We are so honoured to have been able to chat to Marlee and Keely Silva, the amazing sisters who launched Tiddas4Tiddas a platform to tell stories of Indigenous Female Excellence. 

Listen to the full version of this interview on our podcast, ARNA Talks, on all good podcasting apps. 


Check out their interview here. 


Tell us a bit about what do you do?

Marlee - Do you want to go Keels or…

Keely - Yeah, well it actually started with Marlee. So in 2018, the NAIDOC theme was 'Because of her, we can' which was all about Indigenous women and being grateful for the Indigenous powerful women we have around us and so yeah, one morning, Marlee woke up and she thought we don't really have a platform for Indigenous women like a social platform where we can share our stories and share our experiences so yeah, we came up with, or Marlee came up with the idea.

Marlee - And I said, "You're going to do it with me." 

Keely - Yeah. I didn't really get a choice. No, but yeah it's "Tiddas4Tiddas".

So Tiddas is an Aboriginal slang word for sister. So, in translation sisters for sisters and basically what we do, we just share as many stories as we can of, you know, powerful Indigenous women around Australia and any experiences they have and any opportunities that they get, yeah, it's all about story telling and sharing more so than anything. 

Marlee - Yeah, and I guess it's about revealing to the next generation their capabilities and what they can strive for and for them to realize well, I was going to say the limits of their power, but the fact that they don't have any limits I think and probably, one of the greatest honours now is how excited a lot of women are to be able to share with us and how much it means to them.

Actually, a story we shared today, the girl who it was about messaged me and, you know, so thankful and saying how humbled she was for us to be sharing about her and that just kind of is so bizarre to me because it's such an honour for us to be able to do that and I...

Keely - I guess it goes back to the fact that we didn't have something like this.

Marlee - Yeah.

Keely - And I always fall back to that when I talk to people about it. I probably needed something like this growing up. You know, something that you can look at and feel proud of and, you know, help believe in yourself, but yeah, we didn't have that so I think it's good now that we're kind of providing this to other people.

What do you love about yourself? 

Marlee - It's something I'm really thankful that I'm comfortable with and I think I have some talent--

Keely - The humble way of saying, I'm really awesome at...

Marlee - I'm really awesome at public speaking.

Keely - Yeah, she's, Number one.

Marlee - I feel more comfortable if you drop me in a stadium full of thousands of people and I could get on stage and you give me a microphone. I feel more at home than talking to a hairdresser.

Keely - Yeah, that's weird right?

Marlee - I hate hairdressers

Keely - She gets really awkward.

Marlee - I get so awkward. I hate small talk, but yeah, and it's something, it's so funny because as a little kid, I was really really shy so Mum threw me into drama classes and I think it was probably the best thing she could have done because it taught me how to project and it also made me very very comfortable on stage so, and that's just been so useful over basically, most of my life, I think I've been put in front of a lot of people that's led into other opportunities and things because of how I can tell a story on stage.

Keely - I don't like talking about myself. I think I'm pretty good at making new friends. Yeah, so I'm kind of, I guess, known as a social butterfly.

Which goes in hand—

Marlee - You're good at making people comfortable as well.

Keely - Yeah. Yeah, I feel the space. If I feel like it's quiet, I'll just keep talking and yeah, I guess I just, it's good for us. I talk to anyone that we meet and stuff. Like to always be kind, you know, I guess that's what I'm alright at.

 We're not very good at speaking about ourselves.

Arianne - I don't think most people are.

Keely - Yeah, no it's so hard and it shouldn't be. It shouldn't be. But it is.

What do you think are the behaviours that hold women back?  

Keely - I know what you're going to say.

Marlee - Well, what?

Keely - Males.

Marlee - No, that's not what I was going to say at all. See, I was going to say, if we look away from the kind of structural foundations that are inherently patriarchal, if we step away from that on a day to day level because that's, you know, that's got to be a paradigm shift and that takes a long time

Keely - Yeah.

Marlee - But the day to day stuff that holds women back is other women and that breaks my heart more than anything is because, again, and it goes back to that when we are hurt and we haven't healed from the own ways that we've been told that we're less than because we're women, we project that on to other women and so much of what we do, and I think a big part of the ethos of Tiddas4Tiddas is.

Yeah, that whole women lifting other women up thing because we just don't see that enough. I think that we talk about it a lot now, but on the action level, you know, there's always someone who has you know, something to say about another women because they were like, "Oh yeah, I want you to succeed, but not more than me."

Which is, it's really hard. I don't think it's something that can be fixed overnight and I think we need to unlearn those behaviours because so often we, you know, talk about other women behind each other's backs

when we have a personal problem with them which is just at our own determent and that's something that I think about a lot and, you know, I constantly check myself and if I have, not that we talk about a lot of people

But, you know, there's always that time where you go, "Argh, I don't like person. "Why don't I like that woman? "Am I jealous? Am I, do I feel like that because I'm intimidated by her?" And actually, I just need to check myself and be proud of her for that and doing, practicing that behaviour is really hard and you have to be comfortable in yourself to be able to it, 

But I think that's something that, for me I see it really hurt a lot of women in the day to day stuff and that's a big thing that we can do on our own to be able to then better break down the structural barriers and, you know, wage gaps and that sort of stuff.

Keely - She pretty much covered it.

In the work that you’re doing, how can people show support?

Keely - That's what we talk about in a lot of our things, just starting the conversation, you know, even in regards to our culture and not knowing things and you know, you can ask questions, but having conversation with anything, I think, in recent, sorry in earlier times, it's more like everyone's scared to talk about different things whatever it may be, but now it's kind of like, "No, no, no, we need to have this conversation. Let's talk about it, and the more we talk about it, the more you realise that other people might think similar or you might hear something that you're like, "Oh, I actually didn't think about that."

I think it's really important and it helps with all the ignorance because those are the people that don't talk.

Marlee - And you can read when someone's being genuine and you're never going to shut someone down if they make a mistake or whatever, you want to help people grow. And we are always looking to grow too so it's a two way street.

Keely - Yeah, I think that's another great point. I am always, always big on the two-way street, like yeah, you can listen to me, but I want to listen to you as well because how else or we all going to come together in the end?

How can organisations be more inclusive?

Marlee - So when it comes to within the walls of an organisation or an institution, in order for them to be more accessible for Aboriginal women, I mean, it really starts with kind of foundational education and those sorts of opportunities and being able to step out of impoverished environments or those sorts of things, but the responsibility of organisations is to build cultures within them that are accepting and understanding and vulnerable in their approach to all different people from different backgrounds

Keely - Yeah, that's what I was going to say. Having, you know, good to everyone and just being open because I think, for us that automatically makes me feel comfortable because I'm like, "Ah, yeah, okay they don't have an issue with anyone, so this is fine."

Marlee - And it is hard to do that especially for big organisations because you can't guarantee that every single person is, you know, culturally aware, but if there is a really strong under pinning

in the foundations of whatever work it is that you do that is lead by Aboriginal knowledge, understands the country that it's on and that's individual countries that make up this whole continent and has been lead by Aboriginal voices in the development of that.

So that's even external people who can help with leadership and with direction around making a work environment more inclusive, but I think, inclusive is almost a bit of a buzz word now and it's more about, you know, we talk about diversity and inclusion councils and that sort of stuff, but it really needs to be, you know, every single person from the receptionist to the finance team, to the CEO needs to understand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, understand what it means to be indigenous person today.

And that's, obviously they're not going to be able to understand that experientially, but you know, know the facts, know the context particularly of the area that they're in and understand why it's a good business practice to do that.

I think that quite often people see it as the cherry on top, but really it's the ice cream in the sundae, it's the most important part, it's what, having, particularly having Aboriginal knowledge embedded into your work practice, that's best practice in Australia. That we are the foundations of it, we've been doing it for 80 thousand years. 

We are the original business people, we are the original innovators on this country and there's so much that everyone in every industry can learn from it and I think it's excited we're seeing it in our educational institutions, particularly our universities.

They're doing this, they're embedding Aboriginal knowledge into every subject matter, into everything that the students do because they know it'll make better Australian graduates, so I think it's that same kind of mantra, you know, it's about it not being an extra thing, but being the grounding kind of ideas.

I mean, it's practical stuff like, so I work for an Aboriginal organisation and we are driven by our own knowledge systems and it's more in how we interact with each other, there's less hierarchy.  There's more, everyone's voice matters and everyone's expertise, particularly their lived experiences expertise is considered as important and that sort of stuff.  I mean obviously it looks different in every work environment, but there's those really structural things that I think non-indigenous organisations that don't know much about our culture don't realise that's actually what can be part of it and that's what can help make Aboriginal employees feel more comfortable, so yeah, in some instances it is important to have identified positions that helps, but that identified position won't work if the environment that they're brought in to doesn't accept and understand who they are.

When we do reach gender equality, what does that world look like to you?

Marlee - I think that…

Keely – A happy place

Marlee - Yeah, I think that part of the journey towards gender equality is reliant on a better understanding and appreciation for matriarchal leadership and I think that when we see leadership from a yeah, kind of a female perspective and energy and that's not to say that every person who identifies as a female is not, we don't all fit in the same box and there's not one way to be a woman, but there is something about feminine ideology that means we lead with more care and compassion and empathy.

I think we see particularly in political leadership a big part of the problem is that it is patriarchal leadership that leads with aggression and war and divisiveness, but you know, Aboriginal cultures traditionally matriarchal, and again it's very much about that kind of circular connections and no hierarchy and yeah, again everyone's voice matters and that sort of stuff.

You know, I think Jacinda Ardern is the prime example…

Keely - Ah, she is the best.

Marlee - you know, if we just have a world full of leaders like her and not necessarily all women, but men who could lead like her too I think that's…

Keely - Well that's what I was going to say, men who can cheer females on, that is really all it comes down to I think. 

I don't, it doesn't necessarily need to be a female, but a male who can celebrate everyone including us and you know, lifting us up. I don't know if we see a lot of that.

Marlee - And can lead with kindness. And know that that's really the key, like, we talk about, you know, you come across someone who doesn't like you, it's that kill them with kindness thing, right?

But on a much bigger scale that can be the same thing. I think understanding issues come from a place of hurt. Every single issue comes from a place of hurt, whether it's suffering, it's trauma, whatever it is, it comes from a place of hurt so we should be leading with trying to heal people, trying to heal societies, entire groups. 

Like so much of our community needs to heal in a lot of ways because of the trauma that we've seen…

Keely - So that's what gender equality is, is when we can all be kind to each other.

Marlee - And, you know, yeah we have leadership that leads with kindness.


What’s been your boldest move to date?

Marlee - I think taking the leap with Tiddas.

Keely - Yeah, definitely, I mean, yeah, it probably sounds like a pretty standard answer, but it's true, we took a massive leap of faith. We had no idea where it was going. There was a couple of times during the start when mainly our close group of people, I guess, around home were kind of like, "So where's it going?"

And we were kind of like, "We don't really know. We're just going to go with it and see what happens," and I mean, we took a really good leap of faith… Yeah, worked out pretty good - Yeah, worked out amazing so yeah.

Bold move by Marlee, but yeah…

Marlee - But I think you know, there's that famous YouTube video when there's the guy that's like dancing on a hill at a music festival and they say it's the second person who comes up and starts dancing with him that starts the movement where everyone comes, you're the second person.

Keely - Ah, okay cool

Marlee - So that's pretty cool. The trends setter. Because I was always, I mean, you've always been a bit cooler than me and so that helps with the cool element

Keely - Define cool

Marlee - But being, I was always going to, I've always had big crazy ideas and kind of wake up and go, "I'm going to do this now," and she was like, okay, do it.

But this is the one where I guess, you saw, hey like, there's some merit to this yeah, and there's something there."

Keely - This is good.

Marlee - So doing it, I didn't feel bold at the time, but I think keeping it up and fearlessly pursuing so many other things that have come out of it has been, yeah, kind of crazy and in hindsight

Keely - Good crazy.

Marlee - Bold, yeah.

Keely - Yeah, bold maybe, yeah. Call it bold

Marlee - Bad arse, yeah.


What is your call to action for women?

Marlee - I think we've touched on this quite a bit…

Keely -  is lift each other up that's the main motto

Marlee - cheer on your sister and your sister is every other female. It doesn't matter what their background is, like if you see them doing

good, like that's good for all of us. And you know, even if you don't necessarily like them personally, that's okay.

We don't all love everyone, that's fine, but don't go out of your way to try and, don't waste your energy on trying to bring them down because that's just detrimental for everyone. Just, yeah, cheer each other on.

Yeah, and lead with kindness.

Keely - Yes. Kindness.

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