HEAD HONCHOS: MASP manager strategy and innovation, Mark Ross, and Just RedGum program coordinator, Trevor Scholar, are rightfully proud of the Just RedGum operation.

HARD AT WORK: Just RedGum’s Liam Smith, LEFT, and Jack Vagg, RIGHT, are pictured busily sanding a table top in preparation for staining, not unlike this outdoor dining setting.

SIGN OF THE TIMES: Jack Vagg pictured with one of his ‘Quamby Station’ signs.

Photos: PAUL MENSCH

By JOHN DOOLEY

A VISIT to Just RedGum’s Mildura factory is a real eye opener. A beautiful array of high-quality timber products are crafted there on a daily basis by a unique team of people working within a program established to create positive outcomes for people with a disability.

Just RedGum woodwork program operates under the umbrella of Mallee Accommodation and Support Program (MASP), helping people with a disability to have a purposeful vocation.

The program aims to provide many benefits to the participants attending Just RedGum, primary amongst those is the opportunity to learn new skills, build confidence and self-esteem, team-building and social skills, and it also serves to promote independence and empowerment.

Aligned with these goals is the development of a positive work ethic by the participant, something that is strongly encouraged and may lead to them gaining supported employment within the mainstream community.

Established more than 18 years ago, and starting out in a little shed behind MASP’s original office in Langtree Avenue, the enterprise then moved to Magnolia Avenue, before setting up at its current location on the corner of The Crescent and Luke Court, 12 years ago.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) is a whole new approach to supporting people with disabilities, giving people with disability better choice and control over their funding and supports and helping them reach their goals through reasonable and necessary supports.

The NDIS can provide all people with disability with information and connections to services in their communities such as doctors, sporting clubs, support groups, libraries and schools, as well as information about what support is provided by each State and Territory government.

There are around 4.3million Australians who have a disability, and during the next five years, the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) will provide $22billion in funding a year to an estimated 500,000 Australians aged under 65, who have permanent and significant disability. 

For many people, it will be the first time they receive the disability support they need.

MASP NDIS Woodwork Program provides the opportunity for individuals to actively participate in the construction of a variety of red gum made products. The program is facilitated by their passionate team to assist people to achieve their goals.

The aim of the program is to meet new people, form friendships, build confidence and social skills, increase independence and build on existing skills. 

Development of a positive work ethic by the participant is also encouraged, with the aim of possibly gaining supported employment within the mainstream community.

Just RedGum program coordinator, Trevor Scholar, said that virtually all of the products the factory produces are made from long lasting red gum, with some exceptions.

“We predominantly work with red gum, but occasionally we receive requests from people to manufacture items from other timbers which we can do,” he said.
“We source our red gum in its raw form from a forest near Deniliquin, and we have it transported to Mildura, and then we machine it up to produce our many and varied orders.”

The day the ‘Weekly visited the Just RedGum program, the team were working on the production of a large boardroom table that had been commissioned by a customer.
The table was in its early stages of manufacture, presenting as five, long lengths of red gum boards which were glued together ready for the sanding process to begin.

“We will eventually sand the whole thing down, make a frame for the base from other square lengths of red gum, round the ends off and then clear coat it and then it’s ready to present to the customer,” Mr Scholar said. 

“We use long blocks of red gum for the legs.” 

While it may be categorised as a day program, Mr Scholar said that it is also a commercial operation, but one which focuses primarily on the positive outcomes for the participants in the program. 

The participants are trained to use various hand operated power and air tools. Mr Scholar said 21-year-old Jack Vagg, has been refurbishing some signs to hang over the gates to his family’s property, Quamby Station near Ivanhoe.

In addition to making the signs for Quamby Station, Jack was also busy manufacturing some handy timber boxes for a storage cabinet which he said were fairly easy to make.

“This box is going to be 300mm x 250mm and I’ve made six of them already. They can be used to store anything you like – your wallet – pens or even herbs and spices,” Jack said.

“I have also made a bigger box for myself, which was 1300mm wide by 500 by 600mm. That took four weeks to make, and of course I’ve made the two signs for Quamby Station. 

“I’m originally from Coonabarabran and then I moved up north to Goondiwindi and then out to Ivanhoe NSW and I’m now living in Mildura.”

Generally each of the young participants at Just RedGum will complete a project each term. 

Those who prefer not to make a product, will instead assist others with their projects or other products being made to a customer’s order.

“We try to encourage participants to be involved in making a project because it is very satisfying and builds up their self-esteem and confidence as well as their skills base,” Mr Scholar said.

Liam Smith 26, was also keen to point out some of the projects he had been working on during his time at the factory. 

“I’ve made red gum tables, including picnic tables, and it doesn’t take me too long to make them, and once I’ve finished it, I look at it and think that looks great – it’s a good feeling,” Liam said.

“People come in to see us with a project – something they would like made, and we will work out the best way to do it,” Mr Scholar said. 

“Just give us a phone call or call into the business and see us during opening hours which are 7.30am to 4pm weekdays. A lot of people come in and have a look to see what we have got, and by doing that we can actually show them what we do. 

“We have a catalogue that shows the different products that we can produce and people can choose an item from that or bring in a project of their own for us to produce.

“Red gum looks really good and it lasts a long time and the red gum we use these days, is what’s termed as kiln dried- so it doesn’t go out of shape, or if it does, it would be so minor it wouldn’t be noticeable. 

“Therefore a table like this,” he says pointing to a recently completed table,,  will stay as it is once it’s coated and put in place where it is going to reside − in this instance a boardroom – it won’t ever change shape.”

The range of products made by the operation is almost endless, and includes items for both inside and out. 

“We have dining room tables, outdoor settings, picnic tables and then there is a whole host of little things like chopping boards, candle holders and lazy susans and much more,” Mr Scholar said.

“We involve the participants as much as possible with the production – as much as they are capable of doing.

“Therefore they’re getting a taste of what production is about and maybe they will have an opportunity to get some work in the general community. Some of our people have made rocking horses or they may just make something simple like some storage boxes.”

Anyone who would like something made by Just RedGum can visit the factory at 58 The Crescent, Mildura or contact Trevor Scholar on 5021 6584.