From Highton to the outback

Andrew Mathieson
LIVING among Highton’s suburban streets hides John Raven’s true calling in life.
The unassuming 57yearold is peculiarly different to most of his middleclass neighbours.
John worked hard at Shell’s Corio refinery for over 28 years.
In his chemical engineer’s position with the oil giant, travelling the breadth of the country was just part of the job. From working off the NorthWest Shelf venture to projects in the Top End, his surrounds started to have a profound effect on him.
John has since traded in his hard hat for the sunscorched landscape of outback Western Australia.
He now volunteers weeks, even months, at a time to benefiting rural Aboriginal communities.
“For a while now I’ve had an interest in aboriginal matters,” John says.
“Looking on from the sidelines you think there are people out there who have had a difficult lot in life.
“I’ve always felt I’d like to help them to have a more satisfying life.”
Aboriginal leaders call on the man behind the design and operation of plants to the multinationals to share his knowledge and develop business plans for them.
“Their community would get to make that choice,” he explains, under an Indigenous Community Volunteers program.
“So the end result was I couldn’t enter a community unless they invited me, which I thought was the right way to go.”
Communities have sought his advice on running a nature park and camping ground, a sheep farm, the live cattle trade and even an oversized vegie patch.
John’s influence has already been felt in small settlements scattered outside Perth, Kalgoorlie and Broome.
His business plans remain effective but yet simple.
Well, almost.
“The principle is exactly the same regardless of whether it’s an oil refinery or a sheep farm,” he contends.
“It’s just that the ways that you deride your income or the way you incur costs are quite different. Well, a Shell business plan has a lot more noughts on the end.”
John was raised near Swan Hill and by 1972 had graduated from University of Melbourne with little attention paid to the plight of Aborigines.
His awakening came 20 years later after the landmark Mabo decision recognised native title.
Working on a project in Darwin at the time, the repercussions finally dawned on John.
With that was an understanding that aboriginal landholders, rightfully, had a say in the determination of their land.
“This has not been a lifelong crusade,” John reflects.
“My interests have changed with time.”
John still fondly recalls his first night in a remote Aboriginal community.
In Lavington, a small township outside Kalgoorlie, locals had warned him he better be careful.
“All through the night you could hear people having arguments and swearing at each other, but also singing and having parties,” John laughs.
“No one was ever threatening toward us and I wouldn’t have ever known we were in the rough end of town.”

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