INDIGENOUS BUSINESS SERIES: With his start up building company Aboriginal Sustainable Homes, Brad Draper, a Wiradjuri leader, legendary former rugby league player now businessman and racehorse trainer, has built a duplex that’s slashed maintenance costs, keeps temperatures stable and now he’s got a contract to do another 60. Time for a cash injection to scale up.

Brad Draper’s career has spanned work in the public service, employment and training services, project management, mining, construction and infrastructure services.  One of his successful ventures, a registered training organisation, Train 365 provides skills for workers in the construction and mining sectors and Kenjarhys Aboriginal focuses on getting its students jobs.

It’s in his latest business foray though that Draper builds on the expertise he’s honed in the employment sector for more than 25 years.  

Aboriginal Sustainable Homes is a company he set up to provide better housing options for Aboriginal people, skills for the unemployed and local jobs in regional Aboriginal communities.

Sustainability is key to the homes his company builds and a far broader concept than the materials used, Draper says.

It extends to the long-term viability of the homes through the use of materials, the workers who build them, lifestyles and comfort for the people who live in them, maintenance costs for the owners and a strong social fabric of the communities where they are located to keep people connected.  They’re green homes that are good for the people and the planet, he says.

Draper formed the company after recognising that much more could be achieved than the current social housing models provide.

He reckons: “the whole model is wrong, black,[1]  white or brindle because people should be allowed to work and build their own homes.” 

He explains that his company has big aspirations and, since completing its first build, a growing interest from social housing providers. The startup company just completed a set of duplexes for Aboriginal residents in Moree for the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office.

Key to delivering the duplexes is that they provided jobs for local unemployed people to gain the skills to build the houses for their local communities.

It’s one of Draper’s greatest proud moments that at the opening of the duplex that one of his Aboriginal builders turned up to witness the launch and handover of keys to its first tenant, that ended up being the young man’s beloved grandmother, an Elder of the community.

It’s moments like this that drive Draper’s intent to see his company grow nationally. The homes use a key product called VersiClad. These are durable panels that have been predominantly used for the production of outdoor structures like decks, awnings, pergolas, over pools and barbecue areas. 

Draper has partnered with a builder who has used VersiClad for more than 10 years. He also uses his own product, extremely durable walls built with an inner core of security mesh into the gyprock. The result is a home that requires much lower maintenance, with costs reduced from $120,000 over a 10-year period to $20,000 – one sixth of the current outlay. 

Draper’s company registered its business in 2019.  It has three full-time staff, and for this project it employed five local Aboriginal men and women. His company manages the frames and trusses inhouse and contracts earthworks, plumbing, electricians, painters and installation of piers.

Costs are reduced by 45 per cent by skilling up locals for trades, rather than using fly-in-fly-out experienced labour as is often the case. Draper himself may even turn up as his company completes its own landscaping with the local labour hires putting in turf, trees, plants and constructing garden beds. 

Right out of the soil, the homes are built differently, sitting on steel piers rather than bricks. These can be adjusted for soil movement to restrict movement causing building distress.

On top of the inherent materials, Brad’s designs are culturally and environmentally friendly, energy efficient with reduced operating costs.  Right out of the soil, the homes are built differently, sitting on steel piers rather than bricks. These can be adjusted for soil movement to restrict movement causing building distress. 

On a recent winter’s day a test of the Moree duplex internally was 12.5 degrees.  The outside temperature was just 1 degree.  At its launch on a 26 degree day the home was 15 degrees inside without airconditioning[2] .

The company achieves this with higher than average ceilings between 2.7metres and 3.6 m with solar powered skylights, high tinted windows for better airflow, greater privacy and more light with larger footprints and big rooms.

These stable temperatures are made possible with higher raked ceilings using the structural insulated panel system[3]  with roofing material that is 90 millimetres thick.  After adding gyprock and Colorbond insulation the ceiling thickness totals 107 mm. The duplexes also have significant outdoor areas to align with Aboriginal community preferences to spend a lot of time outdoors.

Competition is strong for social housing and the companys prices are competitive

Competition for social housing is high and Draper’s is competitive in its pricing, opting for a lower profit margin to secure winning tenders for the builds.

The company takes a longer-term view to sustainability for Aboriginal residents and the housing provider.

“It’s the future and we’re going be the drivers,” Draper says. Since building the Moree duplex, Draper has been approached by another not-for-profit social housing provider to build 60 new homes in the regional town of Orange. 

For Draper, the model, the community and the pride of a quality home at market rates for state government homes is a mix that works and he’s now seeking further capital investment funding to amplify its potential.

He says the model of engagement and the build quality for the community brings pride. “There have been 16 instances of vandalism in the area, but not one hit on ASH work sites. You can’t buy that.  Not pride, value and ownership.” 

It’s a good first start for this company. Draper puts its success down to working with culturally competent NSW AHO staff who understand and are willing to back new models. He cites Nicky Warden, their senior project officer, as one Aboriginal staffer who invested in the local community with skills development. 

“She genuinely listened to the Aboriginal community leaders express their needs for providers to embark on a genuine engagement and implement an authentic Aboriginal business procurement chain.”

This article is part of a series on Indigenous businesses and was produced with the support of the City of Sydney.

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