Changing attitudes through washing

Our Darwin laundry opened in November last year, and the first employee was Sam Autio. Since his first shift on opening day Sam has been important in shaping the culture of the laundry. He’s an impressive human and we are lucky to have him on the team.  

Arriving in Darwin in 1988 as a young Noongar man looking to make a new start with only a packet of smokes, 50 cents and a tarpaulin to his name, the early days were tough for Sam with time spent living on streets. These days he wants to give back to people who are doing it tough like he did.

Pushing against expected behaviour of Aboriginal people

“I grew up as a bad bloke, that wasn’t entirely to do with me, I was the bad because I was coloured. I was the bad guy from the beginning, and I ended up believing it, and assumed the part of the bad guy.

“I did go off the rails, but I came to a point in my 20s and while the change was gradual, I had pretty much snapped out of it in my 30s. People think you can just switch it off, but you can’t. I was raised being that kind of person, I was the bad guy, and same with a lot of my mob. We were the bad guys and that was what was expected of Aboriginal males.

“There is a stereotype here that Aboriginal people in general are hopeless. Aboriginal people are seen as no hopers in a helpless kind of way.

“There is so much more to longer grassers than what you can see. Its where I came from, and today I have some respect from a few people and I can talk and people listen to me. Back then, I was just a street person also, but I was also the same person. The same is with these folks too, if you scratch below the surface there is so much more.

People need to be treated differently

“I wanted to get into this job is because I want to help out the street people. For Aboriginal people not to feel helpless they have to be treated differently. For some people they get stuck in an inter-generational rut that is hard to get out of. And like I say, people tend to assume the position that is placed upon from when they are young.

“The long grassers need to be treated with respect too. A lot of people who live in the long grass have mental health and substance abuse problems. No one sets out wanting those things, it is just something that happens along the way.

“If we are going to change that, we need to change the attitude and give them respect. If a long grasser comes here, they are respected. We are all brothers and sisters and when they wash their clothes and clean themselves up, they can hold their head up when being addressed in a respectful manner rather than being looked down upon”.

A new job for a new chapter in life

“Six years ago, I came down with a functional neurological disorder and since then I haven’t been able to find work. My qualifications are worth bugger all. Who knows if I would have ever found a job if the APM employment agency hadn’t help me get this job.

“Work at the laundry feels like a life saver. It is important for me to be working and contributing and to be setting an example for my kids and grandkids.

“I would really like to help the elders out. We have a whole lot of space at the laundry where more people can come around and feel comfortable”.