Please note: Images in this article were taken before COVID-19 restrictions and mandatory mask requirements were in place.
With help from a grant from the First Peoples’ Business Support Fund, two artists have repivoted their business to trade through the pandemic.
For the past 16 years, Aboriginal artists Emma Bamblett and Megan Van Den Berg have worked side by side on art projects and as workmates at the Victorian Aboriginal Childcare Agency.
They set up a business two years ago, planning, designing, and marketing their colourful, custom-designed Acknowledgement of Country plaques.
“Megan and I have a strong history of collaboration on design and arts-based projects, and our business name, Kinya Lerrk, means ‘women coming together’ in Wemba Wemba,” Emma said.
Kinya Lerrk brings homes and offices to life with colourful designs that celebrate Aboriginal culture and respectfully acknowledge Traditional Owners.
They have created plaques for more than 400 schools and kindergartens and organisations such as local councils, the Victoria Police and Ambulance Victoria.
Each plaque is made to request and illustrated with animals relevant to Country – blue wrens, black cockatoos, whales, dolphins, and a peacock spider for a Western Australian client. Bunjil, the eagle creator spirit for the Kulin nations, is a popular choice.
The pair used to create art side by side at their kitchen tables, but when the pandemic hit, everything changed.
While they weren’t far apart in Wurundjeri country, Emma was confined to her converted home garage, while Megan worked from home.
It was a challenge.
Then Kinya Lerrk secured a grant through the First Peoples’ COVID-19 Business Support Fund, which supports eligible Aboriginal businesses that have experienced temporary closures, trading restrictions or other pandemic-related issues.
Eligible businesses received a one-off grant of up to $10,000 to help meet business costs, such as rent and salaries, marketing activities, or to adapt the business offering.
Emma and Megan invested in digital technology and training to support remote working.
It allowed them to sketch and paint, share large digital files, and use video conferencing to meet.
They also invested in diversifying to help reduce the impact of restrictions on Aboriginal communities.
“During the pandemic, we were all stuck at home and haven’t been able to visit Country,” Emma said.
“Megan and I thought if you’re not on Country, the next best thing is the scent of Country, so we brought out a candle range to help remind you of Country or to make you feel like you’re on Country.”
The Back to Country range has three scents, Bush Scent, Eucalyptus and Lemon Myrtle, all available through a new online store.
They’ve also added a lux range of candles and diffusers, named Kurrek, which means ‘Country land sand’ in Wemba Wemba, the language of Emma’s maternal bloodline.
Now there are tea towels and art prints.
“We’ve kept the range to things that are of significance and connect to Country within the house and that we love having,” Emma said.
“Even though COVID has been negative in heaps of ways, this has been a small positive. It makes people feel connected to places they love and can’t be.”
The business has struck a chord.
“We’ve had feedback saying this reminds me of Country,” Emma said.
“I had one young woman message me to say she had bought the Bush Scent candle and had a tear in her eye because the smell reminded her of her nan back on Country.
“It was personal for me too because we’ve all got these connections to our grandmothers, especially if they’re no longer here or we can’t go back to Country to see them.
“It was lovely feedback.”
The First Peoples’ COVID-19 Business Support Fund has been extended. Find out more information via the Business Victoria website.