Marlee, a proud Kamilaroi / Dunghutti Women and founder of Tiddas 4 Tiddas
I can't remember how i discovered Marlee's podcast Tiddas 4 Tiddas, but when I did I was quite excited and got stuck right into her first episode.Marlee is a proud Kamilaroi / Dunghutti Women and through her podcast, she celebrates Aboriginal women. She uses her platform to empower them to know their worth and what they're capable of, as well as introduce them to her listeners, both things that I think are pretty important and incredibly inspiring. Marlee has answered some questions about her life, her journey and what inspired her to start her Podcast. As always, I hope you are as inspired as I am by Marlee and can't wait for you to meet her and hopefully listen to her amazing podcast too!
Marlee in a one of Design Within Country piece for the UNLTD Aus Big Dream Event
What made you start Tiddas4Tiddas and why are you so passionate about it?
Tiddas 4 Tiddas is an initiative born from the desire to empower young black women to know their worth and capabilities. It’s a space for our black women to be shameless brilliant – to feel pride in themselves and celebrate their sisters who are killing it across all industries and all regions of the country. It’s a space to feel safe to be yourself, to tell your story and connect with females like you.
Last year’s NAIDOC theme was “Because of her we can”, which similarly saw a focus from our community on celebrating our women leaders who’ve helped us get to where we are today. As 2018 was drawing to a close, I had been sitting with my fear of losing the momentum of “Because of her we can” for some time. I felt like I had to do something to continue all the inspiration and beauty I’d seen emerge from the theme – social media was an obvious choice, but I felt unsure of it having enough impact.
Then, after spending a week with a team of eighteen-year-old Aboriginal girls from across the country, as my sister and I coached them at the Oztag World Cup in Coffs Harbour, listening to them and being reminded of how I felt as a teenage girl and how I wish I’d known half of what I do now about who else was going through what I was, I knew I had to act and act now.
So, I literally woke up the day after arriving home from that tournament and built a plan for the page and launched it a week later.
You can find Tiddas 4 Tiddas on Itunes HERE
I would love to know a bit about where you are from, your family and how both have shaped your identity today?
I grew up in the Sutherland Shire, on Dharrawal Country, south of Sydney. Cronulla is infamous for race riots and although it’s been over a decade since we were in the headlines for that event, the inherent, undisputed racism that lies in the fabric of the community still exists.
My mum is white and my Dad is a Gamilaroi/Dunghutti man. Growing up in a mixed household, we were quite simply colour blind – but our outside influences weren’t and made sure that we knew we were different pretty quickly.
As a teenager, school was the place I had my understanding of the world shaped the most – I think if I had only ever been around my family, I would’ve grown into a very naïve adult who didn’t know the truth about the problems that still exist in our society.
The racist jokes from teachers, being pointed out as different any time an Aboriginal ‘issue’ was raised in class and the regular taunting from peers – although not an everyday occurrence – occurred enough to turn me into an angsty, frustrated teenager.
But it also saw me turn to my culture for healing and guidance. I realised very quickly, that my greatest source of power and the best thing about me was the exact same thing that made me feel like the odd one out – being a blackfulla.
It wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t as bad as so many others. And it helped me emerge as a thick-skinned, passionate advocate for my people, committed to spending the rest of my life giving back and building opportunities for others like me.
One thing I hope to see in the future is that indigenous languages will be taught in schools. When I moved to Australia, I didn’t learn a thing about the true history of Australia, or anything about it’s first nation people. Could you share something in your language? A special saying or something that you think every one should know how to say?
The journey with language is a more recent one I’ve began embarking on! I’ve been picking up phrases and words in Gamilaraay over the last couple of years – and eventually I’ll take formal classes – but someone once told me no matter how little you know of your language you should still speak it every day, so at every event I present at or video or podcast interview I record now, I start by saying Yaama, Marlee ngaya. It’s a simple “Hello, my name is” – but I feel defiant in saying it, because they tried so hard to steal it from us forver.
I also love the phrase Guurrama-la, which translates in to ‘stand firm, don’t be pushed over.’
Speaking of the future, what are somethings you hope to see change in Australia towards it’s Indigenous people? What are some things you could recommend for people to do day to day to hopefully see this change come sooner?
I could answer that question in so many ways!! But the thing I think is most important for the immediate future is to dismantle the complacency of non-Indigenous people who don’t think Indigenous issues are their issues too. It’s easy to point out really blatant awful racists as the biggest issue – but thankfully, they’re the minority.
The biggest issue we see is the fence sitting, ‘that doesn’t affect me so I don’t need to worry about it’-type of Aussie. They are the most detrimental to our cause and to our journey towards a positive future for all, we only make up 3% of the population and we need the other 97% to walk with us.
I think mobilising non-Indigenous people and engaging with their sense of empathy to ignite their desire to act, to protest, to put public pressure on government and most importantly, change their own attitudes and actions in everyday life - will be a good start. Better education needs to be available for non-Indigenous people from infancy. We need to embed true Australian history and Aboriginal knowledges into all curriculums. There’s so many things I think need to be done to see this resolution but I think the attitude that normalises discrimination and complacency, will be a big leap forward.
While we’re waiting for certain institutions to catch up and do their part in helping our people to close the gap, it’s the responsibility of non-Indigenous people to educate themselves and come with us. Walk with us into the future. Engage in big conversations. Don’t celebrate on January 26th, listen to our music, embrace our art, read our words and be proud of the longest continuous surviving culture in history. We’re something for you to be proud of too.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
I am a total creature of habit haha – I always set my alarm 15min earlier than I need to get up, so I get the satisfaction of snoozing at least once! I’ve tried so hard to be a morning person – and occasionally succeed in going to the gym first thing in the morning, but most of the time, I save it for after work. In which case, I’ll get up and make my oats and black coffee for breakfast, before getting ready for work and relying on the caffeine to kick in to be able to function fully for the day!
What advice would you have for your younger self or a young girl today who you see much of yourself in?
My biggest advice I would’ve loved to give myself as a young woman – and that is important for all young women and girls – is to trust your gut and believe in yourself. I think as women at most stages of life, we doubt ourselves too much and when we do, we hold ourselves back in fear of judgement from others. We doubt our value for how we look, the value of our ideas and our general work. But I’ve learnt in the best way, that if you listen to your gut, back yourself and work hard to do what’s right for you, regardless of what others think, you will succeed. You will be happy!! And to me, that’s really the most important goal in life.
What was the scariest thing about starting Tiddas4Tiddas? Did you ever have a moment when you just felt like giving up? If so how did you get through it?
I honestly didn’t have much fear around starting Tiddas4Tiddas because we didn’t really have a plan of our hopes for it! We’re so lucky that this has exploded in to more than I could have ever dreamt! Every now and then, there’s been a few gross troll comments here or there, but that’s an easy block and delete fix. It will always be challenging to keep momentum, but if we keep our true purpose at the heart of what we do and don’t try to be anything more than what we are, we’ll be fine.
Who has been your biggest inspiration and why?
I’m exceedingly inspired by each of the 17 thousand people who have formed the Tiddas 4 Tiddas community we have today. They inspire me in their personal stories of triumph and their collaborative commitment to relentless positivity and celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
What is one thing you would like to see more of in the fashion industry today and why?
I’d LOVE to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander fashion, designers and models to be taken seriously and given the spotlight they deserve, not as amazing Indigenous designers – but amazing designers FULL STOP. I don’t want Indigenous runways off to the side from major fashion weeks – we need to be FRONT and CENTRE.
You can follow the amazing Marlee on Instagram HERE
as well as Tiddas 4 Tiddas HERE
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