Life after the milk bar on the corner
SPONSORED: The Coles Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander plan, initiated in 2011, grew the number of Indigenous employees at Coles from 65 to 4200—a massive increase of 6269%.
Today, of all staff employed across the company’s stores, offices and warehouses, 3.6 per cent identify as Indigenous. Five and a half per cent of all hires this financial year have been of Indigenous people.
Indigenous success is critical to Coles, and one worker who personifies professional and personal success is Reset Support Manager, Therese Laverty.
“There is heaps of support for Indigenous people at Coles. I wouldn’t be surprised in six months’ time if the number’s at 5000. It’s like it doesn’t even need to be a box anymore—it’s just part of how we do business. Now, everyone shows up, and if you’re the best person for the job, you’re in,” she said.
“We have broken down the barriers where Indigenous people can think they can come and work with us, because that support is there.”
Therese has been in her current role for three years, but she began working with Coles back in 1987.
“I was already working in a milk bar when I was 13, to earn $3 an hour. They actually demolished the milk bar to make way for Coles. I rode my little pushbike in every day; I started on a checkout.”
Therese grew up in Stockton, NSW, with her mother, father and two older brothers.
“Dad was good, full of wisdom, a typical outback boy. He brought me up as a tomboy, which was great, as Dad was the typical walk about, everything we did was by a river. My fondest memories are of being down by the river camping, fishing, in the back of a ute. It was very simple and we had a great life.”
Her mother was a nurse, very highly educated. Her father injured himself at work and had limited movement, so her mother returned to work and became the breadwinner.
But this wasn’t to last.
She was on shift at Peat Island Hospital when she suffered abuse from a patient, rendering her unable to work.
Seventeen years after his injury, her father committed suicide.
Therese was 23 when her father died and was working in Coffs Harbour as a grocery manager.
“The first couple of years weren’t good, but I had a healthy friend base where my girlfriend’s parents helped me through. You get support from people you don’t expect.”
“It sounds like we didn’t have a great childhood, with mum and dad being ill, but we had a great childhood. I can’t even complain about it, because everyone kept us busy. It never stopped us from doing anything.”
“The family was always around and we were always the family that turned up. Dad’s family lived out west and it was the type of town where you’d turn up … and then leave with a boot full of pumpkins and a bucket full of oranges.”
Therese now has a beautiful family of her own, with four sons, two dogs, and a wonderful partner.
She met her partner through Coles.
“When Dad died, things weren’t going well. I was going with someone, but it wasn’t going well. I went in and saw my regional manager at the time and I said, I think I need to go.”
“I got out to Tamworth, they moved us in those days. When I did my first initial grocery shop, each time I got to the end of the aisle there was someone there watching me. I had my Mum with me and she said, ‘There’s a young fella watching you!’”
“The next day when they did the morning tea, being a country store, I was introduced. There I was, staring straight at Rod. I think that was the end of it.”
“After 23 years, we are still together, with four kids, we’re still not married, we’re probably the best of mates, we have each other’s back all the time. And we are chalk and cheese too.”
Rod, her partner, has been with Coles for 33 years and is now a store manager. He is also a fireman, having spent 27 years with the NSW Fire and Rescue.
“My hubby and I are like that now, we have four kids, we have one big happy family.”
Therese has been with Coles for 32 years. It’s provided her stability for her family, travel and the opportunity to create long-lasting relationships.
“I’ve done 7 stores as a store manager. I’ve worked in Coffs Harbour, Tamworth to Orange, back to Taree, to Newcastle. I’ve done state roles where I’ve visited 100 stores every year.”
“It’s a funny job, no day is the same, no design is the same, no department manager is trained the same. You know when you’ve helped someone’s day. I often get phone calls because I’m always on the road. You sometimes don’t solve their problems, but you listen to them. I get nicknamed Mumma Bear because I listen to people.”
One of the proudest moments of her career was turning around one of the worst stores in the nation.
“I was manager of Glendale, it was the worst store in the nation, taken over from Franklins and the morale wasn’t great. I ended up winning a national award for turning around the injury rate by 92.9% back in 2002.”
“I think the best thing about it all, is the friends you make. Most of my children’s godparents are Coles workers. You become such good friends that they become a kind of family.”
On the 25th anniversary of her father’s passing, Therese wanted to do something different to celebrate his life.
“I tend to earmark every 19th of October with something like: I’ll go up in a hot air balloon, or I’ll bungee jump, or I’ll get my motorbike license to celebrate, because Dad pushed me to be better all the time.”
“I found this Mt Kosciuszko hike for the R U OK organisation, I sent it out to about 20 people to get a few friends from around the state and I ended up with 21 people.”
“Obviously, I want to raise awareness about suicide prevention. I know my dad went around visiting his brother and sisters at the time, getting them to chat. I remember that last week, my brother got married on the Saturday, so we’d seen all the family. The following Wednesday he’d committed suicide.”
“If someone had given him a little more time, to listen to him, maybe he still would have been here …”
The hike was 21 kilometres and 30,000 steps on Therese’s ‘little legs.’
Not only was Therese joined by friends and family members, but Biggest Loser’s Commando and Rob Mills also tackled the hike in support of the organisation.
“You have to rally around people. It’s easy to lose them, we live on the edge, and it’s just between whether we choose to go left or right. You must make them feel needed, you have to ask the dumb questions. It’s the simple things sometimes, to let them know that they are needed. And protecting them at the same time. I’ve got fond memories of Dad, he’s not here but he’s left us the fond memories.”
Therese is determined to continue living her life in the best possible way, caring for people around her in her personal and professional life. With her big happy family and her career, she is moving into the year ahead living her life the best she can.
“Not every day is sunny but most of them are. Coles gives you a good life. Life is short you might as well make the most of it, I’ve got a few years left if I can help people out.”
By Rachael Knowles