April 2023 Newsletter

New enterprise: The new Blak Markets on Wilyakali Country (Broken Hill) on 15 April will open with a traditional Welcome to Country and a smoking ceremony.

CEO Message

Hello everyone, I hope you’re all well. 

Speaking of our Blak Markets, they’re back on Bare Island at La Perouse this Sunday, 2 April. Join us to meet artisans and producers from around NSW and hear their stories, browse their stall and buy their products.

For me, there’s something really special about buying an authentic piece of art or craft you’ve fallen in love with. It’s even more special when you buy it from the person that made it. Fortunately I get to see these heart-warming interactions between makers and buyers all the time at the Blak Markets and the National Indigenous Art Fair. I can also guarantee that 100 per cent of the income generated through your purchases goes directly back to Aboriginal people, communities or businesses.

Our first regional project is now coming to fruition. On 15 April, we’ll hold our first-ever Blak Markets in Broken Hill/Wilyakali at Sturt Park. This new market and festival will feature artists, performers and workshop facilitators from the far west communities of Wilyakali, Barkandji, Maliangappa, Mutawintji and Nyampa. Working with the local mobs and people like respected elders Clair Bates and Paul Kemp to get it happening has been inspiring. We’ve brought them the concept, and I know they’ll make it successful. You can read more about the two upcoming markets in this edition.

The National Indigenous Art Fair returns to the Overseas Passenger Terminal in the Rocks on the 1-2 of July. The NIAF is a unique opportunity for Sydneysiders and visitors to meet artists from some of Australia’s most remote communities, hear their stories and browse an excellent range of authentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and craft. For remote community art centres, it’s time to register for the event. The art fair attracts more than 10,000 visitors over the two days. Spaces are limited, so don’t delay!

For those readers who enjoy gardening, April’s a great month to plant natives. We have tube stock for many native flowers available at IndigiGrow. Our knowledgeable staff are always happy to offer suggestions. You can also visit our online store here

IndigiGrow’s corporate volunteer days are becoming increasingly popular. We had three groups join us recently to help pot up plants for the coming months. Thanks to Pacific National, Focus Creative and Environmental Resources Management Australia. We hope everyone enjoyed themselves.

Raymond Sarich
David Cook

Finally, last month we welcomed two new staff to IndigiGrow. Raymond Sarich is an enthusiastic young Aboriginal man from the La Perouse community, and we look forward to working with him and growing his knowledge of local plants and bush foods. Also joining us is David Cook, a former deckhand and local La Perouse dad. We’re excited to have him to mentor our young apprentices and pass on his wisdom and experience. Say g’day to them if you cross paths.

Peter Cooley CEO

Blak Markets this Sunday at La Perouse – Meet the makers

The Blak Markets will host its popular arts and crafts market festival on Bidjigal Country (Bare Island, La Perouse) this Sunday from 10.00am to 3.00pm.

“The Blak Markets are about creating a place for people to engage, learn and enjoy the oldest continuing culture in the world. There’s something for everyone at the markets. When you buy from a stallholder, you’ve got the knowledge your money is going back to help Indigenous communities,” said Laura Sterling, Blak Markets manager.

Market visitors can enjoy traditional Indigenous entertainment and browse colourful stalls brimming with authentic art, crafts and food made by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander makers and designers. From native plants and beauty products to unique jewellery, homewares and ethically sourced bush foods, there’s an excellent mix of affordable products to discover.

The event also features a festival component, kicking off at 10am with a Welcome to Country, smoking ceremony and performances and demonstrations throughout the day, including traditional weaving workshops, dancing, singing and children’s storytelling.

On this occasion, the Blak Markets will have a special guest singing performance by Angel and dancing by Djiriba Waagura Dancers. Not only will Djiriba Waagura be dancing, but the men will also hold a culture workshop to share with everyone, something not to be missed!

Admission is $2.50 (children under five are free), and all proceeds raised go towards employing Indigenous youth. The Blak Markets are supported by NSW Parks and Wildlife Service, Kamay-Botany Bay National Park, Randwick City Council and Suncorp.

For more information on the current program or upcoming markets, visit blakmarkets.com.au or follow us on Facebook.

Blak Markets Bare Island
A fun day out: Stallholders, weavers and performers are eager to bring the community together and showcase Indigenous art and culture.

Blak Markets at Broken Hill

On Saturday, 15 April, the Blak Markets will run outside of Sydney for the first time and everyone is buzzing about the inaugural event in Broken Hill/Wilyakali at Sturt Park in partnership with the Aboriginal communities of NSW’s far west and with stallholders, performers and workshop facilitators all from the region.

The event features 20 stalls with local creators selling a variety of handmade and ethical Aboriginal artworks, jewellery and homewares.

According to weaver Clair Bates, one of the region’s most seasoned stallholders and a regular participant at the Blak Markets and National Indigenous Art Fair in Sydney, this is a significant milestone for NSW’s far west and its talented Indigenous artists, designers and craftspeople.

“The Blak Markets coming to the far west will create a platform for our Indigenous artists to show how they can produce their products and get them to the wider community,” she said. 

“This platform will help to share and connect people to our Indigenous culture and language and the meaning of our work. It’s a great opportunity to showcase the talent of our artists with greater Australia, and hopefully, it will be an encouragement to our upcoming generations of young artists,” she added.

The markets will run from 10.00am to 4.00pm. You can view the event program here

Exciting new venture: the Blak Markets in Broken Hill will provide new economic opportunities for First Nations artists and craftspeople in far west NSW.

First Hand Solutions staff profile: Laura Sterling

A ‘sterling’ example of care and activism

When Laura Sterling was a child, her mother would take her to Indigenous-led and organised protests and meetings with government ministers.

“I have childhood memories of inserting batteries in the megaphones at protests to test them and sitting on the floor in the premier’s office with my colouring books while my mother had meetings with ministers about Aboriginal deaths in custody,” she recalled.

A striking Barkindji woman with ancestral links to far west NSW, Laura radiates energy and enthusiasm, and has sparkling eyes that light up when she meets people for the first time.

She said she grew up with powerful matriarchal role models like Dulcie, her grandmother and Cynthia, her mum. They were constantly lobbying for Aboriginal justice. In the 1970s, her grandmother co-created an Aboriginal corporation. She was also one of the first AECG representatives, chairperson of the Bogan Aboriginal Corporation, and secretary for Western Aboriginal Land Council and Nyngan Local Aboriginal Land Council.

“My mum worked for ATSIC, was an Aboriginal program coordinator with Juvenile Justice, and worked within the jail system, supporting the wellbeing and safety of Aboriginal people in custody. She worked with a team of staunch mob to successfully set up homes in Sydney’s west to house Indigenous youth who were waiting for their court date. As she was a single mother, I was always going to work with her and witnessing/absorbing everything that was happening. This naturally made me determined to support mob,” recalled Laura.

At first, Laura studied event management and worked as an executive assistant and event manager in the arts and music industries. She spent many years overseas working on music festivals and events in London, Turkey, Poland and Berlin.

But it wasn’t long before Laura followed in her mother and grandmother’s footsteps. For the last 10 years, from Gadigal (Sydney) to Bundjalung (Byron Bay), she’s worked in roles in social and community housing and Indigenous employment and languages, the common goal always being to work with community, elders and traditional custodians, to break down barriers and create space for blak business, voices and culture to thrive.

In 2019, a part-time events managerial role opened up with the Sydney-based Blak Markets and National Indigenous Art Fair. Laura went for it as she saw an opportunity to use her skills to work with Indigenous artists, craftspeople and product designers to develop their businesses.

Today, Laura is the face of the Blak Markets — meeting stallholders, booking Indigenous performers to give the markets a festival component, working with sponsors, managing logistics, updating the website and creating social media posts. She also does similar work for the NIAF.

“I love this work. The joys and challenges of it are the same. For most we are first-generation business owners. We don’t have the generational knowledge of how to run a business. Business ownership is a colonial, white, patriarchal model and wasn’t built to include First Nations people.

“Fortunately, this is changing, and we have many Indigenous leaders like our CEO Peter Cooley who have the skills and are passing them on. I’m forever learning from him, and I share this knowledge with our stallholders,” she said.

Laura said it’s been empowering to work with the team at First Hand Solutions to create a blak safe space. The Blak Markets and NIAF are places for artists to get their work seen, appreciated, heard and purchased by the wider community and people visiting from overseas.

“The markets are vital to the growth of the First Nation stallholders that participate. A number of these businesses have really grown in recent years because the people behind them continually return to sell at the markets, they’re a part of the Blak Markets family,” she said.

With her music festival background, Laura also loves liaising with the many talented dancers, singers, weavers, storytellers and workshop facilitators in the Indigenous community. 

“There’s so much deadly talent out there, and it’s great they get a chance to showcase their culture and it gets much-deserved exposure at the markets.”

Laura’s dream is to see the Blak Markets model in every community. The team at First Hand Solutions is now partnering with far west NSW Aboriginal communities to establish a new Blak Markets in Wilyakal (Broken Hill), with the first event on 15 April. 

“That’s the Country I belong to, it’s an honour that we’re doing it here first. While we’re bringing the Blak Markets model to Wilyakal and supporting the artists and performers there, it’s the local First Nations communities who will take it on and make the markets their own,” she said.

And with so many Aboriginal corporations around Australia who have the skills to establish the Blak Markets in their local communities, she dreams that the Blak Markets model will go far and wide in the next few years.

While the markets and NIAF keep her busy, Laura has other projects. She also works with The Returning, an all-Indigenous, female-run and led not-for-profit organisation designed to bring peoples of all ages, races and places back to Country.

The programs are community events or camps created with care to help bridge the privilege gap between those who can afford retreats and those who can’t.

Laura is Aboriginal always — not just when it’s trending.

Laura at the smoking ceremony and with Aunty Calita at the recent Blak Markets in the Rocks.

IndigiGrow apprentices get (green) thumbs up from daycare kids

Two of IndigiGrow’s young apprentices are putting their horticulture skills to good use by sprucing up the garden at Guardian Childcare & Education in Barangaroo. And they’re doing it with the help of some little green thumbs.  

The staff had asked Jay Cook and Gav Adler to create a drought-tolerant garden with child-friendly native plants like Midyim berries, grevilleas and native oregano. Then they got the idea to have the pair do some workshops with the children to get them interested in the garden.

“We were unsure at first what to do with two and three-year-olds. But then we realised kids love smelling and tasting things, so we decided to bring in a bunch of edible leaves and berries to get them interested,” said Jay.

And we know kids love getting their hands dirty, so we brought along some child-safe flowers they could plant,” added Gav.

Jay and Gav got the kids to sample lemon myrtle leaves, native oregano, Midyim berries and finger limes. The finger limes were a surprising hit, given their tangy taste!

After the tasting, the children planted a bunch of pigface, an edible native with fuchsia petals and cheerful yellow centres. Gav and Jay also taught the kids the importance of feeding, watering and mulching. The two will return soon to Barangaroo to check on the garden’s progress and do more workshops with the little ones.

Jay Cook with White correa

What to do in the native garden in April

April is a great time to be in the garden. It’s cooler, making planting more pleasant, and you don’t have to water as much.

Take time this month to trim hedges and climbers and cut back any native grasses that need a tidy up. You should also remove any spent flowers. Melaleucas and callistemons in particular will benefit from a prune to remove their faded flower heads at this time of year. 

Why not spice up your garden with some new plants? Natives in bloom at the moment include white correa, a good one for coastal gardens as it can tolerate sandy soils and salty winds, lantern banksia with its showy orange and red flowering stems, and native fuchsia with its profusion of pink and white tipped bell-shaped flowers. 

Everlasting daisies can be planted now for a spritely spring display. Top up all your natives with a seaweed solution to help them stay healthy in the cooler months. You’ll also want to rake up any falling leaves and use them for compost. With the autumn rains come the weeds. Pull them out when they’re young before they start spreading and strangling the life out of your plants.

Plant Native 4

Try this: IndigiGrow Matraville nursery manager Jay Cook with a pot of white correa (Correa alba), a native that blooms in autumn and thrives in coastal, exposed conditions. White correa has white starry flowers on grey-green leaves. You can use it as a hedge or topiary.

Plant profile: Midyim berries

Want to try a new bushfood? Midyim berries (Austromyrtus dulcis) are from the myrtle family. Also known as sand berries, they have sweet blueberry notes and mild hints of ginger and nutmeg. 

In the garden, this shrub makes a fine low hedge or screen, and it looks pretty in pots or hanging baskets with its copper-leaf tips. Midyim berries are best grown in full sun or part shade. They can tolerate most soils. 

In the summer, the plant will bloom with small white flowers. Keep the soil moist and well-fed to ensure a berry harvest later in the summer. The shrub bursts with small, white, purple-speckled berries in late summer and early autumn. The berries pack a nutritional punch as they contain calcium, iron, vitamin C and fibre. They’re great raw in fruit salads or cooked into pies and jams.

A ‘berry’ good choice for the garden: IndigiGrow apprentice Gav Adler is a fan of Midyim berries. They can attract birds and bees to the garden.

Dates for your diary

The Blak Markets Bare Island, La Perouse (Bare Island Fort). Sunday, 2 April 2023, 10.00am–3.00pm

The Blak Markets, Sturt Park, Broken Hill, Saturday, 15 April 2023, 10.00am–4.00pm 

National Indigenous Art Fair (Overseas Passenger Terminal), weekend of 1–2 July 2023, 10.00am–5.00pm