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My island home

My island home

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Fly-in, fly-out apprentice Kiana Villaflor knows the challenges of working in a remote Northern Territory location, but always has the support of the Darwin-based team at WTD Constructions for ground support.

Anne-Maree Brown

General Manager of Content

Whatever it is, wherever it is – that’s the mission statement for HIA member WTD Constructions, a Darwin-based firm that travels to remote locations. The team build and renovate homes on Arnhem Land.

For Kiana Villaflor, a third-year carpentry apprentice working for WTD Constructions, her home is now ‘everywhere else in between’ – which happens to be on South Goulburn Island. Located 300 kilometres north-east of Darwin, the island’s main township is Warruwi, an Indigenous community of around 400 people.

As a fly-in, fly-out apprentice, Kiana lives in Warruwi for two weeks, followed by two weeks in her hometown of Darwin. While these two-hour flights are ‘on little twin-turbo planes’, she also flies to other remote locations. ‘You certainly can’t drive to these places,’ says Kiana, laughing.

Born and bred in Darwin, this young apprentice feels right at home on the island. ‘After working there for the first two weeks, I knew this was the place for me,’ she says.

Surrounded by pristine beaches and rocky outcrops, South Goulburn Island boasts an array of wildlife including dugongs, turtles and crocodiles. Fishing is a favourite pastime for Kiana after work.

‘I’ve been able to see how other communities work,’ says Kiana, an Indigenous woman who grew up living in a Darwin community with her single dad and two sisters. ‘I’ve been able to experience part of our country that people aren’t usually exposed to – and I love it.’

Born and bred in Darwin, this young apprentice feels right at home on the island.
After working there for the first two weeks, Kiana knew this was the place for her.

Her passion for building and carpentry came from her dad, who works in civil construction, and a family friend who runs a cabinetmaking business. ‘I wasn’t great at school as I’m a real hands-on learner,’ she explains. Spending time doing work experience for her dad piqued her interest, and she was thrilled to take on a carpentry apprenticeship through WTD Constructions.

Kiana feels a real sense of satisfaction when she produces quality carpentry. ‘I love looking at the work I’ve done and knowing I did it,’ she explains.

During her three-year apprenticeship, Kiana has been supported by a team of professionals at WTD Constructions.

‘The more apprentices we have, the more skilled our workforce will be over time,’ WTD general manager Brett Chapman explains. ‘It’s important to look after apprentices as they will look after you in return. Traits such as reliability and being part of the team need to be fostered during the early stages of their career.’

At WTD, operations manager Ashley Pribaz explains that conversations with their remote team members range from work ethics and safety to health and wellbeing issues. Ashley has worked for WTD for three years and is responsible for a wide range of areas including project management, WHS, tender writing and team coordination. ‘Every day I come to work, and I’m excited about new challenges and opportunities to solve problems,’ she says. ‘Our team’s welfare and working with the local communities are always at the forefront of our minds.’

Ashley Pribaz has worked for WTD for three years and is committed to her team’s welfare.
Every day I come to work, and I'm excited about new challenges and opportunities to solve problems.     
WTD operations manager Ashley Pribaz

Although Kiana is enjoying the island lifestyle, there are times when this young apprentice feels a little isolated. ‘It does get extremely hard being out bush sometimes,’ she admits. ‘I don’t have my family with me. Sometimes when you have a hard day, you wish you had your best friend to talk to. But you just need to change your mindset. In fact, it makes you stronger in the end.’

In situations like this, Kiana can always turn to Brett’s team for advice. ‘We want to make sure everyone who works for us is happy taking on this role,’ he explains. ‘We don’t want to put someone in a community where they don’t want to be. We’ll bring them home. But in return, we expect people to work hard for us. So, it goes both ways; we try and do what’s best for the worker.’

At WTD Constructions, Kiana is the only female apprentice on the books, so gender equality is a priority for the team. ‘At this firm, our team understands the cultural change that has occurred over the past decade,’ Ashley says. ‘Every day, we touch base with the foreman on each site. We understand that Kiana is one of the only female apprentices in the communities. We make sure she has her own room; we’ll never bunk her with someone. It’s duty of care.’

Brett, Ashley and Kiana are inspired by other female apprentices, such as Bethany Mercieca of Blue Eco Homes, who won the 2023 HIA Jim Brookes Australian Apprentice award.

Kiana was recently nominated by Fitri Santosa from HIA’s Northern Territory office. Fitri recognised her hard work, attitude and willingness to work in extreme conditions. ‘We hope Kiana serves as a role model to other young people, especially women in communities.’

Kiana feels the same way. ‘I’m a hard worker and determined to get the job done,’ she says. ‘I’ve learnt so much in this industry and enjoy being a role model for our up-and-coming apprentices.’ 

Kiana is a self-confessed hands-on learner.
Kiana is a role model to aspiring apprentices.

Members in the community

Darwin-based WTD Constructions has proudly operated in the Northern Territory and surrounding remote areas, such as the Tiwi Islands, for more than 23 years. Business owner and HIA member Peter Fixter focuses on a broad variety of residential and commercial projects, including new builds, renovations, refurbishments, repairs and maintenance, fit-outs and trade services.

‘We love bush work and working in remote communities where the impact of our projects benefits the local area,’ he explains.

Peter adds his community-focused company engages local subcontractors and suppliers to help boost the economy in the region. ‘Every project we undertake gives us the opportunity to engage local residents, including those who were previously employed by us on past projects,’ Peter says. ‘This further cements trust and an ongoing commitment to local employment and training in the community.’

First published on 27 November 2023

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