Meet Kerri-Ann and Nathan, owners of Australian Indigenous Grasstrees and Wildflowers (AIGW), a small business working with native flowers, foliage and plants.
AIGW has expanded from being a native floristry business to also providing cultural landscaping and conservation projects. Kerri-Ann and Nathan have the motto Conserve, Repair, Create, Educate, guiding their business journey. They have both found that starting their own business has helped them heal and connect with their Country.
“We are working to strengthen our identity, connecting to Country, to keep alive our knowledge and culture by getting out on Country. Our Elders are passing away and we don’t have much time to get that knowledge. We want to do it for our community and to help others.”
Keep reading to hear about Kerri-Ann and Nathans business journey and working with Many Rivers business coach, Charles.
Meet Kerri-Ann and Nathan
Our business is called Australian Indigenous Grasstrees & Wildflowers or AIGW. We work with native flowers, foliage and native plants. We have a few things going on – we are a native florist and Mackay’s only native florist specialist. So we do native floral arrangements for weddings, funerals and functions. We harvest and supply native foliage. We also do rehabilitation and rejuvenation projects, which is what we are doing now at the Mackay Base Hospital.
A new area we are moving into is cultural landscaping – working with traditional owners, putting in Yarning Circles and employing local Indigenous people. So at the hospital there will be a place for people to go, a healing place. A lot of people have been saying this town needs this sort of stuff and they are starting to put them in the schools and health services. The project at the hospital has been going for about eight weeks now and we will work through to NAIDOC Week in November.
We are also moving into conservation, working with Main Roads and local and state governments. When they are clearing land, we will take protected plants out and use them in future rehabilitation projects, like building wildlife corridors. We want to move into wholesale, but at the moment we are operating as a florist and working from home with a cold room in our backyard. We’ve been operating since 2017, but it took us a long time, about four to five years, to get to that point.
We have three permanent part-time employees at the moment. We have a supervisor and two landscape labourers. They are all Torres Strait Islander men, which is good because they have opened the doors to the Torres Strait Islander community. It’s a great little group. We are always laughing and every day is another good day. One lad even got offered a job at the mines, but he has chosen to stay with us.
Before Many Rivers
We started out working for another company that are suppliers of flowers and foliage that they harvest on the Sunshine Coast. After a few years there, we figured we could do it ourselves.
We were referred to Many Rivers by the now called NIAA. We had put in a submission for funding and we were successful. The Minister, Nigel Scullion, came up and heard our submission and when we were successful we received support from Many Rivers and we’ve been working with them since then. We didn’t have a cold room when we started; we started with the ute and not much else. But we got hit with a state funeral in our first 12 months so it was all very hectic. That was around December 2017.
Kerri-Ann: I went into it because I got sick with mental health challenges. I had been qualified in aged care, and after I lost my last client I went downhill. A friend got me a job with her processing as a sorter in the shed. The boss asked me if I wanted to go out bush as a harvester and do some work out there and it was healing for me. I found if I was feeling down, I could just let it out on Country and heal out there. So I am just starting to get in with the women’s groups here. By partnering with them we can help women who are victims of domestic violence or their kids have been taken away. We want to get them out bush and get them counselling so they can go home stronger.
Nathan: I faced some personal challenges in Adelaide and came home to sort myself out. I have turned my life around thanks to Kerri-Ann and my mum, Brenda Nehow. Now I have a story to tell and I want to share that and help others as much as I can.
We want to show what we have achieved and show younger people what we have done to turn our lives around. We didn’t get into business to make a million dollars, but we need a million dollars to make AIGW work! It’s good for Indigenous people to be doing what we are doing; being out bush is good for our heads, hearts and souls.
Working With Many Rivers
The main thing Many Rivers has helped us with is legal services – so contracts and partnership agreements with property owners. We already had a business plan and risk management plan from working off templates and Googling everything. We didn’t need much support from Many Rivers, but they are very supportive on the legal side. It has blown my mind how much legal support they have been able to give us!
The biggest success is the flowers and what we are doing now at the Mackay Base Hospital.
There have been heaps of challenges. The biggest one at the moment has been not having premises where we can be more visible. Right now we are just in a side street off the main road. Rent here is very expensive so we can’t afford a shopfront. We are looking for funding to get a floral van, so we can park up in all the busy spots.
Another big challenge is marketing and advertising. I’ve stood in the middle of a traffic island with a sign before Mother’s Day. I’ve tried taking gift boxes around to businesses in town to see if they want to make any orders. We walked into about 50 businesses. Marketing and advertising on mainstream radio is too expensive, but we are able to get some spots every few days on Murri Radio for about $100. Also, we have had to put things like expanding the business into overseas markets on hold because of Covid-19.
Future Goals For Australian Indigenous Grasstrees and Wildflowers
We have a motto: Conserve, Repair, Create, Educate. We want to grow those areas of the business. The fellas we are working with now want to do courses in land management, and we want to be able to support them so they can help farmers here with land and weed management. We want our employees to be with us for a while, but not forever because we want to empower them. They can learn what they are passionate about and see what they want to do, and if they are motivated and have the drive, we want to encourage them. We want to support our employees but also support our mob to improve their lives.
The work we are doing is for our community, not for us. We want them to feel good walking into the spaces we have created. Private enterprise and economic development is the key thing we are aiming for. If the grants and funding dry up, the project will fall down so we don’t want to be solely dependent on funding. Part of self-determination is deciding that now that we have our land back, what are we going to do with it? We want to move on and build ourselves up. Creating worthwhile work is key to people’s empowerment and self-esteem. We want to be able to work on our Country for commercial activities that build, grow and sustain our identity, our culture and traditions. Not only that we want to build and sustain our communities and give our mob a sense of purpose and belonging.
Thankyou Kerri-Ann and Nathan for sharing your business journey so far. We are excited to be joining you on this journey as Australian Indigenous Grasstrees and Wildflowers grows.
Many Rivers would love to encourage more people to take the first step towards kick starting their small businesses idea.
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Did you loving hearing about Kerri-Ann and Nathans business journey? Read about Zara, a freelance makeup artist in the Pilbara who has found success in remote Western Australia.