Wesfarmers & Aboriginal Steel Art

The Certified Supplier: Aboriginal Steel Art

Aboriginal Steel Art first began in 2008, when Wayne ‘Liwingu’ McGinness made a wrought iron decoration for the sliding gate at his family’s home outside Darwin. At the time, Wayne had been working as a welder in the Northern Territory and was only experimenting with his art. The feedback about the piece was very positive and completely unexpected. Wayne decided it would be worth pursuing a career as a professional artist, so the McGinness family sold up in Darwin, and moved to the area where Wayne’s parents live. It was a significant risk, as they used the money from the sale of their home to relocate and start up the business. “We used that money to give the idea of me being an artist a real go; to see whether I had something or not,” said Wayne. Since these humble beginnings, he has developed his own unique style of steel art and now runs the thriving business from the backyard of his family home in Kuranda, Far North Queensland. Aboriginal Steel Art became Supply Nation Certified in September, 2011.

He uses good quality Australian marine-grade stainless steel to create his pieces. His steel sculptures take the form of butterflies, geckoes and crocodiles, and vary greatly in size and shape. Wayne spent much of his childhood surrounded by animals, and he was taught from a young age to look out for and respect animals – especially crocodiles. “Much of my inspiration comes from their movement. Especially with the crocodile, I try to catch the sheer power of these wonderful animals in the water; in their natural element,” he explained.

The Member: Wesfarmers Resources

Wesfarmers has been a Supply Nation Member since December 2009. Wesfarmers originated in 1914 as a Western Australian farmers' cooperative. The company has grown into one of Australia's largest listed companies and employers. It has a diverse range of operations including supermarkets, department stores, home improvement and office supplies, insurance, chemicals, energy and fertilisers; and industrial and safety products. Since February 2012, Aboriginal Steel Art has been working with Wesfarmers Resources in Brisbane; a significant Australian miner, producer and supplier of coal.

Kent Beasley, Manager of Corporate Affairs and Sustainability, discovered Wayne via the Supply Nation Certified Suppliers Portal. Initially, Kent was looking to contract an Indigenous Certified Supplier to assist with meeting the requirements of the Wesfarmers Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Kent came across Aboriginal Steel Art, and the word ’steel’ caught his eye. “There is a strong link between our business and Aboriginal Steel Art. Steel manufacture requires coal, and coal is the primary product that we produce,” he said. Once this connection had been established, a number of opportunities opened up for both businesses.

The opportunities and outcomes

Kent contacted Wayne to discuss some potential artwork. They decided to begin with gifts for international customers. “We like to exchange gifts with our international business partners; like those from Japan, Taiwan and South Korea. Aboriginal Steel Art created some wonderfully unique Australian native animals – small enough to fit in your palm - and we really appreciated the natural affinity we had with Wayne and his business,” he said. 

During NAIDOC Week in 2012, Wesfarmers Resources brought Wayne down to their Brisbane offices where he presented the staff with the commissioned piece, a beautiful steel crocodile, two metres in length. He spoke to the Wesfarmers Resources team about his culture, heritage and his business. Kent was impressed with the level of service and professionalism he received from Aboriginal Steel Art: “It was a pleasure to work with Wayne. I got to know him and his wife Lucy, and it’s been a very rewarding experience both professionally and personally” he said. Wayne was equally as pleased about the partnership: “Working with Wesfarmers Resources has been great, and Kent really helped to build our business – he has been a champion of our work and was always eager to recommend us to others” he said.

In September 2012, Wesfarmers held a conference with 400 of their senior managers from various divisions. Kent commissioned Wayne to create 400 steel blue Ulysses butterflies as part of the Wesfarmers delegation showbag. Wayne created 450 butterflies (an additional 50 just in case!) A small tag was attached to each one, detailing the connection of Wesfarmers Resources and Aboriginal Steel Art. The Ulysses butterfly proved incredibly popular, and created further opportunities for Aboriginal Steel Art. “I was a little worried at first, because it was such a big job, but we really wanted to make it work. We even hired another staff member to help us. It turned out to be a fantastic opportunity” Wayne said. The few remaining butterflies were used to raise funds at the annual Life Education awards function, where Wayne’s art was also presented to John Howard and Campbell Newman as thank you gifts.

Kent promoted Aboriginal Steel Art to the broader Wesfarmers network. Wayne was then commissioned by Blackwoods and Protector Alsafe to create a set of business awards and gifts for each. 

How Supply Nation was able to help

Wayne found the initial stages of launching his own art business to be challenging, but becoming Certified by Supply Nation provided him with the opportunity to commission his artwork to Australia’s largest corporate companies. Kent found the Supply Nation database an effective search tool, enabling the business relationship to grow from there. Becoming Supply Nation Certified opened up doors for Wayne and his family, and gave him the chance to build up to becoming a professional artist with reputable clients. “Supply Nation has been amazing for our company. We sacrificed our house to make it happen, and with a young family it wasn’t always easy, but we’re so happy with everything that’s happened,” he concluded.