurement Programme to make it easier for local businesses to compete for contracts.

Rio Tinto is committed to maximising opportunities for local businesses to be part of our supply chain and support enhancing the capability and competitiveness of local businesses, in key areas such as safety, risk management and commercial value.

This new approach includes:

  • local procurement portal enabling businesses to register interest, providing transparency for upcoming procurement opportunities well in advance
  • a local procurement team dedicated to identifying opportunities for local businesses
  • increased collaboration with major suppliers to raise awareness of work opportunities for local businesses with these suppliers