'I ran away and joined the circus': Murraylands business leader shares inspiring tale

Inspiring: Kookaburra Homes co-owner Steven Walker has recently become a Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland (RDAMR) board member.
Inspiring: Kookaburra Homes co-owner Steven Walker has recently become a Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland (RDAMR) board member.

HE ran away to join the circus, but it wasn't all fun and games.

Business owner Steven Walker has a had a roller-coaster journey on his way to running a multi-million-dollar building business in Murray Bridge.

Steve fled an unsafe environment at the age of just 14 and was homeless and on the streets before finding an ad in a local paper to work in a sideshow at a festival in Adelaide.

It was there at the weekend festival he met a guy who worked with Silvers Circus, and was told if he wasn't feeling happy at home, the circus was set to leave on Monday.

In Steve's words, he just "ran off", travelled with the circus for a year, setting up tents and rides.

It was that spontaneous but desperate decision that kick-started Steve's incredible business journey.

After touring the country with the circus, he returned to Adelaide and at the age of 15, found a job as a door-to-door salesman, trying to convert CBD businesses from Telstra to AAPT.

"I was pretending to be 18, because you had to be of age to sign contracts and I was only 15," he said.

"But I enjoyed sales so that really set me on my path."

Then it was off to the Northern Territory for a time before moving back to Adelaide, where he landed a job at Harvey Norman.

This took him on a career journey spanning the country - working in Hobart, Victoria and Sydney before owning his own franchise at the age of 23 - the youngest owner ever - in Queensland and then Victoria.

He then started in the home building business as a sales manager at Rivergum Homes, before an opportunity arose to set up his own consulting business, helping small to medium sized builders grow.

This resulted in Kookaburra Homes become one of Steven's first customers, developing its sales and marketing department.

"Having done that for a year, I then said to the owner I'm going to leave, and he told me he was planning to sell the business," Steven said.

"So, me and my current business partner Wayne Goodwin bought him out about five years ago."

Wayne has had over 35 years' of experience in the building industry with a high level of expertise in construction and the pair are now heavily-invested in the Murraylands with the Murray Bridge-based Kookaburra Homes.

Steve's belief in the Murraylands as a perfect place to live or run a business and his desire to continue to raise the profile of the region has seen him join the Regional Development Australia Murraylands and Riverland (RDAMR) board this year.

"It's a great place to live, its a great place to work and the region offers great opportunities for businesses to set up here," he said.

"Murray Bridge was really the birth of Kookaburra Homes - we chose Murray Bridge to launch a new brand and it has been the perfect place," he said.

Steve said he looked forward to working with the RDAMR team to achieve positive outcomes for the region.

"The board does some really good work ... I want to help them highlight some of the work they do and demonstrate some of the good work the board does and the things they've been working on,"

"Some of these people on the board are outstanding, they are a clever bunch, for me I see my responsibility to help promote some of that."

Steve said he has seen the outside perception of Murray Bridge change overtime, with people taking notice of the progressive development happening in the region.

"In the past, I think people had some misconceptions of Murray Bridge and the surrounding areas," he said.

"But with everything that is happening and town and all the redevelopments, its growing ... I mean people in Adelaide know of the Bridgeport Hotel."

"The Bridgeport is a good example, I want people to come and experience the Murraylands."

He said attracting visitors to the region would help spread the message of its appeal and people would want to keep returning and would see it as an ideal place to live.

And, in the business world, an ideal place to set up and grow.

"We believe people in this region value service and quality .... my advice to anyone wanting to set up a business here, is if you have a product that is of good quality or good service, the people in this region will support it," he said.

He said other big builders were seeing the strength of the area on the back of his businesses success.

"People have seen what we've done and said 'okay there is opportunity here' so other builders are recognising that now which is awesome, they are going to employ more people," he said.

Steven's challenging past has also inspired him to support teenagers across various youth programs, including being a mentor for the Murray Bridge Youth Council program microloans scheme.

The initiative involves younger people pitching an idea and pairing up with entrepreneurs and business people around the region.

"You may be a 13 or 14-year-old kid who has a business idea but maybe doesn't grow up in the most supportive environment. I work with those kids to get that idea off the ground," he said.

"It might be something really small, or something really big, but for me what I'm trying to do is show kids that have had a hard start to life that it can be okay, and I got here as a result of having good people in my life and good mentors."

It has seen a snowball effect with Steven now working with other youth in the community, outside of the program, who want to kickstart their own business ideas.

"It's brought me a range of different kids from a whole range of different backgrounds, not just disadvantaged," he said.

Steve has also started to share his story with children at school visits, hoping to inspire those who may need some extra motivation.

"I feel like for so long in my life I've been running at such a fast pace and now I don't have to run anymore," he said.