May Newsletter 2023


CEO’s message

Hello everyone, I hope you’re all well.

Our biggest event of the year is now just two months away and the excitement is building. Taking place in the Rocks, at Circular Quay on Sydney Harbour, the National Indigenous Art Fair (NIAF) is Sydney’s biggest Indigenous art market and will run for two days on 1-2 July 2023.

Featuring more than 50 stalls selling original First Nations artworks, including painting, textiles, jewellery, ceramics, weaving and carved artefacts at a range of affordable price points, the NIAF offers something for everyone. With 100 percent of sales returned to the Indigenous artists and remote art centres, it provides an ethical, direct avenue of purchasing art from the artists and learning about the stories behind their art.

We look forward to seeing you all there for what will be a fantastic cultural event.

In other news, I tagged along with our Blak Markets team of Sarah Martin and Laura Sterling to Wilyakali/Broken Hill in mid-April to be part of the first-ever Blak Markets to run outside of Sydney since it began 10 years ago. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the local community and the many talented Indigenous artists and performers from the far west of NSW. Thanks to Aunty Clair Bates and Uncle Paul Kemp for inviting us to run this inaugural event. We hope to run more satellite regional and remote Blak Markets in the future.

We also had a great Blak Market at Bare Island, La Perouse in early April. Thanks to Aunty Barb for her inspiring Welcome to Country and councillor Kathy Neilson for her warm words of support on behalf of Randwick City Council. And, of course, all the visitors who turned up to show their support. This is a special market held at its spiritual home on Bare Island.

Meanwhile, at IndigiGrow, we had teachers from Ashbury Public School and Cartwright Public School tour our nurseries on their most recent professional development day. I talked about various native plants and how our apprentices are saving the endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS). These teachers can now pass this learning on to their students. Teachers and their students are always welcome to visit IndigiGrow to further their education about native plants. Email to find out more.

Speaking of plants, we have a “mystery sale” at both nurseries right now. It’s a mystery how long it will last, given all plants are currently 50 per cent off! Visit and see what we have to spruce up your garden. It’s still a great time to be planting. 

Winter is busy on the plant front for us. Please place your plant order for NAIDOC Week (2–9 July) asap as we’re already receiving huge interest. 

National Tree Day is also coming up on Sunday, 30 July. Are you looking for plants for community events? Please contact us asap so we can secure trees and shrubs for your planting events. This is an extremely busy period for us and the earlier we get orders the better it is for supply. Ring 0476 925 802 or contact us here.

Finally, National Volunteer Week is from 15–21 May, a timely reminder for everyone to thank their volunteers. Our vollies help in the nursery, fix computer glitches and assist at events. They even make muffins and banana bread for our hungry apprentices. Thank you all! 

Peter Cooley


Councillor Kathy Neilson and First Hand Solutions CEO Peter Cooley at Blak Markets

National Indigenous Art Fair returns to Sydney this July

Indigenous artists from around Australia are gearing up to come together on 1–2 July 2023 in Sydney for the fourth National Indigenous Art Fair — a two-day art market and festival program of events to celebrate NAIDOC Week. The event will be on Gadigal Land at the Overseas Passenger Terminal in The Rocks from 10.00am–5.00pm both days.

“It’s a fantastic gathering of indigenous creatives. The art fair is an ethical marketplace, offering a unique opportunity to buy artworks directly from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists from remote community-owned art centres in the Northern Territory, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia,” explained Peter Cooley.

First Hand Solutions is proudly organising the event in partnership with the Port Authority of NSW, Destination NSW, University of Technology Sydney, the City of Sydney, Indigenous Business Australia, Nelson Meers Foundation, Mannifera Foundation, Herbert Smith Freehills, Place Management NSW, Gilbert + Tobin, Macquarie Bank and the federal government’s Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program and all the wonderful Aboriginal businesses attending.

Artists will travel to Sydney as part of First Hand Solutions’ Heart in Art program, which provides economic and professional development opportunities to Indigenous artists working in remote communities across Australia.

In the spirit of the 2023 National NAIDOC theme For Our Elders, the NIAF will also feature a vibrant festival program of live music and Aboriginal dance performances, an Indigenous weaving circle, bushtucker cooking demonstrations, children’s activities, panel discussions and more than 25 Blak Markets stallholders selling art, jewellery, fashion and accessories, homewares, children’s puzzles, native dyed textiles, Indigenous bush food and plants. You can find more information and updates here. 

Blak Markets profile:

Caressa sews up a storm to meet demand for Indigenous kid’s clothing

When Caressa Murphy was three years old, her adopted grandmother gave her a children’s battery-operated sewing machine. Sitting at the dining room table, she learned to sew tiny Barbie dresses while her gran made clothes for the family and Cabbage Patch Kids dolls on her old Singer sewing machine.

But whenever her gran stopped for a cuppa, Caressa would sidle over to the Singer, floor the treadle and give the machine a “red hot go.”

“I wanted to sew what she was sewing,” recalled Caressa, a proud Gumbaygnirr woman and children’s clothing designer, who grew up in Sydney’s west.

Caressa went on to use that Singer machine. In her teens, she sewed her own clothes, made teddy bears, and learned to knit and embroider. She studied fashion at TAFE. Later, she took courses at a private fashion college where a chic Czech instructor mentored her in everything from pattern making to French moulage (draping), helping her to refine her skills.

She also took an Aboriginal art class, where she started getting ideas for a new business venture. Inspired by storytelling, art came naturally. “I think I was guided by my ancestors in this,” she said.

“Like all fashion students, I wanted to have my clothes on the catwalks of Paris,” she added.

That didn’t happen because she found the landscape too competitive. To make ends meet, she went to work as a National Parks educator.

“It turned out well because I became connected to my Aboriginal culture. Culture wasn’t something we discussed in my family because my mother is part of the Stolen Generation. Learning about it was healing,” she said.

But she still wanted to make clothes. One day she was buying a gift for a new arrival in the family while visiting a craft market. “I found a cute bib and thought I could make that, and that’s where the idea for children’s wear began.”

Caressa found there was a gap in the market for quality Indigenous-based baby and children’s clothing. Her bibs quickly sell out.

Since 2019, Caressa’s been making a colourful array of children’s clothing and accessories in her home studio on Dharawal Country (the NSW South Coast). She uses 100 per cent cotton fabric featuring imagery from the Australian bush, desert and sea and stories from the Dreamtime. Eco-minded, Caressa saves offcuts and uses them for other items to reduce landfill and her carbon footprint.

Aside from the bibs, Caressa makes dresses, shirts, “baby bums” (cute nappy covers), shorts, blankets and scrunchies. “They’re wrapped in culture so kids can grow up strong, proud and deadly in their ancestors’ footsteps,” she explained.

Not surprisingly, her clothing is also popular with the broader community who appreciate the playful patterns. Caressa mainly sells her wares at the Blak Markets, where she is a longstanding stallholder, having been selling at the markets for nearly a decade.

“The Blak Markets have been a consistent source of sales and a great place for people to see my work. I get great support from the other stallholders. They support and give me great ideas,” she said.

Caressa’s currently taking online courses to hone her business skills. One goal is to make her website more user-friendly. She’s also applying for grants so she can produce her own fabric. Eventually, she wants to hire Indigenous people to help her sew and expand the business.

“I want to develop more opportunities for local Aboriginal people to learn sewing. It’s a skill in danger of being lost. And I want to continue to make beautiful clothing that makes our children proud. I hope you like it as well,” she said. 

Colourful wares: Caressa Murphy is a children’s clothing designer who sells her cute baby and kid’s clothes at the Blak Markets.

Broken Hill Blak Markets a (bull) roaring success

A celebration of Aboriginal art and culture was held in Wilyakali/Broken Hill last month with the arrival of the inaugural Blak Markets in town at Sturt Park.

Aunty Dulcie O’Donnell gave a heartfelt Welcome to Country and 17 Aboriginal stallholders set up on the day, selling gorgeous and authentic artwork, clothing, jewellery and homewares. 

In addition to the market stalls, the event featured a festival program of culture with performances by Barkindji Baaka Dancers, Paakantji Dancers, Back Tracks Band and Black Shadows Band. Malyalari-Malya/Aunty Clair Bates led a colourful and fun hands-on weaving workshop. The market also featured delicious bushfoods like yabby sushi, kangaroo gyros and Quandong mousse.

As a fitting finale to Broken Hill’s Heritage Week, locals and visitors could take guided tours to see the far west’s rich Aboriginal culture on the Sunday after the markets. Wontanella Tours showed off the beautiful Menindee Lakes district. Unfortunately, the Kulluwirru Dreaming Tour to Mutawintji National Park had to be cancelled due to unsafe road conditions. In Broken Hill, Clinton Kemp of Amanya Mitha Indigenous Arts held a popular bullroarers workshop.

First Hand Solutions CEO Peter Cooley and the Blak Markets team were delighted with their first regional market. “It was brilliant. The Blak Markets remain one of the best ways for the wider community to connect with Aboriginal businesses directly, build relationships and learn about Aboriginal culture,” said Peter.

The Blak Markets Broken Hill was supported by the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program, Destination Country and Outback NSW and Broken Hill City Council. 

“We want to give a special mention to local people on the ground like Aunty Clair Bates, Uncle Paul Kemp and Krystle Evans who all played a role in helping us bring this wonderful event to Broken Hill. On the back of this success, the Blak Markets team are now looking out for suitable locations to hold more satellite Blak Markets events in the future,” said Peter.

The Black Shadows entertained at The Blak Markets Broken Hill

Plant profile: spice up your life with mountain pepper

Mountain pepper or Tasmanian pepperberry (Tasmannia lanceolata) is an evergreen shrub found in woodlands and rainforests in southeast Australia. Indigenous people often use pepperberry in their cuisine and as a traditional medicine for arthritis, asthma, skin disorders and stomach ache. The leaf and the berry contain vitamin E, zinc, magnesium, calcium and lutein.

In the spring, mountain pepper produces small yellow or white flowers that turn into red pepper berries in autumn. You must have a male and female plant to produce the actual berries. The berries eventually turn black as they ripen. Dried berries make a delightful pantry substitute for black pepper if you like a bit of heat. The leaf also has a strong, hot, peppery hit to it.

The leaves and berries can be used fresh or dried and added to many dishes, including salad dressings, dips, curries, steak, salt and pepper squid, homemade bread, cheese and sauces. The berries even work in desserts like white chocolate mousse or pavlova!

Mountain pepper is a hardy plant. It can cope with frosts and wind but grows best in well-drained, moist soils in semi-shade. It’s a bushy plant that’s suitable for hedging or ornamental pots. You can buy pepperberry plants and the dried and ground spice from IndigiGrow.

It gets pepper: The mountain pepper is looking good at IndigiGrow.

Create a native garden from scratch

Want to create a native garden but not sure where to begin? Here are some tips from IndigiGrow staff to get you started.

What kind of native garden do you want? Do you only have enough space for pots? Do you need to create shade? Is the garden to be a feature? Think about colour, texture and form. Also: what might attract birds and bees to improve pollination and biodiversity?

Think local. It’s critical to choose native plants local to your area and suited to the climate conditions and soil type. If you aren’t sure, ask the staff at IndigiGrow for advice.

Map it out. Draw a map of the garden you want. It can help you decide how many seedlings you’ll need and where they should go. Buying seedlings over seeds can give your garden a head start as seeds take longer to germinate.

True colours. Think about the effect you want. Kangaroo paw, handsome bush-pea, callistemons and grevilleas offer warm tones of pink, yellow, orange and red. They also flower for several months. You can also add cooler tones like mauve and white with plants like scaevola and correa alba. 

Consider planting times. The best time to plant is in autumn, winter or early spring when it’s cooler. Plants will also have a chance to establish themselves with seasonal rainfall. 

Weed it and reap. Remove unwanted plants and weeds so your fledgling plants won’t need to compete with them for space and nutrients. If you want to use the weeds for compost, put them in a plastic bag in the sun for a few weeks so they don’t reshoot.

Water, water everywhere. It’s a myth that you don’t have to water natives. They need regular watering when first planted. Once established, natives can tolerate extended dry periods. But it’s always best to give them water in the hotter months to keep them perky.

Care for your plants and use a low-phosphorus fertiliser. Contrary to popular belief, natives do need maintenance. To keep them in good shape, regularly trim them after flowering and apply a low-phosphorus fertiliser twice a year. IndigiGrow apprentice Gav Adler has a native garden and recommends using Neutrog Bush Tucker Native Fertiliser or Scott’s Osmocote.

Plant this: IndigiGrow’s Gav Adler says handsome bush-pea attracts bees and butterflies to gardens.

Dates for your diary

1–2 July: National Indigenous Art Fair, Gadigal Country

(Overseas Passenger Terminal), The Rocks

6 August: Blak Markets, Bidjigal Country (Bare Island Fort, La Perouse),

2–3 September: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks),

11–12 November: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks),

3 December: Blak Markets, Bidjigal Country (Bare Island Fort, La Perouse),
10.00am –3.00pm

16–17 December: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks),