Townsville is the biggest regional centre in Queensland. It’s famous for access to the Great Barrier Reef, the gateway to outback Queensland and Jonathan Thurston.
In recent years Townsville has been making headlines for all the wrong reasons. The garrison city has become home to a shocking wave of youth crime. Homes are being invaded and cars are being stolen every night of the week.
Reuben Richardson is a local employer who wants to change that reputation – and at the same time, change the lives of the young people who are making the headlines. After a short stint in the area between university and then working overseas, he has returned with his young family and committed to a life in the North.
Reuben is one of the graduates of the Queensland based Charters Towers to Reef Leading Australian Resilient Communities (LARC) program, an initiative of the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation and the Regional Australia Institute.
The objective is to bring together current and emerging leaders across the regions to further develop their leadership skills and build a network that’s committed to action and outcomes.
For Reuben, it’s crystal clear.
“We’d like to see Townsville becoming a thriving community that people want to come to and work and live in,” he said.
“As soon as people Google Townsville the first thing that comes up is youth crime. But Townsville has so much else to offer. It’s such a nice place to live and work and that’s what brought us back. But the reality is that this time there are cars being burnt regularly in the park near my house.”
Being involved in the LARC program has cemented Reuben’s resolve to counter local youth crime dramatically by working with other leaders within the region.
The process started with the group work involved in the LARC program, using a 2018 Queensland State Government report with a series of 18 recommendations to curb youth crime in the area. At the time, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk committed to implementing them all, but despite extensive research, Reuban’s group could find no evidence they had been.
“We wanted to know what happened with those 18 recommendations What got implemented and what didn’t? ” he said.
“From our investigation we couldn’t find any evidence that any of the recommendations were implemented only that the original working group was disbanded and renamed. If anything was to change, it would have to be through community leadership with people like us.”
Post graduating from the LARC program, Reuben is continuing the group’s purpose and wants to find ways to provide a safe and supportive environment for young people as a starting point.
“After community consultation, we understood there’s a small number of children who gravitate towards offending and it would be great to give those kids a fighting chance at staying out of the (justice) system by providing a place where they can sleep, feel safe and have a constructive learning environment.”
Reuben highlights the fact there are programs for teenagers trying to turn themselves around but is at pains to point out that it’s the children under 10 who need the most mentoring and support. He stresses that it’s essential to keep them in school and engaged. Through his LARC project work and his own personal research and interactions with authorities, Reuben is considering more serious options.
“Now that I’m a bit more aware of what’s happening and have had interactions with councillors and staff, perhaps I can do more in the political sphere.”
Reuben is trying to break the mould in other aspects of his life. Townsville is a sprawling city where the sticky North Queensland heat prompts most people to drive to work, or the beach. Reuben wants to set an example so he can often be seen commuting on his electric skateboard.
“We just got an electric car for our business to test how that will work and we’ve written some custom software for it and just released its open source to the world around usage of excess solar- which is what we have. I have been trialling some other vehicles- like my skateboard as well,” he said.
“The software changes the charge speed based on how much your building’s using, so it monitors the connection to the grid and then adjusts the charge speed accordingly to try and stay underneath that threshold. So you’re getting the most cost-effective method.”
One of the greatest learnings from the LARC program is that leadership can take many forms — not just the hierarchical — and Reuban is testament to that. As an owner and director of North Queensland Engineering, he’s living in a community he’s passionate about and wants to see and be part of meaningful change — whether that be social, environmental, or business. With a young family looking to start school in the region soon, and a business that’s growing in reputation and staff members, Reuben cites the LARC program as giving him the confidence to lead his team and his community roles with the values that are most important to him.
“I led some small teams before coming to this role in Townsville, but because I am now a director and business owner, I wanted to make sure my leadership skills were up to scratch to achieve the goals I have,” he said.
The LARC program has given him the toolkit and the confidence to be a changemaker in a city that desperately needs a circuit breaker.
“I’d like to be a more effective community leader for Townsville. I’m still young, so I’ve got plenty of years left in the tank and want to make sure that my skillset makes me more effective as a leader and the LARC program really brought that home to me.”