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Building resilience

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What does it take to be resilient? HOUSING talks to HIA members who have grown from difficult circumstances and have arisen stronger with purpose and determination.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

Bushfires, floods, pandemics and an economic crisis. How much can the Australian residential building industry endure? Some will claim that only the strong will survive. But what is it that makes a business, and in fact an individual, tough? 

The answer is resilience, a key trait that can determine success, particularly in environments filled with loss, uncertainty and risk. But, can resilience be learnt? How can we move from just surviving to thriving? The answer is a combination of experience and guidance.

HOUSING talks to two HIA members on how they have learnt purpose and grit out of incredibly difficult times.

The Gremmo family: Charity born from tragedy

Michael and his wife Kylie had, some could say, the great Australian life. Three happy, healthy children, weekends of outdoor adventures, and a close supportive family, who were also involved in their award-winning residential building business Gremmo Homes.

On the afternoon of Thursday 30 April 2015, their oldest child, spirited, compassionate, sport-loving Nathan, was critically injured crossing the road. Only thirteen at the time, Nathan was unable to recover from his injuries. 

The family made the difficult decision to donate his organs, which saved six lives, including a baby. While the undeniable tragedy could have broken any parent, the Gremmo’s, including daughters Ashley and Annaliese, knew that Nathan was generous and kind-hearted, and no greater gesture could represent his nature than the gift of life.

‘He was my best little mate, he loved everything about life, people, animals,’ Michael says. ‘We knew unanimously as a family what we had to do, it’s what Nathan would have wanted.’

Finding out that within 24 hours that the organ recipients were sitting up in bed, breathing on their own, cemented to the family that their decision was the right one. But a feeling came soon after that they wanted to do more to honour his legacy. After talking to the hospital, within the next few months Jersey Day was born, a non-fundraising charity, with a focus on organ donation awareness.

Nathan Gremmo


I always felt that if the reverse had occurred, if I had a child, a family member in need of an organ, I would move heaven and earth to ensure they survive. If Nathan saved six lives, how many more could be saved?


On Jersey Day, which will be held 4 September this year, people are encouraged to wear their favourite football jersey to work or school, and begin open conversations about organ donation. Now in its fifth year, the idea has struck a chord with many and has grown exponentially, now passionately endorsed by sporting stars, media personalities, and political heavyweights.

While Michael has drawn fortitude from knowing how many lives have now been saved and changed, it’s also what he has learnt about his inner strength that has been powerful. No stranger to the loss of a close family member, Michael saw his mother, diagnosed with cancer, slowly deteriorate. 

‘I was 22 when mum passed away, I was the oldest and the youngest child was only seven. I knew I had to be a strong person, to be a role model for them,’ he says.

While losing his mother and taking on the role as leader with his siblings showed Michael he could be resilient, nothing could compare to a loss of a child.

Gremmo Homes Edgewater home
Gremmo Homes team

‘My family and I had developed a strong bond, which really helped after we lost Nathan. We leaned on each other emotionally and in business, and I think it’s this that really helped us create Jersey Day into what it is now. We are so proud of the legacy Nathan has created.’

Jersey Day, and the conversations it has opened up, have also drawn a robust but humble Michael into the spotlight.

‘I now do interviews, talk at schools, sporting groups and come face-to-face with others who have had to deal with both sides of organ donation,’ he says. ‘I’ve had to keep pushing myself, some days are tough, especially when you come across someone who has also dealt with loss. But it’s important to keep going, knowing lives are being saved.’

On asking what else Michael has learnt, the response was one of self-reflection.

‘I’ve also learnt to trust that you can get through things, you need to back yourself. Losing Nathan is permanent, that is not going to change, but we had the choice to turn it into something positive,’ he says. ‘I’ve learnt there is also strength in speaking out, and sharing.

‘As hard as it is sometimes, I go to bed at night knowing that this has done some good in the world and maybe even saved some lives.’

Reckon Resilience

HIA affinity partner Reckon has recently undertaken a national first study, with an aim to measure just how resilient Aussie small business owners are, and need to be, in order to be successful. Through the research Reckon has found that it is the ability to engage the right resources for support in trying times that can make all the difference.

To download the report or take the one-minute interactive Brief Resilience Scale test, head to the Reckon Resilience Hub at www.reckon.com/au/resilience

The Harley family: Rising from the ashes

Chris Harley and his wife Ann-Maree, along with daughters Emily and Elizabeth (Beth), love where they live. Yatte Yattah, near Lake Conjola is described as one of the NSW South Coast’s greatest natural treasures. The beaches, green hinterland and abundant wildlife have made it popular with holiday-makers and lovers of the quiet life alike.

Their family-run residential building business, Harbourside Homes & Constructions, in Ulladulla has been a major part of the community for many years, creating a strong reputation for honesty, quality and a personal approach. Both daughters had helped grow the business in efficiency and prosperity, Emily in accounts and Beth as general manager.

(L–R): Beth, Chris, Ann-Maree, and Emily Harley
A fire front stormed towards their home

In late winter 2019, the fall out of the banking industry Royal Commission resulted in several clients suddenly pulling out of their home building contracts, leaving their business pipeline and finances in limbo.

‘We needed to act fast and take a good look at our current business,’ Chris says. ‘We had to restructure from the ground up, reducing our overheads by limiting our staff, liquidate some business-owned assets, and retrain our sales team to qualify our clients into self-funded and finance dependant.’

The reassessment worked, and coming into December they were on their way to restabilising their pipeline.

However, with the onset of summer also came an unforgettable combination of heat, wind and dry ground cover that led to the eruption of apocalyptic fire storms that raged along Australia’s east coast, including where they lived.

After weeks of tension and close calls, on the morning of New Year’s Eve, the wind around Chris and Ann-Maree’s home had picked up. By 7am it was around 36°C outside, and ominously, the air was filled with the sound of sirens. Then the unimaginable happened: a fire front stormed towards their home, with the family still inside.

‘It was chaos, spot fires were erupting instantaneously around us and within minutes everything around us was alight. It was clear we weren’t going to save the home,’ Emily says.

Two out of the five vehicles had miraculously escaped the inferno. Chris and youngest son Tom were out in front on a Bobcat clearing burning trees from the driveway to allow the vehicles to pass. The family escaped with the cars, the clothes on their backs, and most importantly, their lives.

The following days and weeks were a daze of shock, exhaustion and the physical effects of smoke and fire. But somehow, perhaps based on the combination of family camaraderie, and what they had learnt about resilience months earlier, they knew they could kick the re-start button again.

‘We had each other and that helped so much. But we also now know our neighbours better, our community,’ Emily says. ‘We all choose to live here because we love it, but the fires made our attachment to the local area stronger.’

Chris says they knew they needed to adapt again, and not become complacent. ‘We now feel that our business is not stagnant, it’s flexible. So, as COVID-19 loomed, we just went straight into action mode and started making preparations.’

As the local area begins to rebuild, it’s no wonder that many have turned to the Harley family to help them. One such young family of first responders are fire and rescue officer Wayne and local nurse Ashlee.

Fire and rescue officer Wayne and local nurse Ashlee

‘First their build was held up by road closures caused by the fires in November, then at pre-lock up stage the fires hit, so Wayne and my husband Daniel ran down with hoses. It was a close call,’ Beth says. ‘Then came COVID-19 where we had to hold site meetings via Zoom, with no physical site inspections, which was really tough for all of us. But somehow, we still got their dream home built well within time frames.

‘It’s moments like handing the keys over to their new home which makes this job worthwhile. It is a very special build and one we will never forget.’

Beth says the current situation with their local community is really tough. ‘Six months since the devastation and no re-build work has begun,’ she says. ‘It is hard to describe as we are not only rebuilding people’s homes, we are [helping to] rebuild their lives.’

Bonded by experience and the desire to move forward, their site consultations are now as much about emotional rebuilding as structural. Everyone rising up more resilient than before.

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