Four days shy of his 21st birthday, Queensland-born Muruwari man Wally Walker was staying with his parents and brother Colin in the central NSW town of Wellington, in need of work, when there wasn’t much around.
“My partner just had a little baby and the phone call came through for Colin … asking him to come to an interview for the railway,” Mr Walker said. “I took the call, went to the interview, and got the job.”
What followed was a 41-year career in rail, starting with hard yakka in a 12-man work crew.
“We were swinging hammers around and carting rails, putting in sleepers, and physically knocking them down with hammers,” he said. “We were fit.”
Mr Walker worked his way up the ranks, first as a “ganger” in charge of a work crew, and later as an Australian Rail Track Corporation regional manager in Dubbo, overseeing a large swath of rail freight operations in NSW.
Now he has returned to the ARTC part-time as an indigenous participation adviser, working on bringing more Aboriginal people in on the federal government’s $10 billion rail corridor from Melbourne to Brisbane.
When trains start rolling on it in 2024-25, the inland rail line will move freight between the two cities in less than 24 hours.
The Australian can reveal that the ARTC, the federal government-owned body in charge of delivering inland rail, will soon turn the first sod on the first leg from Parkes to Narromine in NSW.
“The nation-building 1700km Brisbane to Melbourne rail route is set to deliver an estimated 16,000 direct and indirect jobs during and beyond construction, while opening up … growth opportunities for inland Australia and regional communities, to boost Australia’s GDP by $16bn,” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack told The Australian.
Labor had backed the project in government but has been critical of its financing off-budget.
Several jobs created in the construction of the rail are believed to be going to indigenous locals. Mr Walker’s nephew Ryan Carr, 23, followed him into the railroad, starting at 16.
“I saw Uncle Wally, he’d been on it so long — that what’s inspired me to do it,” Mr Carr said.
He started as a labourer, and now does some truck driving and welding but has put in for a full-time job on the rail project. “I love getting outside with the boys … it’s like a big family,” he said.
The construction contractor for the Parkes to Narromine section, INLink, has a 10 per cent indigenous employment target, expected to create 20 jobs for local Aboriginal people.