May 7, 2020

We don’t know how long Covid-19 will impact Meeanjin Markets but we’re ready for business | Indigenous Australians


ever before has there been such diversity of Indigenous people in business. Social media and various online platforms have enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to become active participants in the small business economy.

The South-East Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce is made up of business owners running small to large operations. In the past few years the chamber has seen a growth in First Nations people wanting to start a business. There is a remarkable pool of creativity out there. Indigenous people of all ages, business ideas and skillsets are wanting to take the leap.

We’re creating our own economies, mob buying from mob, as Indigenous people express their Indigeneity – from roo yapa and alcohol-free beer using native ingredients to clothing and jewellery with Indigenous designs and stories. We are seeing a growth in collaboration between businesses, giving emerging creatives greater opportunities and exposure.

It’s an exciting time. The creativity is limitless, multiple platforms make selling more accessible, and Indigenous people are combining the ancient and modern to create unique and bespoke products and experiences.

We’re seeing an increase in non-Indigenous audiences seeking out these unique Indigenous products. It makes sense. We know that local and international visitors want an authentic Indigenous tourism experience. They want to learn more about the world’s oldest living culture. Matched with this experience, they want to purchase authentically Indigenous products and gifts.

We have a niche slice of the market. It still is small but it is growing. We know that Indigenous businesses are also battling against ripoffs and mainstream businesses which aren’t working ethically in this space. This is why the Meeanjin Markets vision is so important.

When the Gold Coast hosted the Commonwealth Games in 2018, with an influx of athletes, their families and spectators from around the world, we knew we had to harness this rare opportunity. The first Meeanjin Markets were held to showcase Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander creatives. A callout went to artists, designers, musicians, dancers and performers from around the region and we were flooded with interest.

The event showcased 57 Indigenous businesses, with more than 10,000 visitors spending more than $60,000 on handmade Indigenous products.

We want to be active participants in the economy. The Meeanjin Markets are an opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to showcase their talents and learn from the experience to shape their businesses. They support Indigenous small businesses which are starting, emerging and more established. And they promote and share the diversity of our cultures, histories and stories.

It’s a big commitment for people to ensure they have enough quality products for sale over the two days. We recognise this and the market place is a stepping stone to support businesses.

Over the three years, we’ve watched businesses on their journey – from a few products and no social presence to online selling and commissioned pieces. Regular visitors seek out their favourite stallholders to see new products, created just for the markets. Businesses get exposure to new and diverse audiences. They also get immediate feedback. What resonates with people? It gives stallholders critical information. It builds their confidence and develops their sales skills and presentation.

So when Covid-19 hit, our hearts sank when we were informed it couldn’t go ahead. We felt disappointed for the stallholders, who’ve been madly working to have enough stock and new products to showcase, and for the musicians and performers we’d booked.

We didn’t want to let them down. For every challenge there is opportunity, such as reaching wider audiences. So we moved quickly with the decision to sell online and turn the event virtual. It meant getting creative and pushing stallholders outside their comfort zones. They recorded two-minute sales pitches on their phones, tweeted on IndigenousX, and are now ready for online sales.

We really don’t know how long Covid-19 will impact the festival and market scene. There’s talk of it extending for at least another year. This means our popular Christmas markets will be impacted.

Taking this step means we can assess our limitations, adjust and be ready for another virtual festival. The incredible hard work by businesses, performers, musicians and team to pull this together so quickly shows that Indigenous people mean business.

• Leesa Watego is the president of the South-East Queensland Indigenous Chamber of Commerce, founder of Iscarriot Media and co-founder of Dark + Disturbing

• Guardian Australia is proud to partner with IndigenousX to showcase the diversity of Indigenous peoples and opinions from around the country

• Comments on this piece are premoderated to ensure discussion remains on topics raised by the writer. Please be aware there may be a short delay in comments appearing

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