Marlee Silva is a 24 year old proud Gamilaroi and Dunghatti woman, a maker of things and a teller of stories taking Australia by storm.
In 2018, Marlee and her sister Keely co-founded Tiddas4Tiddas (Sisters4Sisters), a social media based movement that celebrates and empowers Indigeous women and girls. She has since hosted the Tiddas4Tiddas podcast and hosts another, her own creation, Always Our Stories. Marlee contributed to the iconic book Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia and is now a published author herself as My Tidda, My Sister hits the shelves – and lights them up.
We spoke to the legend herself, talking storytelling, activism and life lessons.
You’ve said that writing a book has been a lifelong dream of yours – and you’ve gone and done it! What is My Sister, My Tidda about and what inspired you to write it?
Even holding it in my hands now, it is so surreal and my proudest achievement so far, to have done the thing I’ve been saying I want to do since I was 15 – write a book.
My Tidda, My Sister shares the experiences of a group of my Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sisters, ageing from 15 to 86. They so generously share their ups and downs, their passions, hopes and dreams – and although there are distinct differences in each of their stories, they’re weaved together with my own paralleled experiences and an universal connection of sisterhood, culture and resilience.
Storytelling is central to all of your work. Why is storytelling so important?
Storytelling has been the mechanism by which my people have survived for over 60 thousand years. It’s what I’ve always done and I believe it is the best way for us as humans to connect, understand and empathise with each other. It’s such a beautiful thing that can hold so much power and I’m so privileged to be able to do it every day of my life in new and exciting ways.
What was the catalyst for your activism and where did it start?
I think nobody who is born Aboriginal in this country can be born un-politicised. Our existence and prosperity is against the odds and it’s something that forces us to face opposition and constant questions, that you can respond to in one of two ways: trying to go unnoticed and survive under the radar, or fight back with activism.
I think neither method is better or worse a choice – each individual’s journey with their identity and what they do with it is personal and powerful in it’s own way. But activism didn’t ever feel like a choice for me – and I actually find myself uncomfortable with the term ‘activist’ because it feels like something someone else might choose to engage with. I feel like my ancestors gifted me with a voice that carries their strengths, for the purpose of it being used to ignite change. For that reason, I don’t think I could even pinpoint where it started – probably alongside my writing.
We shouldn’t over complicate what activism is – simply doing the right thing and speaking up when things aren’t ok or don’t feel right, that’s activism. Actively trying to do better with the tools you’re given, to help those who are otherwise unheard or unnoticed – that’s activism! It’s not exclusive or extremely difficult – it’s just something you can actively work at and grow at your own pace.
Who are your heroines/heroes?
My heroes are my ancestors – my Dad, his mum and her mum are the ones whose stories have the greatest influence on me, because they are who I was raised with. They taught me what it means to be Aboriginal – that it means you are strong, resilient and beautiful. They also taught me to be gentle and humble and always find the positive in everything, I am constantly learning from them still.
What advice would you give to teenage Marlee?
Please be kinder to yourself sis! You feel different – and I have to be honest, you are different to those around you, but that’s not a bad thing! That means you stand out and you can do anything you set your mind to. Work hard, trust your gut and never doubt yourself, you are the product of thousands of years of strength and resilience, and there’s very little more special or powerful than that!
Sophie is the Editor of Rosie. She lives in Melbourne, reads & chases the sun.