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Future Shapers Civic Olivia Williams
Photograph: Supplied

Time Out's Civics Future Shaper: Olivia Williams

The Time Out team talk to the exceptional individuals moulding the future of Sydney

Maxim Boon
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Maxim Boon
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Time Out is profiling the incredible people who are shaping the future of Sydney in this Future Shaper series. These remarkable individuals and organisations were nominated by a panel of expert judges including editor of Time Out Sydney Maxim Boon, celebrity chef and restaurateur Kylie Kwong, head of talks and ideas at the Sydney Opera House Edwina Throsby, NSW 24-hour economy commissioner Michael Rodrigues, CEO of IndigiLab Luke Briscoe, and NIDA resident director David Berthold. Read more about the project here.

When proud Wiradjuri woman Olivia Williams first launched her education platform Blak Business as an Instagram account in 2019, it was a simple solution to a complex problem. “I wanted to share information about things I was frequently talking about with mob (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples) and gabaas (non-Indigenous peoples),” she recalls. “Time and time again, I heard mob saying that they felt burnt out from educating gabaas, and I also heard gabaas saying they didn’t know where to look for reliable information. In creating Blak Business, I hoped that mob could redirect gabaas to the space for learning, and therefore be alleviated from some of the emotional labour of educating others.”

“Blak” refers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, while “Business” means an ‘area of interest’, and indeed at first, Williams imagined the Insta account would serve as a sort of cultural cheat sheet, answering FAQs about First Nations life and heritage in a conveniently digitised way that wouldn’t constantly make demands of her community. But from this initial concept, the education portal has since grown into a far more multilayered endeavour – one that has helped protect, reclaim and foster culture in the real world as well as educate about it in the digital space.  

“The most rewarding aspect, and the thing that gives me strength, is the connections I’ve made with other Blakfellas (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples). It is really rewarding when mob share stories and feedback about the impact Blak Business has had for them offline. I’m really grateful that I’ve been able to take these online connections and develop them as close friendships offline,” Williams says.   

Today, Blak Business still hosts an Instragam account, with a following of more than 134,000 people, as well as operating its own resources website. But it’s cultivating connections in the real world that has allowed Williams and her team to become powerful advocates for campaigns confronting urgent issues in First Nations communities, such as supporting Aunty Helen and the Bagot Community in their fight against Woolworths Group, which was trying to open a Dan Murphy’s liquor store near their dry community. “Aunty Helen is so strong, resilient and resistant. It was great to have been able to amplify her voice through the petition Blak Business founded. Ultimately, the Bagot Community won and Woolworths Group agreed not to build the Dan Murphy’s,” Williams says. “That’s so rewarding.”

In just three years, Blak Business has moved past just sharing education and insight about First Nations culture and is now working to shift the status quo of how the cultural narratives they support are communicated in the mainstream. Williams has become a frequently published commentator and believes that it’s vital that First Nations communities have regular opportunities to have their voices heard beyond their usual orbits. “For too long, spaces such as media and academia have written and spoken about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and topics, rather than creating space for us to write and speak about these things ourselves. For meaningful discussion about these matters, it’s essential that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives and voices are amplified,” she says.

“It’s also important that our voices are included in mainstream media rather than only in Blak media, as this ensures our perspectives are considered by a wider audience. It is worth noting, each time I comment in the media, there are at least another three opportunities I refer to another Blakfella. In including Blak perspectives, the media must learn that no single Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander person is able to speak on all topics and that instead they must build relationships with a number of peoples and communities.”

Revealing and championing this more nuanced, dynamic picture of Aboriginality today has become the dominant focus for Blak Business. For Williams, engaging in active dialogues about contemporary First Nations life is as important as educating people about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage and lore. “The contemporary experience of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples includes topics such as Invasion Day, the appropriation of culture, restoring places to their traditional names, and listening to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices. Gabaas may be comfortable in dismissing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law and history as being unrelated to them. However, gabaas are likely to come into contact with these contemporary experiences, so therefore it’s important we have a dialogue about them,” she says. “Blak business, such as those experiences named, is the business of any person who lives on Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander land.”

Progress has been made, but many wrongs remain unrighted; social and political injustice is still a part of everyday life for many First Nations people. Which is why, in creating the necessary tools and support networks to advocate for change, spark dialogues and educate on the ways global crises impact local cultures, Blak Business has become a vital asset to the civic life of First Nations people and non-Indigenous Australians alike, not just in Sydney but across the country. “Topics such as climate change, deaths in custody and freeing the Aboriginal flag are as much a part of our experience as practising art, celebrating NAIDOC Week and learning language. Therefore, as a space which seeks to share content on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander ‘business’, it naturally follows that activism and campaigning is part of Blak Business,” Williams says. “It is important that people learn more about our culture, community and history, but also that they act on this learning by engaging with, and supporting, the activism of Blakfellas.”

Meet the Future Shapers

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