Coles celebrates Indigenous employment increase with the help of local artist

INDIGENOUS EMPLOYMENT: Local team members were joined by state bosses and Nukunu Elder Lindsay Thomas for the unveiling of Marika's painting.
INDIGENOUS EMPLOYMENT: Local team members were joined by state bosses and Nukunu Elder Lindsay Thomas for the unveiling of Marika's painting.

Team members at Coles Port Augusta are celebrating a significant milestone in the company's history as one of Australia's largest corporate sector employers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The number of Coles Aboriginal team members in Port Augusta alone has risen from just two to over 20 per cent since September last year.

Local artist Marika Davies was commissioned by the company to translate the important relationship between Coles and the local community.

Her painting was unveiled this week to state bosses and members of the Port Augusta team.

"It's a great honour and it's an important role that Coles have played not just here in Port Augusta, but everywhere, to break those barriers to down and help with reconciliation. They have taken the lead on this and everybody else will follow suit," Marika said.

"It's learning for the non-Indigenous people to see Port Augusta in a different medium, because they would just look at Port Augusta but they never would have imagined it as a dot painting in the traditional way that Aboriginal people have been doing for thousands of years."

Marika's painting depicts Port Augusta from a birds-eye view, with the gulf a clear vocal point.

Coles is represented by a Coolamon, a curved wooden tray used by many Aboriginal tribes as a gathering tool.

"The hands represent the workers of Coles and then there's bush food; wild potatoes, wild peaches, wild bananas. All the things that an Aboriginal person would have traditionally but I just gave it a modern twist and that was quite fun to do," Marika said.

Elements of the painting were left unfinished and team members had the opportunity to paint in a traditional way, under the watchful eye of Markia.

Coles Port Augusta Store Manager Sheree Sheil was among staff members who participated.

"It was pretty emotional. It was fantastic. I'm actually a little bit overwhelmed ... I didn't expect to be able to paint, but I feel very privileged to finish off such a significant piece of art that will be hung in our store," she said.

"We are celebrating the hard work we have put into Indigenous recruitment and now we can share the story that Markia has told through the painting with our customers and the community."

In 2011 there were 65 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people employed at Coles. Today there are 4217, including 260 in South Australia.

The company has committed to further increase its Indigenous workforce to more than 5500 team members by 2023, equivalent to five per cent of the company's total headcount.