On course for a bright future

By Charmayne Allison

CUMMERAGUNJA’S Peter Atkinson and his son Peter have the same spark of joy in their eyes.

Standing with an arm slung around the other’s shoulder, their grins stretch from ear to ear.

And for anyone who knows this father and son’s journey, it’s enough to bring tears to your eyes.

Because where there was hopelessness, there is now hope.

Not just for this father and son, but for generation after generation of their family to come.

Peter Atkinson Sr was unemployed for 12 years straight.

A crippling 12 years of struggling to make ends meet.

Of not knowing if he’d have enough money to pay rego, put food on the table, or keep a roof over his head.

Twelve years of sleepless nights, unsure how he’d support his family for another day.

But after 12 years, his employment drought has finally broken.

Encouraged to take part in the inaugural round of the Civil Construction and Plant Operation Project, he graduated from the Certificate 3 course empowered with new skills.

And has now found lasting employment with Murray River Council.

Best of all, after witnessing his father’s experience, Peter’s son (Peter Jr) has signed up for the same course.

Setting the Atkinson family on a brand new trajectory.

“My son has been trying a lot of stuff and not fitting in too well,” Peter said.

“But now he's seen me get up and do something, he wants to do the same thing. My heart warms to see that.

“Because before he looked like a lost sheep just walking around doing nothing all the time.

“And now he's got something in front of him.

“And if he can get through this and find himself a job, his life will change forever.”

Born in Mooroopna and raised in Cummeragunja, Peter worked in Ballarat, Wilcannia and Griffith before he became ill and stopped working in 2007.

“I was crook on and off for 12 years and didn't work that entire time,” he said.

Without a steady income, he also struggled to find purpose and his mental health began to spiral.

“Being unemployed was getting me right down and I was going into depression because my family wasn't doing too good and that had a big impact on me,” he said.

“I didn't sleep well at night because I was thinking about how to help them.”

After taking part in the course and, eventually, gaining employment, Peter’s life turned around.

He finally had a steady income – not just enough to survive, but to flourish.

“It was taking me nine weeks to break up the money to register my car but if I broke into it once or twice, then I'd have to wait another fortnight or so to get that money together,” he said.

“But now I have this job, I can go and register my car straight away.

“Even the food we've been eating – a lot of times we could only afford pasta and chicken and stuff like that. Now we’ve got a leg of lamb again and gee, that's a big difference.”

Peter said his family life was also thriving.

“My grandkids love it because I can now do stuff with them,” he said.

“Before we couldn't even leave the house because everything costs money.

“But this year I could take them to the show for the first time, that was a good feeling. I shouted them rides and let them do what they wanted to do.

“I wanted that too when I was little so they got that experience, as did I.”

Above all his new employment has restored his hope.

“I don't feel as depressed now. I have something I want to do,” he said.

“I get up early at 5 every morning and come home and it's just different.

“I was lost but now I have something to look forward to waking up to every day.”