Jul 7, 2020, 02:00 AM

When Roxana Gonzalez Rios arrived in Australia from Colombia 12 years ago, she discovered – like thousands before her – that her environmental management degree was virtually useless for finding a job.

So aged 32, she set about reinventing herself. “First I did the 500 hours of lessons provided by the Government to improve my English,” she says. “And then I decided to give something back.”

Over the next few years, Roxana became the consummate environmental volunteer – evaluating grant applications for Coastcare, conducting solar audits for the Moreland Energy Foundation, helping out at her local SES. She also worked as a waitress, temped in offices, and even completed an apprenticeship in security-alarm installation – all the while studying a Masters in Engineering Project Management at the University of Melbourne.

Today, thanks to Citywide and the City of Melbourne’s ‘Greening the City’ program, Roxana is finally going to be paid for doing the kind of work she qualified for 13 years ago.

“I’ve been frustrated for years, because you can’t get a job here with many foreign degrees,” she says. “But I think this job will put me on the right track, as I’ll be learning about native flora – which fascinates me – while also using my planning and project management skills.”

Citywide agrees, and has already put Roxana in charge of one of the 12-strong teams which this month began planting 150,000 shrubs, grasses and trees in strategic locations around the city.

“I think I impressed them during my induction,” laughs Roxana. “So I was promoted before I even started the job!”

Record-breaking planting

Greening the City will enable Citywide to give work to 64 people over the next six months – 54 on the planting teams, and another 10 who’ll collect data to inform the City Council’s forest planning.

The initiative – the largest revegetation project ever undertaken in the city – is being funded through the State Government’s $500 million Working for Victoria fund, which is providing jobs to hundreds of people who’ve lost work due to the COVID pandemic.

Over the past three months, Citywide has become a prominent face of Working for Victoria, hiring 1,700 of the 2,600 people employed on ‘street cleaning’ teams across Greater Melbourne. But according to project manager Heath Gifford, that’s not the only reason the company was selected for Greening the City.

“We have a proven ability to roll out large contracts servicing all sorts of public infrastructure for local governments,” says Heath. “And that includes maintaining parks, planting and protecting trees, and all aspects of vegetation management.”

Greening the City is a long-term initiative of the City of Melbourne, which commits to plant at least 3,000 large trees each year to keep down temperatures raised by heat-trapping ‘concrete islands’.

This year, the City’s annual target will more than double, with 4,000 additional trees being planted, as well as 30,000 shrubs and 116,000 tubes of native grasses. Initial planting has begun in Royal Park, and will fan out along the Inner Circle Railway Corridor, the Dynon Road canal, and other important nature reserves.

A world of opportunity

It’s a perfect fit for Roxana – who, a lifetime ago, was conducting community consultations for an environmental masterplan for the City of Bogota.

“I have good memories of working for the Department of Planning in Bogota,” says Roxana. “But although it was a good job, it was very poorly paid.

“The difference here is that you can earn a good wage doing even a junior job. Any job in Australia is respected, and you can build a nice life with it.

“I often feel that life in South America was socially unfair, whereas here in Australia there are opportunities for a much wider range of people. Just as long as you have the right qualification!”

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Media Contact:
Simon Mossman - Group Corporate Communications 
M 0427 307 216