Tiddas 4 Tiddas Founder Marlee Silva Invites Us Into Her Relaxed Sydney Home
Welcome to The Makers. Each week, we’re celebrating innovators, artisans and crafters of all types, taking you on a private tour of their creative spaces. For this instalment, we head to the southern Sydney home of Tiddas 4 Tiddas founder Marlee Silva.
Marlee launched the Instagram platform Tiddas 4 Tiddas ('tidda' is an Aboriginal word for sister) in November of 2018 with her sister, Keely. As proud Kamilaroi women, they aim to empower young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women by sharing their stories and celebrating the success of Blak women in their chosen fields—be it education, healthcare, sport, art, music, fashion, beauty… you name it. Their community has grown rapidly and Tiddas 4 Tiddas now educates and inspires almost 70,000 followers daily.
As the movement began to gain momentum, Marlee launched a podcast of the same name in partnership with Mamamia. After two seasons, Marlee announced her new, 100% Aboriginal owned and led podcast, ‘Always was, always will be our stories’, with the first episode kicking off last month. This time around, not only does Marlee continue to elevate the voices of Indigenous women, but men have been invited into the fold, too.
Since the beginning of this year, Marlee made the work-from-home switch and has been seeing out the last few months of lockdown in her childhood home in the Sutherland Shire, just south of Sydney. Here, the aesthetic is minimal and modern, set to a palette of slate grey and crisp white with oak accents. Fresh natives fill vases and vessels throughout the home, while Indigenous artworks from Tjupi Arts Centre in Papunya take pride of place on the walls. “It’s a place that feels incredibly safe and secure”, says Marlee, and with just a cursory glance around—we can see why.
Hi Marlee! This series is called The Makers. What is it that you make?
I ‘make’ the Instagram movement @tiddas4tiddas and host a podcast called ‘Always was, always will be our stories’. I guess I also ‘made’ a novel called My Tidda, My Sister, which is coming out in September!
How does the act of “making” relate to your personality and who you are?
When I think about the combination of all the things I make, what I ultimately am is a storyteller—it’s what I’ve always been, and I see it as an extension of my people’s 60,000-year-long oral storytelling history.
Tell us about your career journey to date.
I always knew whatever it was that I’d end up doing, it would be focused on giving back to and working with my community. I knew I was good with words and writing too, but I never expected the two would come together in the way that they have—let alone end up becoming my career. Before this latest journey I worked in the non-profit sector and for an Aboriginal communications agency, so I was heading towards this for some time, but I’m still incredibly lucky that something that was meant to be a little side hobby is now my job.
Tell us about your new podcast, Always Was, Always Will Be Our Stores. How did the idea come about?
Like my previous podcast I produced with the Mamamia network, in this new podcast, I sit down with inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander role models and trailblazers and capture their stories, the lessons they’ve learned along the way and the work they’re doing to change the world. I wanted to step out on my own as an independent after cutting my teeth with Mamamia and include male voices in this new iteration as well. It’s been such an incredible journey so far. All of my guests are amazing and so generous.
Talk us through the process of crafting a podcast from start to finish. Where do you start?
I start with my guest. Why I want to talk to them, what I think people can learn from them, and what I might be able to help them with by having them on the platform. Then it’s the good old slide into the DMs with the ask—which has definitely been helped by the COVID era, when people have been at home looking for stuff to do, so a podcast request is welcomed! Then we set up a zoom or SquadCast link and yarn. I’m always well researched on their story and have a good idea of where I want the convo to go, but never want to be leading with my questions, nor do I stress if things go in a different direction. I treat every recording like a yarn over a cup of tea that I’d have with any regular person I’m meeting for the first time. That’s the best bit. Then comes the editing, which I do all myself and has been a new skill I’ve had to teach myself, but I’m loving it.
What’s been the single most crucial tool or strategy you’ve used to grow your platform?
Quality content, quality content, quality content. That’s it. That’s all that has mattered in the growth of both Tiddas 4 Tiddas and my new podcast and everything I’ve done. There’s no magic ingredient or special strategy, if you don’t have something interesting or original or inspiring to say—and the ability to say with passion—it won’t work.
What’s been the most challenging lesson learnt since you started Tiddas 4 Tiddas?
We’ve had the very pleasant challenge of having to switch from being ‘reactionary’ when opportunities just popped up one after another, to a more strategic/planning mindset. I’m still grappling with this, but we’re slowly moving toward operating like a ‘proper’ business!
What’s been the best thing that’s happened to you since you started Tiddas 4 Tiddas?
I feel so lucky to be able to grow the platforms of other Aboriginal women and their passion projects – their continuing successes often feel like the best things that happen because of what we do. On a more personal level, I was offered a book deal through an Instagram DM almost 12 months ago and my debut novel will be out this September. To write a book has been my dream since I was a teenager and I would never have imagined it would’ve come to me in this way and it still feels surreal, but I’m so proud of it and can’t wait for the world to see it.
Do you have a single piece of advice you’d give to your younger self or someone looking to start their own podcast or business?
To my younger self—you’re dope, because you’re true to yourself. Don’t let anyone (not even that voice in your head) tell you otherwise. You know what you need to do, put your head down and work hard.
To anyone looking to make a podcast or start a passion project of any kind—before you do anything, interrogate your ‘WHY?’ and interrogate it all over again. I ask you to do this because when you’re pouring yourself into something, it can be exhausting and emotional and it’s only when you truly believe in it and feel like you couldn’t go on if you didn’t do it that you’ll know it’s something you have to make.
Now, the home stuff. How long have you lived in your home?
I’m still in my childhood home.
What are your favourite pieces in the home?
I have three artworks from Tjupi Arts Centre in Papunya, NT, around the house. I spent a week out there volunteering at the Papunya School in 2017 and it was so special and the Aunties who paint in that art centre are incredible, so they’re really special to me.
What is the best thing about living in your childhood home?
In the middle of a global pandemic, the best thing is the absence of extra financial pressure, which I'm extremely grateful for! It's also a place that feels incredibly safe and secure and there's plenty of warm memories from growing up all around the place.
Tell us about your home office and how you separate work and play.
I've been working from home since the beginning of 2020. I definitely struggle with separating work and play and a big change in this moving into 'at home work' has been that my bedroom is longer the space I escape to when I need a work break, so I'm more likely to get outside. I'm also very naughty and end up on my laptop, working in bed late at night!
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