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Tiddas 4 Tiddas is a space for sharing and collecting the stories of Aboriginal women, resharing opportunities such as events and scholarships and ultimately creating a network of tiddas who uplift and celebrate each other.

Sisters and co-founders Marlee and Keely Silva launched Tiddas 4 Tiddas in November 2018 with the aim of building a safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander tiddas (sisters) to share their stories of excellence. 

Deadly Story welcomes Marlee Silva (Kamilaroi and Dunghutti), interviewed by Georgia Mae Capocchi-Hunter (Wurundjeri and Ngurai Illum Wurrung).

 

Hi Marlee, thank you for making time to chat today, lets kick this off, can you tell me a bit about yourself, who you are and who your mob is?

So, my name is Marlee Silva, I’m a Kamilaroi and Dunghutti girl. My family comes from Moree, and Kempsey in NSW but I live on Dharawal country in Cronulla, south of Sydney

So, you co-founded Tiddas 4 Tiddas your sister Keely…

Yeah so, we started Tiddas 4 Tiddas in 2018, it feels like a long time ago now because of everything that has happened and how much we have grown but yeah it was the backend of 2018 and we were inspired by the NAIDOC theme Because Of Her We Can.

That’s amazing because you guys have grown a lot in such a short time

Yeah, I feel like I blinked, and all this stuff happened, we are really lucky. I think it’s more than anything, a reflection on how much people just want to hear about amazing Aboriginal women which is great.

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On your social media you share not only the stories of Aboriginal women from across the country, but you also share businesses and services founded and run by our tiddas. Why do you think it’s so important to have a platform like Tiddas 4 Tiddas that showcases these women and their talents?

Well there are a few people that we kind of target with this stuff, first being the next generation, those who are coming up, our young girls who are going through school, we want them to be able to see all the opportunities that they can take and basically help them believe they can do anything and that is why we showcase these tiddas and business women and people from all different walks of like – to show these girls that they can do it as well.

we want them to be able to see all the opportunities that they can take

And then to any other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, it’s about getting them excited and kind of influencing a community environment where we all want to lift each other up and kind of really encourage that sort of attitude.

For our non-Aboriginal audience, it’s also about making them aware, particularly of the businesses so they can spend money and help support the business. We want to help them make an income as well so a big part of that is increasing the audience and customers for them and also just breaking down stereotypes of little things like what an Aboriginal person looks like and what we do and you know things like we are only at university for free and we get hand outs and all that rubbish, trying to completely dismantle those misconceptions.

breaking down stereotypes of little things like what an Aboriginal person looks like and what we do... trying to completely dismantle those misconceptions.

We didn’t really go into this with a strict plan I literally said to my sister one day – we were talking about the NAIDOC theme (Because Of Her We Can) and how amazing it had been and just that we were going to lose this and I didn’t want to because, yes I’m bias, but I think we are the best ever.

And so, we need to tell those stories. And we wanted to have a space that was our own and I just thought it would be a place that made us feel good and that we could have a bit of fun with. It’s only been in the last 6-8 months that I've really been reflective on what our goals are, what we want to do and who we are speaking with because we grew so quickly, and it’s been a crazy ride but in the best way possible.

 

I've been following Tiddas 4 Tiddas since the early days and I know personally seeing some of those women’s stories has inspired me to break the mould of what I thought I was allowed to do as an Aboriginal woman…

That’s mad. That’s the thing isn’t it, cause whether we are conscious of it or not we are kind of told what is expected of us, and I think that is the case for most women in general but, you know for us there are added things that go on top of that, and I don’t know if you have had a similar experience but people’s eyes pop out of their heads when I tell them that I am an Aboriginal women and I have graduated from university and got first class honours, they are like “oh my god is that a thing you can do” and it’s like yeah, do you know how many blak academics there are! It’s that sort of stuff that still happens and I get people who say they don’t really believe there are people who still think like that and I’m like these are your people, non-Indigenous people who think like this. It’s so nice to be like not only am I beating your small expectations of me but I’m just the best – not only as a Blackfella but as a person. I strive to be the best in everything I do.

And I think sometimes that bias can even come from our own community,  I hear people regularly saying that you don’t have to go to university and really driving home that we can take other options but it’s like, if that’s the path we want to take why can we go to you uni, sure it will be challenging but that’s what makes it good…

Yeah because with challenge we grow, we want to do better and if you can do something like that, then without even knowing it you will show people around you and other young ones that they can do it as well.

And that’s one of the most beautiful things about our culture, there is no real true individual act, anything we do has a real impact outside of ourselves, on family, on community. That’s something that other culture really gets, and it’s one of the most powerful things.

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In media and in non-Indigenous society in general, our women are often viewed as angry and aggressive or as victims of circumstance which as we have been discussing is the complete opposite of who we are, have you noticed those patterns?

Oh, I notice them 100% especially the angry blak woman trope that we see for all women of colour across the world. If you are a woman of colour with a voice you are perceived as angry, which is crazy. I've also experienced it in my day to day life outside of media, in high school being the only Aboriginal kid in my year and one of two in my school with the other being my sister, I found there were a lot people who outwardly told me they were afraid of me and every me I would open my mouth classmates would be like “oh you’re so angry calm down” and that’s the first time I really noticed it but I didn’t realise at the time that it was a bigger problem we all faced.

 If you are a woman of colour with a voice you are perceived as angry.

You just have to look at the coverage around anything, I mean this year around Jan 26 was some of the best coverage I've seen, it’s been quite amazing in the way media outlets are realising they need to do better and can’t continue to be biased against us – though it still needs to get better. Whenever our invasion day rally or other marches have been covered the big image that gets plastered everywhere is a blak women yelling on a microphone and it’s because of the perception. No one actually cares what she is saying its more ‘look at them they are so angry’.

And if it isn’t that we are in the media because we are a victim of violence, which we are disproportionately represented in and I think that’s a big part of why we started Tiddas 4 Tiddas, growing up the only blak people we saw on tv were mostly blak sports men and I’m not an athlete by any means but I remember wanting to be Cathy Freeman even though I couldn’t run but what it really meant was that I wanted to be a successful Aboriginal woman.

We are disproportionately represented  and I think that’s a big part of why we started Tiddas 4 Tiddas.

That’s the beautiful thing about social media, there are amazing outlets that are telling our stories our ways. This means we are using our voices and providing role models to our girls in particular.

Do you see that representation of us changing anytime soon?

I think it is changing because of the ways we are infiltrating a lot of these media spaces. If you look at Brooke Boney with the today show and Narelda Jacobson on Studio 10, you know those are two really beautiful, amazing Aboriginal women who are on mainstream morning tv. You would never have thought it was possible and for me that is one big way we are changing the representation because the more that we are present the more inescapable we are. I feel like that’s what’s going to change it for us.

People can’t keep denying us, I feel like it’s so weird because there are just some non-Indigenous people who just don’t think we exist or like we don’t exists in cities, that we are just in remote communities and that’s all we are. Few people realise that 80% of our people live within 2 hours of a metro centre. We are your neighbours we are next to you on trams and trains, you just don’t realise. So, the more we are out there and on mainstream media having these conversations the more these stereotypes disappear, and then the true representation will be decided by us.

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Tiddas 4 Tiddas currently has almost 30,000 followers on instagram, and it’s a large mix of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people, do you feel an extra sense of responsibility when telling these stories and do you face any hate from any of the non-Indigenous community and how do you deal with that?

Yeah, I have gotten a few disgustingly racist comments these last few weeks leading up to January 26, but prior to that we don’t really get hate very often, I think we attract the right audience who genuinely just want to learn more.

The bigger it gets; it gets quite scary and we have to be smart in what we post. I don’t think it’s possible to be Indigenous in this country  and not be political but you kind of pick and choose what you talk about and how political you want to get, not because I’m scared of what people will say but just because I had to really think about what our role really is. Yeah of course I’ll talk about Jan 26 and what it means and why we don’t celebrate it but for bigger conversations, things like treaty, we stay out of it – not out of fear but because it’s not our place. I will share someone’s position who has done work within the conversation for people to read and make their own decision.

I don’t think it’s possible to be Indigenous in this country  and not be political but you kind of pick and choose what you talk about and how political you want to get

When its someone else’s voice and not mine or Keely’s it seems more impartial and people don’t get as defensive.

In all honesty the saddest thing is some of the negativity we have got has been from within our own community. Lateral violence is something we will all go through at some point in our life and I think that my big goal for this year is for myself and Keely to be less visible on the page, once again not in fear but I don’t want peoples issues with us personally to distract from the importance of the stories we are telling.

Lateral violence is something we will all go through at some point in our life

We won’t always love everyone in the world but if there is someone I have an issue with especially an Aboriginal woman I would still never not celebrate their success because if they are succeeding, they are succeeding for all of us.

You also have a podcast also called Tiddas 4 Tiddas and you have spoken with some amazing tiddas from our community such as Dr June Oscar and Vanessa Turnball Roberts, what is it like to work with these staunch women and has there been a moment stat has stuck with you from one of the episodes?

Before doing the podcast, I had never had any formal training in like journalism or anything, so I was quite nervous and knowing some of the big names coming on as well. I've known Nessa for quite a while and so it was perfect because she was the first ever one in the studio, the second we start talking you forget the microphone was there and it feels like you’re just having a coffee and a yarn.

Our people are so generous with their stories and their time and they never hold back, and they are happy to be vulnerable because they know it will impact someone else and it’s such a privilege.

I was terrified when Leah Purcell came in not because I was scared of her but because I was fangirling. I’ve always been a big fan of her work and then she came in and we had a cup of tea and it was perfect.

I felt so privilege when Dr June came in, she is amazing on so many levels and so kind and a true inspiration and also having her know us and be proud of what we are doing means lot.

The podcast has been an interesting experience because I never really thought of doing something like that. We write all of our instagram stories but there is something more emotional and powerful about being able to hear the women you’re talking about.

Our culture is an oral one, we are story tellers, it’s what we do best and you’re right when we write these stories there is always something missing, there is something you can’t get versus when you hear the story from the people your learning about.

This season we have already had the first to episode come out and it been really good and the one coming out next is with Tanya Hosch who is a Torres Strait Woman woman and she the general manager of diversity at the AFL and they brought her in just after all the Goodes stuff happened. She has been a real champion for the women’s league and she so cool and I've not had anyone on the podcast yet who is almost like a trained feminist like she’s done feminist ideology and talked about breaking down the patriarchy and I was like woah that’s a whole new thing and its amazing.

I feel like I learn so much from every conversation and a lot of our audience say the same thing.

So, stepping away from the brand of Tiddas 4 Tiddas I saw that your releasing a book this year.

Yes! I did that, I’m releasing a book!

That’s amazing!

A publisher approached me through instagram and asked if I would be interested in writing a book, which has been my dream since I was like 15. The publisher was based in Melbourne and I happened to be there when they reached out to me and so it all lined up perfectly. They told me to take some time to think and write a brief which they would take to the team and see if they want to support you to write it.

I ended up going overseas not long after and in the middle of the night I was woken up by an email saying they would go ahead and congrats here is your book deal. You can imagine me crying in my hotel room freaking out figuring out what I needed to do.

It was an amazing experience and it felt really good to have a publisher take a chance on me. I've been writing it since July last year and it has really derived from conversations I've had with about 20 different Aboriginal women who reached out and wanted to share their stories. They have amazing tales of resilience and strength and journey of identity; it’s been really amazing.

They have amazing tales of resilience and strength and journey of identity; it’s been really amazing.

It will be released in this year and features artwork from Rachael Sarra who I’m a big fan of and the foreword is going to be written by Leah Purcell, so it helps when you meet amazing people on your podcast and they are willing to support you in other ventures.

One family videoed their nan who wasn’t well at the time answering questions and just after I finished her story and sent it to them she passed away and it was amazing to be able to capture her story and give it to the family and they are so excited that their nans story will be in print forever.

I got to write about my own grandmother and great grandmother, and these are stories I've carried around my whole life and now other people are going to be able to engage with them as well.

It’s really just a testament to the hunger outside of our community to hear these stories. You know, we know how amazing our mums, aunties, cousins, grandmothers and sisters are, but it seems that the rest of Australia are starting to see that as well.

What does the future look like for Tiddas 4 Tiddas and other opportunities?

So, the more immediate future is really exciting we have been reached out to by a couple of schools and we are going to run workshops with girls around the country, we have a workshop in a Brisbane school and potentially Melbourne, as well as around Sydney.

We will be tailoring each workshop so that’s its specific to the schools, but it will be focused on wellbeing, setting goals role models and knowing that your success is bigger than just you. I’m really excited to be doing more work on the ground this year.

Long term, we are just going to keep refining this and telling stories and changing and adapting to what the community wants from us.

Do you have a piece of advice for any young girls out there? 

My advice is to never forget that the level of strength and resilience it takes to survive for over 80000 years. It courses through your blood and you have that power within you. It’s really important to remember that because some of the time we can be a bit nonchalant about being the oldest continuing surviving culture and so remembering how amazing that is and that we have the capability to do so much and never doubt it lives inside you because it does.

My advice is to never forget that the level of strength and resilience it takes to survive for over 80000 years. It courses through your blood and you have that power within you.

My final bit of advice is, if your dreams aren’t big enough to scare you, they aren’t big enough. If you aren’t a little bit scared of your dreams, then you’re not pushing yourself enough.

Thank you so much for joining us Marlee its been amazing to chat with you and to look at the work your doing for young girls in our community!

Thanks for having me!

Marlee’s book, My Tidda, My Sister, Stories of Strength and Resilience from Australia’s First Women will be available later this year to order! You can check out her podcast, tiddas 4 tiddas, to listen to more amazing stories of women in our community.

 

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