Aboriginal people of Australia have been sharing their stories and traditions for over 60,000 years but because this knowledge is mostly shared orally it is at risk of being lost. Ronnie Jordan, a proud Kalkadoon woman, is helping to ensure that these traditions and culture are passed onto the next generation, running workshops that share her knowledge of coil weaving, traditional games, animal and doll making and bush tucker plants. But getting to this place has been a journey. It hasn’t all been plain sailing and it is definitely not over yet.

Ronnie runs her small business, Culture on the Move, from the regional town of Bungendore (Ngarigo country) in NSW. Bungendore is just a stone’s throw from the Nation’s Capital, Canberra (Ngunnawal/Ngambri country) where many of Ronnie’s workshops take place. Ronnie says the business name came about because “I teach culture, and I'm always on the move, teaching people from different communities, connecting communities and coming together”. Over the years she has taught her approach to culture and weaving to a wide range of people from children to the elderly, Indigenous and non-Indigenous.
Teaching people ensures the culture, art and history are not lost.

Ronnie acknowledges the connections made along the way are important, in particular those who have taught her. “The Freemans from the coast, Aunty Jenny Dries and also Aunty Phyllis Smith from Sydney. I've learned what the elders and the aunties and uncles, have passed on to me, but others like the Tjanpi Desert Weavers have also inspired my work. I also have my family help me…I wouldn't be able to do it without them.”

It was following the bushfires that Ronnie came across AusIndustry and the Strengthening Business service. As part of the service Ronnie was connected with local business facilitator, Liz Kobold, who has been helping Ronnie’s business to address challenges and identify opportunities to improve and become more resilient and better prepared for the future.

Ronnie says “it's very important to have someone that you can call and, ring up because they'll give you some good ideas of how to do things in a better way or moving forward. Someone you can ring up and say, what do you reckon about this idea? Or should I go about this way? Sometimes we feel that we're not the smartest people in business, you know because business takes a long time to build. It doesn’t always have to be big issues you ring about, sometimes it can be something simple.” Ronnie recalls. “The other day I rang because I didn't know what to charge or surcharge, things like that, you know.”

Just as the impact of bushfires were beginning to fade, COVID hit. “I didn't really get to see anyone for three years, so I'm like, how am I going to keep my business continuing if I can't connect with people, because I work with people?” Ronnie says.

Culture on the Move

Ronnie had to think outside the basket, “so I made a weaving guide, I didn't really want to do that because that's my intellectual property…but it's actually worked out because a lot of people in in the lockdown needed something to connect to”.
Weaving is good, it actually heals you and it grounds you. It connects people to culture and country.
Another solution was to take the traditional art of weaving online, “delivering culture through Zoom, would you believe it? Which I didn't think would work. It's still a little bit different because I don't get to connect to people face to face, but I was still connected to them through culture. I package up all the materials they need, send out the packs to them and then we all get online and weave together. So it's actually really good, it's worked well” Ronnie said.

The simple step of developing the weaving guide and offering online courses opens up the business, enabling Ronnie to teach anywhere around Australia or even overseas.

But as the popularity of her courses grows, so do the number of people participating. While this is what every business hopes for, it does come with some challenges. Ronnie says “for me, it's hard to collect fibres for that many people every time.” The impact of COVID didn’t help. Ronnie looked to buy weaving supplies like reed and raffia, which come from overseas, but with minimal shipping, there was nothing available for six months.

Ronnie is now looking for farms or properties in the region that can farm the particular reeds and different materials.

Culturally she sees a greater openness to learning and really understanding. “I've been going to schools now for about eight years, and I've even seen the cultural change in the schools about how they're learning more, how they're bringing, embedding our culture into everyday learning, not just once a week and reconciliation week.

You know, you can celebrate our culture and learn from us any time of the year. So I think it's important that people understand that, too. And having these workshops here, like at the Botanic Gardens, it brings people together in a safe space where they can ask questions about cultural things.” Ronnie said.

So what advice would Ronnie give other businesses? “I'd really recommend if you can, connect with AusIndustry and have someone there helping you network your business. It's always great to have someone there to yarn to.”

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