Indigenous businesses thrive online, despite the pandemic
30 Sep 2021

Sunset Tour
Waringarri Arts, Sunset Tour, NT. Image Credit: Tourism Australia

From the endless stretches of red earth and white sand, to the colour explosions of rainforests and coral reefs, few of those fortunate enough to encounter Australia’s breathtaking natural wonders are unmoved by the experience. Vibrant remote communities have long thrived by welcoming and guiding visitors while sharing their diverse cultures and ancient connections to the land.  

Then COVID-19 hit and travel grinded to a crushing halt.

Fortunately, Welcome to Country, Australia’s first Aboriginal-led not for profit marketplace had recently launched with a mission to create jobs and economic outcomes for Indigenous peoples. Beginning in 2019 as a platform to promote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experiences, focus quickly shifted to showcase Indigenous art and other products to sustain communities while tourists stayed home.

The marketplace has since grown from offering a handful of products to more than 1000 and become a significant revenue stream for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists, art centres and communities during the pandemic.

PayPal Australia has partnered with Welcome to Country to help the Indigenous businesses they support reach even more customers.

PayPal Australia CEO Eric Lassen said, “PayPal is always looking for ways to support small businesses so we are very proud and excited to be partnering with Welcome to Country. Consumers are becoming more conscious of the positive impact their spending can have, and Welcome To Country beautifully showcases an incredibly rich and diverse range of unique products and experiences, while making a positive difference to Indigenous communities with every purchase.”

Products that tell a story

Mick Harding
Mick Harding.

Meet Mick Harding – a proud Taungwurrung Kulin man and the artist behind Ngarga Warendj – Dancing Wombat. Ngarga Warendj produces high quality contemporary Indigenous Art, using designs based on traditional symbols from South-East Australia. Mick said the inspiration for his business came from a desire to increase awareness of what Aboriginal art is in South East Australia.

“I made it my mission to educate people that not all Aboriginal people create artwork that is dots - that the art represents the place it comes from. My mob are the Taungwurrung people from the Kulin Nation in Victoria. We don’t do dots – we have beautiful, amazing icons and creation stories. I wanted to create art and wood burning as a high-quality representation of our culture.”

A range of Mick’s products, including lapel pins, beanies, water bottles, serving boards and belts are featured on the marketplace. According to Mick, joining the marketplace and the pandemic’s push to online shopping have contributed to a significant increase in online sales of his products.

“I like working with Welcome To Country because they are providing a platform that is a genuine reflection of Aboriginal Australia. Through experiences and products that they sell, they bring to the marketplace a representation of Aboriginal culture and businesses in an honest and meaningful way.   They buy wholesale from my business Ngarga Warendj, but also buy from other businesses that I license my art through. Both of which have had a large increase in sales.”

Connecting creators with consumers

Bronwyn Bancroft
Bronwyn Bancroft.

Welcome to Country has provided many other artists and creators like Mick the opportunity to share their products and experiences with the world. Bronwyn Bancroft, a Bundjalung woman and artist has been exhibiting her works in Australia and internationally for the past three decades, and now the children’s books that she writes and illustrates are featured on Welcome To Country.

“I’ve always been a creative kid. Ever since I was young, I always wanted to be an artist and pursue that dream,” says Bronwyn. “For me the writing is about bringing my story and my family's story to a wider audience. That is the biggest thing as we are always battling within a non-Aboriginal context.”

Bronwyn says Welcome To Country gives greater exposure to artists and helps to get her books in the hands of Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal families.

“Welcome To Country elevates and exposes my books to a far wider audience than I can achieve as an individual. As the saying goes, ‘teamwork makes the dream work’. We get to communicate across the Nations and work more collaboratively with each other. The more we elevate and increase exposure, the greater our collective benefit will be.”

Helping consumers buy directly from the source

Despite strong demand for Indigenous art and products, unfortunately there is a significant risk of purchasing items that aren’t authentic. Tourism Research Australia[1] found that from 2017 to 2018, about 1-in-5 international visitors purchased Aboriginal art, crafts or souvenirs, potentially providing hundreds, if not thousands, of millions of dollars to Aboriginal creators and communities. However, while it is positive to see this demand for Indigenous products, many of the products purchased are not authentic or sold by Indigenous businesses.

Welcome To Country offers over 160 experiences and stocks over 1000 products. Every product or experience sold supports First Nations artists, businesses and communities, taking the onus of confirming authenticity off the consumer. With over 100 businesses selling a range of homewares, artisan foods, fashion, cosmetics, and art; as well as physical experiences like Stand-Up Paddle boarding or walks on Country – there is something for everyone.

Browse other products and read more about the sellers on the Welcome To Country website.

Smoking Ceremony with Saltwater Eco Culture Tours, QLD. Photo Credit - Tourism Australia.
Smoking Ceremony with Saltwater Eco Culture Tours, QLD. Photo Credit - Tourism Australia.

 

Welcome to Country Top 10 Products:

 

  1. The Art in Country: A Treasury for Children

The Art in Country: A Treasury for Children, by artist and author Bronwyn Bancroft is an essential addition to any young Australian's library, and a perfect introduction to the many wonders that this country has to offer.

The Art In Country book

 

  1. Warlukurlangu artwork A6 Notebooks $12.95

This set of three A6 notebooks feature artwork by Warlukurlangu artists located in the Northern Territory and make a great Aussie gift or souvenir to take overseas. Each set includes unique designs from artists Ruth Stewart, Teddy Gibson and Judy Watson with information about the artworks inside the cover. 

Warlukurlangu artwork A6 Notebooks

 

  1. Bush Food Chocolates! $14.00

Chocolate on Purpose® is a proud Aboriginal Australian owned business creating handmade chocolate out of Millthorpe, a heritage listed town in the Central West of NSW. Try its irresistible premier chocolate range, and enjoy a rustic fusion of the finest Belgian chocolate and the best of Australian Bush Food.

Bush Food Chocolates

 

  1. Arrethe Bush Balm $12.00

Indigenous Australians have used native plants to treat common ailments and illnesses for thousands of years. This handy balm will treat your aches, muscle pain, skin conditions and ease cold and flu symptoms.

Arrethe Bush Balm

 

  1. Insulated stainless steel bottle by ngarga warendj $50.00

This versatile drink bottle designed by Ngara Warendj can be used for hot or cold drinks – perfect for travelling!

Insulated stainless steel bottle by ngarga warendj

 

  1. Cotton Tea Towel by Julieanne Morton $14.90

Julieanne’s tea towel is practical art for your kitchen. Her paintings are inspired by her mother’s stories of the old days, walking and living on their land, and also by her own experience of life in Alyawarr country.

Cotton Tea Towel by Julieanne Morton

  1. Tjanpi Basket by Natasha Robertson $115.50

Invest in a sculpturally beautiful basket, constructed by Natasha Robertson from wild harvested grass and raffia.

Tjanpi Basket by Natasha Robertson

 

  1. Kulyakartu Ngurra Silk Tie $70.00

A man can never have too many ties! This beautiful tie is made from 100% silk satin with cotton padding and silk lining. It comes in a beautiful gift box with an artist’s card, detailing the artist’s work and practice.

Kulyakartu Ngurra Silk Tie

 

  1. Metal Hopping Kangaroo Sculptures $55.00

The metal Kangaroo sculptures are made in collaboration with the Alice Springs prison and hand painted by artists at Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation.

Metal Hopping Kangaroo Sculptures

 

  1. Stories in the Sun Shirt - Men's & Women's Cut $110.00

The perfect addition to your summer wardrobe, this colourful shirt is made from exclusive Kirrikin textile, featuring an original artwork by Kaye White. The design is inspired by Kaye’s country where as a child she would sit and listen to Elders telling stories on a hot summers day.

Stories in the Sun Shirt

 

Find these and much more at the Welcome to Country website


[1] https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/arts/aboriginal-art-authenticity

 

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