It’s 11am on a blistering hot day in Aurukun, and as the relentless sun shines down on the black tarmac of Kang Kang Road, a mirage of distorted air dances in the space above it. Some locals take refuge under awnings of local shops, others, rest on patchy shadows cast by tall mango trees, or in the cool air-conditioned lobby of O-Hub, enjoying cups of tea and coffee. But, like most days, Patrick Bell is out under the sun, with a bucket hat, shades and long pants, clearing the overgrowth from the wet season, building by building. He’s been working on one garden since 7am and will continue doing maintenance around town until around 3pm, as a part of his full-time role with the council as a groundsman.
Patrick was born on a cattle station where his parents worked near Gregory Dam just south of Mornington Island. Working hard since an early age, Patrick recalls with light laughter, “When I was younger, I was a fencer. We used to use bush timber for fencing around the yards. We never had jackhammers, or anything like that in those days. Nothing to drill the rock. We just had crowbars. And I stood up to that, there were hard times then, but it was nothing.”
For the last 20 years Patrick Bell has been living and working in Aurukun. During his time, he has held many roles, such as police liaison officer, gardener at the market gardens and landscaping for the council. With a positive humorous spirit that never wanes, he approaches each day with a can-do attitude, working hard in every job he takes on.
“I learnt my work ethic from my father, my mother, and my extended family. Even my work colleagues. I always respected the older generation, ever since I was young. My dad taught me to be a respectful bloke, and that I’m a leader too. In my time now, I’m really happy to be where I am,” says Patrick.
Patrick lives in town with his wife and children. The youngest, 10-year-old Celaine attends Aurukun State School. For several years, Patrick made contributions to her Student Education Trust account and is now contributing to her new Pama Opportunity SET Account to save for her education.
“Education is my main priority for our kids. Ever since I’ve been working for the council, I’ve been paying $40 a week to her SET account out of my pay. The money is for her education: schooling, books, uniforms, all those sorts of things,” says Patrick.
Patrick is always making good use of the local O-Hub services, whether he’s buying food from Mayi Market, using the self-serve kiosks for his banking or getting assistance with the Pama app – there is always plenty of support available.
You’ve got to look after everything. Your house, your wife, your kids, everything. Even the family next-door to you!
“I come to the O-Hub sometimes to buy food boxes [from Mayi Market]. It’s cheaper here at the O-Hub than it is over at the shop to buy food. You get to buy in bulk, it’s easier. It’s a good service. And sometimes I just come here to spin a yarn and say hello!” he said with a laugh.
As a groundsman, Patrick is constantly out in the elements. Aurukun stands out in Australia for its exceptionally elevated levels of daytime and night-time temperatures, in addition to its high levels of humidity and rainfall. But the soaring temperatures of Aurukun and hard physical labour don’t hinder Patrick’s work.
“I enjoy my work. I can work anywhere. The heat is nothing compared to me. I’ve been around, and I’d rather be happy where I go mate,” says Patrick. “Anything can be my favourite job. You work hard, you get something out of it! You keep healthy, you keep fit. That’s what life is all about,” he says.
Patrick upholds a strong set of moral values that guide him through work, family, and life. He is prioritising his daughter’s education and his job, to create a brighter future for his children, the next generation.
“You’ve got to look after everything. Your house, your wife, your kids, everything,” he says with a laugh. “Even the family next-door to you! Or anywhere else.”
Despite the challenging conditions, Patrick Bell never fails to finish the day with sweat on his brow and a smile on his face. As this day ended, he looked back at the neatly trimmed grass and debris-free clearings with a sense of pride, knowing that his efforts had benefited the uniquely charmed, beloved town he calls home.